“Suppose I could get hold of a mechanic to work on it right after our service tonight-”
“Oh, I’m afraid that’s out of the question,” said the rabbi quickly.
“Well, perhaps you’re right. It would cost us an arm and a leg, and people might notice that there was a light on in the temple. You’re sure you don’t mind?”
He returned to the table. “Mortimer Schwarz being solicitous,” he remarked. “The effect of the Yom Kippur spirit, no doubt.”
He was halfway through his roast chicken when the phone rang again. Miriam started for it purposefully, but her husband waved her aside. “It’s probably for me,” he said. “It seems as though I’ve been on the phone all evening talking to people who don’t want to disturb me.”
He lifted the receiver: “Rabbi Small.”
“Oh, Rabbi, how fortunate to find you in. This is Mrs. Drury Linscott. I am not of your faith, but both my husband and I have the highest opinion of your people. As a matter of fact, my husband’s principal assistant, a man in whom he has the highest confidence, is a full-blooded Jew.” She waited for him to be duly grateful.
“I see,” he murmured.
“Now my husband reports that Morton-that’s my husband’s assistant, Morton Zoll-do you know him?”
“I-I don’t think so.”
“A very fine man, and really quite dependable. Well, my husband claims that Morton told him that starting at sundown tonight he is not supposed to eat or drink, not even water, until sunset tomorrow. Now I find that hard to believe, and I am sure that Mr. Linscott must have misunderstood.”
“No, it’s quite true, Mrs. Linscott. We fast from sunset to sunset.”
“Indeed? And he must not do work of any kind during that time?”
The rabbi waited.
“Very well then.” And she hung up.
The rabbi looked quizzically at the instrument and then gently replaced it on its cradle.
“What was that all about?” asked Miriam.
He reported the conversation.
“I’ll answer the phone from now on,” she said. Almost immediately it rang again.
She waved him away and picked up the receiver. She cupped her hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s Cantor Zimbler,” she whispered.
“I better take it.”
The cantor sounded frantic. “Rabbi, have you heard about the public-address system? Stanley called me and I came right over to the temple. I’m calling from there now. I just tested it and it’s terrible. I started singing my Hineni heoni memaas and it sounded like an old-fashioned phonograph with a dull needle. If I turned my head the least bit, it went awooh, awooh, like a fire alarm. What are we going to do, Rabbi?”
The rabbi smiled. He wondered if the cantor had put on his robes and tall white yarmulka to make the test. He was a short fat man with a little black moustache and goatee, who looked like the chef in a spaghetti advertisement. They shared the same enrobing room, and the cantor insisted on affixing a full-length mirror to the door. Only the year before last he had served in an Orthodox congregation, and in applying for his present job he sent along with his résumé one of the posters he used in advertising special concerts. There he had referred to himself as Yossele Zimbler. Since then, he had had new ones printed up in which he called himself the Reverend Joseph Zimbler.
“With a voice like yours. Cantor, I shouldn’t think you’d need a public-address system.”
“You think not, Rabbi?”
“No question of it. Besides, you are Orthodox in outlook, aren’t you?”
“So I shouldn’t think you would want to use a public-address system at all. As I understand it, it’s an electric system where the circuit is made and broken by the inflections of your voice.”
“So it’s like turning the electric light on and off all through the service.”
“We-el…” the cantor obviously was not convinced.
“That’s why many of the Orthodox congregations don’t use it at all during the Sabbath, and of course Yom Kippur is the Sabbath of Sabbaths.”
“That’s true, Rabbi,” said the cantor slowly. Then, “But we used it last Yom Kippur.”
“That’s because we are a Conservative congregation and the Conservative synagogue permits it. But this year the Holy Day comes on the Sabbath, so this year it is the Sabbath of Sabbaths of Sabbaths,” and he rotated his free hand in slow circles, Talmudic fashion, to indicate the ever-increasing sanctity of Sabbath piled on Sabbath. “You could argue that if the rule applies for the Sabbath for the Orthodox synagogue, then it should apply for us Conservatives on Yom Kippur, and on a third-degree Sabbath such as we’re having this year, it ought to apply even to Reform congregations.”
The cantor’s chuckle told him he was won over. The rabbi returned to the table. His wife shook her head with a smile. “That was a terrible pilpul.”
“You’re probably right,” the rabbi said wryly. “However, since pilpul is a fine, hairline distinction the rabbi has used for a couple of thousand years to prove a point his common sense has already told him is right, this serves the purpose-and in the present case I have converted into a blessing something that has to be tolerated anyway. It made him feel pious and devout instead of aggrieved.” He laughed. “They’re like children-so many of these cantors. Maybe that’s why they always call themselves by their diminutives-Yossele, Mottele, Itzekel.”
“Maybe if I call you Dovidel, I can exercise enough authority to keep you at the table until you finish your meal. Remember, there’s a long fast ahead.”
The telephone did not ring again and he was able to drink his coffee in peace. Miriam cleared away and washed the dishes and got dressed. “You’re sure you don’t mind the walk?” he asked solicitously.
“Of course not. The doctor wants me to get plenty of exercise. But let’s start now to avoid any more idiot calls.”
It was half-past six, and although the sun was not due to set for another hour the service started fifteen minutes earlier. It was only a twenty-minute walk to the temple, but tonight it was well to get there early. They were on their way out the door when the telephone rang.
“Let it ring, David.”
“And wonder all evening who it was? Don’t worry, I’ll cut it short.”
“Rabbi?” The voice was low and hoarse and urgent. “This is Ben Goralsky. I’ve got a favor to ask of you. Could you stop at my house before going to the temple? It’s awfully important. It’s my father. He’s very sick.”
“But we’re just leaving to walk to temple and haven’t much time. And your house is not en route.”
“Rabbi, you’ve got to come. It’s a matter of life and death. I’m sending a car for you, and I can drive you to the temple afterwards. It’s all right to ride over, isn’t it? It’s only after services that you don’t want to ride. Don’t worry, you’ll get there the same time you would if you walked.”
“He’s already started out. He’ll be over your place in minutes.”