ABSTRACT

The recurrence of the pope myth in Yiddish literature strikingly delineates not only the changing socio-political circumstances under which Jews have pursued their quest for self-identity, but also the constraints of the discourse the Yiddish language is obliged to use in order to define this quest. Inevitably, change and stasis are apparent in both. As long as questions ot Jewish survival and self-definition remain problematic, and continue to be addressed in an unalterably Jewish language, both problem and resolution can differ only in emphasis, not in formulation. Evidence for this can be adduced as much extratextually as from within the texts themselves. The degree to which each of the authors of the myth under discussion here has been interpellated both from within and from without by historical circumstances can be measured with reference to the recurrent centrality of Germany as the locality in which the tales are set. Inferences already drawn from discourse can be confirmed by reference to political geography. Why, it may reasonably be asked, do the first three versions of the tale choose to place the events and the rabbi who suffers them squarely in the German cities of Mainz or Frankfurt am Main rather than anywhere else? Equally validly, why, by contrast, does Singer elect to place his papal aspirant in the inconsequential Polish shtetl ofjanov, a place distinguished only by the fact that in the sixteenth century R. Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi, the author of the Tsene-Rene, the Yiddish adaptation of the Pentateuch, lived there? Some historical investigation may provide extra-textual support for the extent of Jewish diasporic consciousness in Yiddish thus far advanced from the texts themselves.