Brookwrite

Columns - 2012

    Never the Twain Shall Meet

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    Persons attempting to find a motive in this column will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot will be forced to stay awake during the High Holy Day sermon. All three days. -- By order of the columnist.

    Was Mark Twain Jewish? No.

    Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, not Ramshorne Clemenstein, and was not the subject of the classic Jewish folk song, "My Darling Clemenstein."

    Twain lived exactly seventy years, much like King David who, according to Midrash, was given his seventy years by Adam from his own lifespan.

    Twain was born during a visit by Halley's Comet, and he predicted he would go out with it as well. Having believed the Lord said, "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together," Twain died the day following the comet's closest point in its return visit.

    After living in Austria, he opined that the Habsburgs scapegoated Jews a lot. He was asked why he thought they did that, and what American Jews could do about it. Twain then wrote his infamous "Concerning the Jews" essay for Harper's, in 1898.

    His assessment -- "If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race... but he is as prominent on the planet as any other people..." and so on -- has been cited as both a clever encapsulation of the Jews' perseverance and as an anti-Semitic attack.

    Instead of digging into that controversy, including Twain's later clarification and apology, it's more fun to revisit the Midrash that Twain wrote.

    It's true. Twain's poignance and wit were seldom better than in his behind-the-scenes accounts of early Genesis, including "Extracts from Adam's Diary," "Eve's Diary," "That Day in Eden," and "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc." Adam's diary recounts being annoyed by "this new creature with the long hair," naming things, eating the apple, and much more.

    Did Twain write any other works of Jewish relevance? Our investigative mole recently uncovered first drafts of numerous Twain writings, all of which exhibit a surprisingly Jewish bent.

    "The Celebrated Leining Frog of Calaveras County" -- Jim Smiley trains his frog, Dan'l Webstein, to read Torah better than anyone in the county. A stranger bets against Smiley's frog, and the frog loses as he is left coughing up handfuls of Peshat.

    "The Adventures of Tom's Lawyer" -- Tom Sawyer is a troublemaking boy from Missouri. This initial draft tells the story of many of Tom's adventures from the perspective of his Jewish lawyer who has to keep getting him out of trouble.

    "The Prince and the Pulpit" -- Rav Canty leads a poor synagogue in London. One day, he meets Prince Edward and, since they look alike, they switch clothes. Congregants believe the Prince is the rabbi, since they sleep through his sermons as soundly as ever. After King Henry VIII dies, they switch back for the coronation because politics is no place for a nice Jewish boy.

    "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finestein" -- The 13-year-old hero lives with the Widow Douglas, who tries to civilize him. Empowered by all the cash he got for his bar mitzvah, Huck sets off on a series of grand adventures up and down the Mississippi.

    "A Conservative Rebbe in King Arthur's Court" -- A rabbi's sermon goes so slowly that time actually goes backward, transporting him back in time to the early Middle Ages and the court of King Arthur. His modern ways awe the court, but the Catholic Church becomes afraid of his influence, specifically in letting people believe it's okay to come late to services and that they should be fed a full kiddush afterward instead of just one wafer.

    "Pudd'nhead Minyan" -- Ten young Jewish lawyers move to a small town near the Mississippi River. The townfolk don't understand a word of the lawyers' daily prayers, so they refer to them as pudd'nheads, or nitwits. After several decades, the townfolk realize that the lawyers have never understood a word of their daily prayers either, and decide to keep calling them pudd'nheads because of this instead.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley whose coldest winter was not a summer in San Francisco. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit http://brookwrite.com/. For exclusive online content, become a fan at facebook.com/the.beholders.eye.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.