In "Gimpel The Fool," how do the townspeople demonstrate foolishness?

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Elka, the town prostitute, acts foolishly by getting pregnant and then trying to pass off the man's child as Gimpel's. In other words, a fool is treating someone else like a fool. Gimpel in turn marries Elka, and when her illegitimate child pops out only four months after they're married,...

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Gimpel is gullible enough to believe his wife's explanation that the child is merely premature. Fortified by her husband's willful ignorance, Elka goes on to have yet more children, none of whom are Gimpel's.

Eventually Elka realizes how foolish she's been and begs Gimpel's forgiveness as she lies on her deathbed, but the damage has been done. Elka's merely been continuing a long-standing local tradition, whereby the townsfolk feel the need to treat Gimpel like a complete idiot every chance they get. Elka's serial infidelity is really no different to the behavior of those cruel individuals who used to come into the baker's shop when Gimpel was younger and tell him, among other things, that the Messiah had come and that the dead were rising from their graves.

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The towns people are foolish because they take strange pleasure in playing jokes on Gimpel and making him look gullible and ignorant.  They don't see the goodness of his heart, nor can they appreciate how or why he puts up with everything that happens to him.

"It is not that he simply believes the outrageous things the villagers tell him, but rather, that he chooses to do so. For example, when the villagers tell Gimpel that his father and mother "have stood up from the grave," Gimpel states: "To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened."

The towns people use Gimpel, they laugh at him, having fun at his expense seems to be ok with them.  

"The rabbi tells Gimpel, "It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself."

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In the story "Gimpel The Fool," is Gimpel or the townspeople more foolish? Why?

In the famous story "Gimpel the Fool" by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a simple baker named Gimpel is continually harassed and ridiculed by the townspeople. Eventually, they persuade him to marry a prostitute who has many lovers and bears several children, none of whom are Gimpel's. On her deathbed, she confesses to Gimpel how she has deceived him. Later, the Spirit of Evil comes to Gimpel and persuades him to urinate on the dough so he can make the bread impure and get vengeance on all his enemies. After he has done this, Gimpel regrets his misdeed and destroys the bad bread. He then commences a journey and becomes a sort of holy wanderer.

The true fools in the story are the townspeople. For their own amusement, they ridicule and scorn a simple and honest man. They are willing to lead lives of bitterness, lies, and deceit, but in the end they are only deceiving themselves.

Gimpel, on the other hand, has the wisdom of honesty. He is willing to attempt to see the good in others even when the evidence seems to show otherwise. The rabbi expresses the truth well when Gimpel goes to him for advice. He says:

It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself.

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In the story "Gimpel The Fool," is Gimpel or the townspeople more foolish? Why?

It appears that Gimpel is the fool, very gullible, someone who will believe anything you tell him.  The townspeople take advantage of Gimpel's kindness, innocence and faith in human nature, by tricking him and publicly humiliating him.  Once he marries Elka, he appears to be the biggest fool who ever lived. 

But Gimpel is not simply an idiot, or a fool, who does not see the truth, he is a man with a kind and generous heart who loves the children his wife has with other men.

He had received some advice from the Rabbi, which Gimpel takes to heart and uses as a guide to live his life.

"The rabbi tells Gimpel, "It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself." 

Even at the end of the story when Gimpel is tempted to try to fool the townspeople, he cannot go through with it.  He is warned by the spirit of his dead wife to remain true to his beliefs.

"You fool! Because I was false is everything false too? I never deceived anyone but myself. I'm paying for it all, Gimpel." Gimpel awakes, sensing that "everything hung in the balance. A false step now and [he'd] lose Eternal Life."   

The story has a moral. People who live their lives with kindness, compassion and forgiveness are not fools.  People who think they are getting away with sinful or hurtful behavior are the real fools.

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