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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is a story about a love and marriage, a life and death, enhanced and embraced by spirituality. Here the daily laws, rituals, and customs of Judaism provide two simple and ordinary people the opportunity to rise above the mundane trappings of the physical world and to sanctify their humble lives.

A portrait of simple but beautiful piety, “Short Friday” examines the role of faith and religion in one’s life. All aspects of life are included: Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe apply their beliefs to their work, their marriage, their sexual relationship, and ultimately their death.

A slow and sloppy tailor, Shmul-Leibele uses only the strongest thread, the finest materials, and returns scraps to his clients. Shoshe not only keeps a proper home but also acquires additional money from outside sources. Having married each other for their serious and pious natures, the couple achieves a love so great that not even their inability to bear children (one of God’s commandments) threatens their future together.

Shmul-Leibele remembers the Law even during moments of great passion for Shoshe. Aware that the sexual act is intended for procreation, he nevertheless permits himself to experience pleasure from caressing and exploring Shoshe’s physical beauty. “The great saints also loved their wives,” he maintains, planning to attend the ritual bath the following morning in recognition of any transgression. For Shoshe, Shmul-Leibele’s praise of her worth each Sabbath is truly God’s blessing: “Here am I, a simple woman, an orphan, and yet God has chosen to bless me with a devoted husband who praises me in the holy tongue.”

As the couple allow no aspect of life to pass without an attempt to render it holy, so do they embrace their sudden death. Despite Shoshe’s initial alarm and confusion (“We went to sleep hale and hearty. . . . We were still young people. . . . We arranged a proper Sabbath.”), and encouraged by Shmul-Leibele’s acceptance of their fate (“Yes, Shoshe, praised be the true Judge! We are in God’s hands.”), the couple recall their final act of devotion as they prepare to give accounts of themselves to the angel of God.

The contrasts and parallels between the physical and spiritual worlds dominate the story. An examination of the story’s title itself suggests one such link: In the physical realm, it is on the...

(The entire section is 593 words.)