Friday, 11 November 2011

The Great Apikoros

As you may have seen from my Twitter feed (ooh look, it's there on the right), I've just come across the joke, written down by Leo Rosten, quoted a few months ago by Marc Alan Di Martino (@godlessinitaly), which I will reproduce here:

A brilliant young student goes to an old, learned rabbi and defiantly exclaims, “I must tell you the truth! I have become an apikoros. I no longer believe in God.” 
“And how long,” asks the elder, “have you been studying Talmud?” 
“Five years,” says the student. 
“Only five years,” sighed the rabbi, “and you have the nerve to call yourself an apikoros?!…”
Now, that's a wonderful joke, and it reminds me of another one, which I have found versions of here, here, here and here; no doubt there are many others. I would like, however, to attempt my own telling of this joke, which will obviously be based on many hearings of it previously, not all of which I can cite but I will mention my father having told it to me on more than one occasion.

There was once a young man in a small Lithuanian shtetl, who was not like the other young men. They would dream of going off to one of the great yeshivas in Vilna, to learn Torah at the feet of the most eminent rabbis in the world. But our hero, who fancied himself an apikoros, had heard tell of the Great Apikoros of Vilna, and longed to converse with and learn from him.

So, he travelled to Vilna, and made his enquiries. Eventually his investigations led him to the synagogue, where an old man, wearing a yarmulke and tzitzis, was stooped over a heavy, dusty tome. He approached the stranger, but stopped as he saw him rise to daven mincha. He rolled his eyes and waited for him to finish praying, and then spoke.

"Excuse me, Sir," asked the young apikoros. "Do you happen to know where I might find The Great Apikoros of Vilna?"

"Look no further," came the reply, in a measured, rabbinic voice.

The young man was astonished. "You're the Great Apikoros? But, you're wearing a yarmulke! And tzitzis! And you're learning, and... and davening! What kind of an apikoros are you? I came all the way from Erzvilkas to meet you, only to find I'm already more of an apikoros than you are!"

"And what should I be doing?"

"What I do - smoke on Shabbos, eat pork on Yom Kippur. I would never be seen in shul and I certainly don't learn Torah."

The Great Apikoros nodded wisely. "Ah, that is the confusion. You see, I am an apikoros. You, however - you are stam a goy."

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