It is a pleasure to read the three versions of Simple Gimpl, a short tale by the Noble Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991): the original in Yiddish by Singer., the translation into English by Singer and David Stromberg, and the translation by Noble Prize-winning author Saul Bellow (1915-2005). Each of the three has subtle differences from the other two. The book includes Liana Finck’s fanciful drawings and David Stromberg’s Afterword. This 2022 tale edition was first published in 1945 as Gimpl tam.

I disagree with David Stromberg’s analysis of the tale. He compares Gimpl with a story by the famous Hassidic Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810), where the Rebbe’s protagonist lost faith. Stromberg sees Singer’s character, who is a fool, according to Bellow’s translation, or a simpleton in Singer’s, as a man who has faith. He is continually dupped because he is either a fool or simple. There is no indication that he has faith.

Gimpl is a baker with a low level of intelligence. He recognizes that he is continually fooled and that people laugh at his foolishness. They play tricks on him frequently. The story focuses on the worst trick. People persuade Gimpl that the town’s pregnant prostitute is a virgin who is in love with him and wants to marry him. They claim that a youngster living with her is not her child but her brother. He believes them, goes to her, and proposes marriage.

She tells him she would only agree if she is given a dowry. When Gimpl says he understands that the bride’s family provides the groom with the dowry, she persuades him that her situation is different. The town jokers gather enough money to satisfy the prostitute, and the two marry. However, whenever Gimpl tries to consummate their relationship, she finds an excuse, such as an illness. So, Gimpl has to sleep at the bakery.

Four months pass, she gives birth, insisting the child is Gimpl’s. When Gimpl wonders how it is possible to bear a child after four months, she persuades him that it is possible. As time passes, Gimpl sees a man lying with her in her bed. She convinces him that he did not see what he thinks he saw. Later, she has another child. Gimpl sees his assistant baker in bed with her and is fooled again.

If David Stromberg is correct in saying that Singer’s tale is teaching us about faith, Singer must say that having faith, relying on and acting on ideas that are contrary or not proven by logic, is foolish. People should not rely on faith. They should seek to improve their knowledge and intelligence. He would say that people who rely on faith are fools, and Soren Kierkegaard, who advised people to take a “leap of faith” whenever they face situations they cannot understand, are being duped. Rationalists would say this is sound philosophy.

Stromberg may be right in giving this tale this interpretation. But I doubt it.

Rather than comparing Gimpl with Nahman’s tale, it should be compared with Isaac Leybush Peretz’s (also known as I. L. Peretz, 1852-1915) magnificent Yiddish short story Bontshe Shveig, in English Bontshe the Silent. It is a sad story about a poor man and what happens to him after death.  It is like Gimpl, a tale about people who suffer tragedies they cannot understand. It is a masterpiece. Bontshe did not understand what was happening to him. Even when he died, was in heaven, and was offered a reward for living a good life, he only asked for bread. The angels were embarrassed, and the devil roared with laughter. Peretz and not Singer should have been given the Noble Prize for literature for Bontshe the Silent, If Not Higher, and all the many others.

Gimpl should also be compared to Gustave Flaubert’s A Simple Soul (1821-1880). Flaubert is widely recognized as a brilliant classical writer known for his masterpiece, Madam Bovary. Like Peretz, he can capture the essence of people and describe it interestingly. People should read classics such as Madam Bovary and this story; they are considered classics because they have withstood time and are enjoyed even today.

A Simple Soul is filled with pathos. Flaubert explores the tragic and sad situation of many simple people who lack sufficient intelligence to participate fully in life around them. They are ignored and secluded. They live an unrewarded life. Theologians address the issue: Why would God create such people? How does God relate to them?

It is about Felicite, a simple, uneducated woman with a low IQ, who is, like many simple people, perfect at what she does; she is the ideal maid, highly respected for her work, a maid everyone would be happy to have. We read about her first love and sympathize with her, how she saves her mistress but is then exploited, and her reactions to religion, upon which she relies but doesn’t understand, like Gimpl and Bontshe. Flaubert describes her yearnings, fears, reactions to death, sublimated and highly unusual love for a parrot, and final unfortunate years.