Der zindiker

[The Sinner]


Scene 1. Two gravediggers, preparing a grave in a shtetl graveyard, talk about the sinfulness of the man they are about to bury. As they dig, they find some bones, so they have to fill in the grave and find another place to bury the corpse.

Scene 2. Four pallbearers carry the corpse into the cemetery, accompanied by a woman dressed in black who was some sort of companion of the deceased, though no one knows whether they were married or not, or whether she is Jewish or Christian. People in the crowd that has gathered for the burial gossip about the deceased and the woman. The gravediggers start digging another grave, but when a jet of water shoots out of it, they are forced to find yet another place for the corpse. Community leaders ultimately settle on the spot next to the grave of a lamed-vovnik, or saintly man, since they think it’s unlikely that anything bad will happen to a grave so close to his. This choice causes some controversy, though, since a number of community members resent the idea that such a sinful man can be buried alongside such a holy one. When the gravediggers start digging in the third spot, they run into a large stone, which reinforces’ some onlookers’ belief that the earth itself rebels against taking in such a sinful man. The shtetl rabbi, though, suggests a test. He has seven bricks brought to the site. If they all succumb to being set on fire, then the man will have to be buried outside the cemetery. If even one stays intact, though, he can be buried within the cemetery. The bricks are set alight, and one after the other crumbles, until the seventh. The final brick almost falls apart, but then holds. When the gravediggers pick up their shovels yet again, they find that the large stone easily gives way, and they are finally able to lay the corpse to rest. Ultimately everyone leaves the cemetery except the woman in black, who lays her shawl across the newly dug grave as she mourns her partner in silence.