God, Man, and Devil

Translated from the Yiddish Got, mentsh, un tayvl (1900) by Jacob Gordin,

Dark, intelligent, thrills-and-chills melodrama; one of the most famous plays in the Yiddish repertory.

Satan bets God that he can corrupt a certain pious scribe by making him rich.  Sure enough, once Hershele wins the lottery, he gradually drops religious practice, becomes an unethical businessman, sweats his workers, abandons his loyalty to his father and friends, and divorces his faithful wife to marry a beautiful young woman. The juicy folk speech of his father, a wedding jester; the clever philosophizing of Satan, in his guise as the business partner; and Hershele’s own clinging to pious quotations as he feels himself slipping – all enrich the texture of the play’s dialogue. A musical setting of the Twenty-Third Psalm, which Hershele plays at intervals on the violin, adds poignancy.

Author Jacob Gordin was the reformer who transformed Yiddish theater from folk culture into an intellectually ambitious European literary art form.

The translation was read at New York University’s hotINK Festival in 2003, directed by Garrett Eisler. It was voted “biggest crowd-pleaser” after two seasons of readings at Payomet Performance Center on Cape Cod. There is a film version that renders the spooky atmosphere and some of the plot.

The script is available in God, Man, and Devil: Yiddish Plays in Translation, Syracuse University Press, 1999.

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