Iripomonoeia is the “Creature” Rabbi Isaac Kornfeld addresses in the “love” letter found in his pocket after he hanged himself from a tree in a park. She seems to be a sort of pagan goddess of Nature, who seduces the rabbi into the ‘pagan” worship of Nature over his Jewish faith.
Isaac and Sheindal’s Daughters
Isaac and Sheindal have seven daughters, including Naomi, Esther, Miriam and Ophra. Isaac announces each new birth to the narrator in brief notes that they exchange with each book the rabbi orders from the bookseller. As the rabbi’s preoccupation with Nature becomes more extreme, his bedtime stories to his daughters become more fantastical and disturbing.
Isaac Kornfeld’s Father
Isaac Kornf eld’s father, a rabbi, was both friends and enemies with the narrator’s father, also a rabbi. The two fathers shared a professional competition in their rabbinical work and prestige.
Jane is the narrator’s former wife. As she is non-Jewish, his marriage to her represents a rebellion against his father, who is a rabbi. The narrator worked in Jane’s father’s fur business while married to her, but left the business when they divorced.
Isaac Kornfeld is the “pagan rabbi” of the story’s title. He is a renowned rabbi who commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree in a park at the age of thirty-six. The story centers on the narrator’s attempts to understand the motivation and meaning of the rabbi’s unexpected suicide. He learns, through a letter and a notebook found in the rabbi’s pockets at the time of his death, that the rabbi had become preoccupied with philosophical and theological musings on the worship of Nature. The rabbi had written a ”love letter” to a Creature, which seemed to be some sort of goddess of nature. Seduced by this Creature of Nature, he had become obsessed with nature and plant life, which carried him further and further away from his Jewish faith toward a’ ‘paganism” based on the worship of Nature.
Sheindal Kornfeld, also addressed as Rebbetzin Kornfeld (wife of the rabbi), is the widow of Rabbi Isaac Kornfeld. The narrator had first met her at her wedding to Isaac, when she was seventeen years old. He was struck by her long, dark, beautiful hair, which would be hidden from the public eye, according to Orthodox Jewish Law, after her marriage. Sheindal is a Holocaust survivor, who was born in a concentration camp and saved by a liberating army at the last minute from death by being thrown against an electrical fence by the Nazis. She retains a scar, shaped like an asterisk, on her cheek where the barbed wire had cut her face. When the narrator goes to visit her upon Isaac’s suicide, she is bitter and disdainful of her husband’s loss of Jewish faith and foray into the pagan worship of Nature. The narrator falls in love with Sheindal immediately upon seeing her, and plans to woo and marry her. But after she shows him the letter left by the rabbi, the narrator is struck by her inability to forgive her deceased husband for his apostasy. The narrator, reminded of his own father, who refused to forgive him for quitting rabbinical school, leaves Sheindal, no longer interested in marrying her.
The narrator of the story, who is unnamed, is a Jewish man in his mid-thirties. His father was a rabbi. When he left rabbinical school, his father declared him dead and never spoke to him again. As the story opens, he has just learned that Isaac Kornfeld, with whom he had attended rabbinical school, had committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. In an attempt to understand the meaning of Isaac’s death, the narrator first goes to look at the tree from which Isaac hanged himself, then goes to visit Sheindal, Isaac’s widow. The narrator learns about Isaac’s crisis in faith and turn to the ‘’pagan” worship of Nature through Sheindal, who asks him to read both the notebook and the letter left in the rabbi’s pockets upon his death. The narrator instantly falls in love with Sheindal, having met her only once before, and the two of them discuss Isaac’s preoccupation with Nature leading up to his suicide. When the narrator sees that Sheindal is unable to forgive her deceased husband for wandering from Jewish faith into paganism, he is reminded of his own father, who was unable to forgive him for leaving rabbinical school. No longer interested in pursuing Sheindal, the narrator leaves her, suggesting she go to find her husband’s soul in the park where he hung himself. He goes home and flushes the three houseplants he has down the toilet.
The Narrator’s Father
The narrator’s father, a rabbi, declares his son (the narrator) dead when he leaves rabbinical school. He observes traditional Jewish mourning practices over the loss of his son, and never speaks to him again, even when they are both present at Isaac’s wedding to Sheindal. The narrator’s father has a disease of the throat, an ”obstruction” that makes it difficult and, eventually, impossible for him to speak. The narrator explains that ”I was afraid of my father; he had a certain disease of the larynx, and if he even uttered something so trivial as ‘Bring the tea’ to my mother, it came out splintered, clamorous, and vindictive.” At the present time of the story, the narrator’s father is already dead.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Cynthia Ozick, Published by Gale Group, 2001.