YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  THE GOLDEN CHAIN                                                 

THE GOLDEN CHAIN1, by I. L. Peretz

(Yiddish: Di goldene keyt)


photo: Playwright I. L. Peretz.


"The Golden Chain" (1907) by I. L. Peretz  is considered to be the crest of his dramatic writing. The play portrays three generations of a Hasidic court that are on the verge of inhalation. The play opens with the last generation, Rabbi Moishe, who is desperately trying to invoke his ancestors to come to his rescue and help him lead the congregation, but he turns out to be a weak leader and he is incapable of saving his court. As this happens in flashback scenes, the play takes us back to his grandfather's home, Rabbi Shlomo and his father, Rabbi Pinchas.

We are now at the eve of the Sabbath in the home of Rabbi Shlomo. The people are waiting for the Rabbi to come out of his room and make Havdalah – the ceremony that releases one from the Sabbath and enables him to return to his daily routine. Rabbi Shlomo refuses to make Havdalah, because he wants to keep them in the spiritual level of the Sabbath, an eternal Sabbath. The meaning of his decision is a life of pure spiritual, religious being with no hierarchy, judgment (God does not judge on the Sabbath), and by thus saving his congregation.  

Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Shlomo's son, revolts against this decision and makes the Havdalah on his own. He does so not meaning to protect the people but to force them to be judged and condemned for their sins.

He believes that if only one Jew is found pure and just, then the entire Jewish community will be saved. Rabbi Pinchas demands from the congregation that they atone for their crimes, and when he realizes that his people can not fulfill his demands and especially his daughter who marries the secular doctor, he deserts them and steps down.  The people turn to his son and the last generation of the Golden Chain but they know, as Rabbi Moishe does, that he is unfit, he does not have the stature of his grandfather or his father. When Rabbi Moishe hears the news that his lost daughter has given birth to a blind baby boy, he breaks down and understands that the Chain has finally been broken and the decedents of the great Rabbi – the Baal Shem have no generation to continue his legacy.

In this play Peretz predicts the Holocaust in Germany and Europe. He writes about such a destruction for the Jewish people and about the social and religious reasons underlying it. The play revolves around such questions as: Who is the right leader? What gives a leader his authority? What is the power of the people over the leader, etc….


photo: Berta Gerstin and Maurice Schwartz in "The Golden Chain."

This play was the first staged production by Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre's  at the start of third season, which took place at the Irving Place Theatre, on East 15th Street in Manhattan. "The Golden Chain" starred Maurice Schwartz, Berta Gerstin, Elihu Tenenholtz, Pincus Sherman, Anna Appel et al. 

You can hear a seven-minute scene from this production (with music), introduced by Risa (Frances) Schwartz, Maurice Schwartz's daughter and  played by Maurice Schwartz himself, by clicking here. Please give it a minute or two to load....

1 -- Adapted synopsis courtesy of the All About Jewish Theatre site, perhaps taken from the program of a production at the Tair Theatre in Tel Aviv, Israel.

I. L. Peretz photo from Zylbercweig's "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

 Scene photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

Audio scene from "The Golden Chain," courtesy of Risa Schwartz, from the album "Maurice Schwartz," Remembrance Record Co., Inc., date unknown





Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

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