Bob Dylan And Isaac Singer

By Larry Fyffe

Polish-American writer Isaac Singer, influenced by the slave/master writings of Fredrich Nietzsche, pens a modern short satirical story “Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy” that brings attention to the rift between mystical and traditional aspects of the Judaic religion.

Advocates of the mystical view seek an emotional connection to a mysterious and transcendental God while those of the rational view focus on laws studied exclusively by males in Yeshiva schools – laws that, for example, place the female for the most part in the kitchen; even shaven-headed and walled-in at times. Singer’s story shows that he clearly sides with the former view.

Yentl rebels against the social order imposed upon her, dresses up as a man, and studies Judaic law with a male partner; her male friend marries a woman whom he’s expected to because the gal he really loves, is told to reject him. Yentl, though she falls in love with her Yeshiva partner, gets hitched to the traditionally minded gal. Avoids having sex with her, and then divorces the devoted girl in order that the Yeshiva school mate can leave his unhappy marriage to be with the one he loves.

In the meantime, doesn’t he fall in love with Yentl who reveals her secret to him – she’s actually a lady. Yentl tells him that she’s not interested in furthering their love relationship because she wants to continue on with her Judaic studies as painful as that may be. Not exactly a joyous Romantic ending to the story.

The Yentl story is made into a movie starring singer Barbara Streisand. The songstress doesn’t make a convincing looking male on the screen by a long shot. The movie ends with Yentl quite contentedly heading off to America in search of herself – her syrupy songs not befitting the original story by Singer:

Oh why is it that every time
I close my eyes he's there
The water shining on his skin
The sunlight in his hair
And all the while I'm thinking things
That I can never share
With him

(Barbara Streisand: The Way You Make Me Feel ~ A&M Bergman/Legrand)

Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan messes around with Isaac Singer’s story and film.

In the double-edged lyrics below, said to be written for Streisand, the singer/songwriter provides a response to the cross-dressing lady’s song above –  in it, the narrator suggests how Yentl can relieve her sexual tension:

Lay, lady, lay
Lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay
Stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day
Let me see you make him smile ....
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he's standing in front of you
(Bob Dylan: Lay, Lady, Lay)

Innovating on the rather sexually charged metaphors found in the Holy Book:

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood
So is my beloved among the sons
I sat down under his shadow with great delight
And his fruit was sweet to my taste
(Song Of Solomon 2:3)

Reverting to the old way of dealing with a non-submissive, independent-minded female ~ do away with her altogether ~ be frowned upon in the song lyrics following:

She said, "No dear"
I said, "Your words are not clear
You better spit out your gum"
She screamed till her face got so red
Then she fell on the floor
And I covered her up, and then
Thought I'd go look through her drawer
(Bob Dylan: Fourth Time Round)

Nor, below, is doing away with an unfaithful partner considered murder most fair:

Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
Rosemary on the gallows, she didn't even blink
The hanging judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink
The only person on the scene missing was the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Doing away with an artistic competitor by other means be apparently a different matter.

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  1. ….with story and film (seemingly so since the latter is not out yet when the song is written).

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