The Magician


This little Yiddish book, with its illustrations by Marc Chagall, is the product of several converging trends in East European Jewry during the late-19th and early 20th centuries. It was written by Y. L. Peretz (1852–1915), a towering figure of the Jewish Enlightenment revered for his stories, plays, and poems in both Hebrew and Yiddish. Like many of Peretz’s works, Der Kuntsenmakher (variously translated as The Magician or The Trickster) draws its inspiration from the folktales of Hassidic Jewry, in this case the legends surrounding the wonder-working figure of Elijah the Prophet, who, disguised and unknown, visits an impoverished God-fearing couple on Passover Eve to transform their poverty into wealth. The story was first published several years before this edition, which is noteworthy for its black and white illustrations by Chagall, who at the time of publication was already a renowned artist with a unique relationship to the Jewish cultural milieu and its symbols. In a letter of 1923 Chagall recorded the circumstances surrounding his drawings for this book: “I didn’t even know Peretz personally. Only when a publisher (I don’t remember which) asked me to do drawings for one of Peretz’s tales, ‘The Magician,’ did I start reading. I was surprised  . . . the poor and splendid Jewish images and figures float up from the little white pages. . . . And really, from childhood on, haven’t they dangled anxiously inside us—those tunes, Sabbath days, Friday evenings, velvet caps, your first loves, landscapes breathing with psalms, the last tones of the weary cantor, and Jews, Jews on the earth and in the sky.”

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Vilner ferlag fun B.A. Kletskin, Vilnius


Title in Original Language

דער קונצענמאכער

Type of Item

Physical Description

13 pages : illustrations

Last updated: September 27, 2013