Chapter the Eighth.
A conversation with Khaitshe about the disposition of women, their fainting and their fits. - Makarovtsi. - The Russian and the Polish priest. - Our conversations. - Whose religion is superior? - The villagers of the neighbourhood. - The period of the Days of Awe. - Villagers take sons-in-law. - The purchasing of 'shtet' in the synagogues.
I told Khaitshe that my wife once had fainted because she saw me receiving money from a Christian in my bare hand on a Shabbes, without having covered my hand first with a kerchief, as it the custom of Jews living in villages and small towns.
In big cities they had found other ways to deal with this problem.
In all restaurants and beer houses they had tokens made of tin plate or copper, with the name of the proprietor engraved on them. All Warsaw Jews who could not get through Shabbes without beer would buy these tokens on Friday, using them to pay for beer and wine during Shabbes. All Jews in the beverage business would work very hard on that day, because the Jews of Warsaw drink lots of beer during Shabbes!
Personally I am opposed to the way some Jews make up exemptions. It is well known that the reason why Jews are forbidden to carry money, or even to touch it, why it is called 'muktse', is because one should rest. Without money a person cannot make a move, he cannot buy or sell.
And here comes a man who produces the same metal money, from brass or even from tin plate, a kind of substitute-coins and thinks he is free to work all Shabbes like a horse. It's permitted because his name is engraved on them; if the name of the Czar is on, it's forbidden.
I told Khaitshe about my wife, and she said, in her own words,
"My dear young man! Don't trust women who faint. Let me tell you how I used to faint myself all the time . I'd swoon on the slightest pretext. If I didn't succeed in getting what I wanted I would throw a fit straight away."
Here she looked ironically at her audience and continued her story:
"Having lost my father my dear lad, I was an orphan. When I was sixteen years old I was a very comely girl and considered to be bright as well. I could write in Hebrew and in Russian at that age, while in those days most Jewish girls could not even scribble an 'alef'. To have a girl of sixteen remain unmarried was not in fashion then, so I married and got myself a small town father-in-law, a rich Jew worth fifty thousand rubles. His son, the only one he had, became my husband. The father-in-law had wanted a high class and very virtuous wife for his son. Whether she had money or not didn't matter. So I was Miss Right, the 'basherte'. I only paid three hundred rubles dowry. My father had been ailing for a long time so we lived in reduced circumstances. Yes, a few thousand rubles of my father's fortune remained and a lot of table silver, but I had two sisters and a brother and my mother had to live too. When I got a marriage proposal that did not stipulate any money I took three hundred rubles from the dowry sum of thousand rubles that had been alloted to me in order to give the rest to my sisters.
When I arrived at my father-in-law's house in that small town where I was to have my food and lodging as part of the contract, I was shocked. My father-in-law lived in a big house with many rooms, furnished with nothing but simple unvarnished wooden benches and tables all over. The family were served from glazed stone cooking pots and ate from earthenware plates with tinplated spoons. They ate well, they lacked nothing, but it was all very modest. And that was not only the case with the food, but with everything in the household. They would drink their tea from a jug and some tea that was - undrinkable.
The local rov was a friend of my father-in-law . He came over for shabbes, staying for all seven benedictions1. He was obviously taken with me, for he invited me and my husband to visit him the next shabbes. Because the rov approved of me and after our visit his wife also liked me the whole town took a liking to me as a result of which I put on airs and started to behave haughty and stuck up.
I figured that I could get my way if I took my time. My aim was that our household would eat with silver spoons, from the best china plates and that the simple benches would be replaced with sofa's and chairs, just like in my own family's place.
Even though my father had been impoverished, we had still eaten from silver spoons. I had assumed that it would be even more luxurous at my father-in-law's, such a wealthy man!
O, how I loved rich furniture, nice table-ware, mirrors on the wall, to feel long good quality runners of underfoot . But what to do about it? I could hardly order the father-in-law to upgrade the place. He was an elderly man who could not be expected to change his ways. Once I said to my father-in-law that I could not possibly live in such primitive surroundings.
"You're a rich man," I said, "so why don't you live like one? I can't eat from such plates, with those spoons. I can't sit on these crude and narrow benches. I am used to sitting on upholstered chairs and sofa's, like at my father's."
The father-in-law answered, that he could for instance make me a gift of thousand rubles, but changing his way of life, which had been the way of life of his father and father's father, that he could not.
Just as much as I loved my father's furniture he loved his coarse tables and benches.
It was on that very occasion that I first took up my female weaponry. I fainted. That caused quite an upset in the house, it scared them all out of their wits. It was a small town, so the whole population came running to my rescue. And after they had saved me, the father-in-law asked,
"Well, my daughter, tell me, what is it you want me to buy you?"
At that I regained full conciousness quickly and said,
"Give me three hundred rubles, then I will go to Grodno to buy furniture, tableware and other things for in the house."
But to no avail, He didn't want to.
Another half a year went by. They both loved me, but I could not get my way with them. So I started having fits again.
This time my father-in-law gave in and from then on I always succeded in getting everything I wanted that way.
But there is a limit to everything, a fact I had ignored as long as I was victorious.
One day, when I had fainted as usual and my husband was busy bringing me to, I heard him say while working on me,
"Khaytshe, Khaytshe, one day you will faint and I will just not bother reviving you again."
Oho [ehe]! That really frightened me, that would not do at all.
I got up immediately and said:
"I'm all right. I won't want anything any more, but you've got to promise bring me around."
Then Khaytshe ridiculed men being led by the nose, with wives, who could get anything in the world by faking a faint. Useless, she called them.
The gentlemen that were with me in the room laughed. I told my wife about Khaytshe's fainting fits and how she thought about it. From then on she seems to have stopped the practice herself.
Life was not bad in those days. I made more than enough money. During the long winter evenings I read books on philosophy, a subject that had always interested me a lot. There was also company to be enjoyed.
My wife would have liked to see me make more work of Rozenblum, for my own benefit. I didn't feel like it, flattery wasn't my field. My wife could say whatever she wanted . Women are never content with what they have. I cared more about a good book than about all the Rozenblums in the world with their fortunes and all.
Every year I would set aside a few hundred rubles and life went on. Sometimes I would have a chat with the Polish priest, my neighbor, a well-educated Christian and a devout man. He was not a man of many words.
The Russian priest was less polished, didn't know much, but was a kinder man and we had a good relationship.
This Russian priest was tall and thickset, a healthy and jovial type. He would arrive with a team of three horses, dismount and remain at my place for a couple of hours. Piety was something he wasn't much interested in; he was quite an expert in committing the minor sins.
The Polish priest used to threaten that I would not be admitted to Gan-Eden.
"Khatskel, they don't let Jews in, in Paradise.They hate Jews there ."
Here he would point with his finger to the sky.
To which I would ask him, "How can you be so sure that they will love you in the other world?"
That's how we used to conduct our arguments.
I remember how once he tried to prove to me that as far as miracles go Christ had been superior to Moses. For instance, when Christ visited a town all the dead would rise in the graveyard to go and welcome him, even those that had been dead for centuries. Moshe could not do anything like that.
In reply I quoted something that Sadya ha Goen2 had said in another context:
"If someone would say , for example, that a man drank out a barrel of water containing ten buckets, but that someone else drank a whole spring of water, while a third one drank a whole river and yet another man the Ocean and he would ask who had performed the greatest miracle, one would have to come to the conclusion that these miracles are all the same, because if a man who normally cannot drink more than one glass of water succeeds in drinking ten buckets, he performs the same miracle as the man who drinks the whole ocean; it is as impossible to drink a sea as to drink ten buckets of water.
Can a man part the waters of the sea?. Get water from a stone? Provide manna to feed six hundred thousand people in a desert? No man can do such things and about that other thing - no one can do that either."
I don't have to say that we did not succeed in convincing each other.
He once asked me,
"How can you possibly say in your prayers: "ato-bekhartonu mikol haim, ohevet verotsis benu, verommatonu mikol ha leshones" etc, "Thou hast chosen us from amongst all peoples, thou hast loved and coveted us, thou has raised us above all tongues3." ?
"How is it possible? " asked the priest , "How can you tell God such a rank lie? People murder you, they butcher you, they burn you, they molest you, assault, walk all over you and after all of that you approach God with a gross lie like that? What a shameless thing to do!"
"My dear lordship," I answered him, "If it wasn't the truth, for what reason would your Christ have been born of Jews? If that's not a sure sign that God choose the Jews from amongst all peoples!"
That answer dimmed his enthusiasm for a while.
The villagers of the neighborhood thought me a man of some distinction. I was, for instance, a bit of a scholar, something the others were not. When I came to Biale-Koze to take part in a minyen on Shabbes at the miller's, they would ask me to stand next to the book and call up to the reading of the scriptures.
The villagers didn't know what to make of me, what rank4 to bestow on me. They eventually decided that my rank entailed that the 'minyen' to say prayers gathered at my place.
After the 'minyen' started meeting at my place, the number of people that came to pray increased every Shabbes. In the course of time more and more villagers came from miles around. There was another advantage for the 'minyen' to gather at my place: I had subscriptions to the "Meylets5" and the "Maged". They were a great source of news and people craved news . In time my villagers all became great world-politicians. They would devour the papers and form factions, holding fierce discussions [zey hobn geshept fun di tsaytungen un zikh geteylt, vi mit a bisn fun moyl].
Rozenblum had a subscription to a daily paper from Warsaw, so I could provide an oral supplement of news and politics from what I had heard from Rozenblum, enabling them to become such experts in politics that they might have talked a man like Bismarck into a corner. May God protect the reader from scenes like the ones that took place at my house in the year 1870, during the Franco-Prusian war6. The house was buzzing like a beehive, everyone was full of the events; the villagers would even come in the middle of the week to get the latest news. Jews and politics, that's really something.
The week before Rosheshone I started making preparations for the trip to Krinik with wife and children, with kit and caboodle, for the celebration of Rosheshone. Because of the Shabbes there would be three holidays7.
Rozenblum had gone to Warsaw for Rosheshone and Yonkiper leaving behind orders at the farm to provide me with two carts with two horses each to go to Krinik with Rosheshone.
Around Rosheshone every villager started preparing for the trip to town, on which he would take his whole family, pots and pans and plates and all. No Jew remained in the village during Rosheshone. Even if a villager was sick, or his wife was about to give birth, to town they went. They travelled taking along babies, toddlers, the sick and the weak. It would have been impossible to form a 'minyen' at this time of the year. Every Jew had to be in the shul on the day of reckoning, on 'yomhadin'.
When Rosheshone was near, husband and wife would drive to town to buy material for clothes, for themselves and their children. And not to forget, they would make 'chic' dresses for the marriageable young maidens who were already engaged .
The wealthier villagers would summon a tailor with his assistant and keep them occupied for about a month. When the villagers came to town on Rosheshone they were dressed in new clothes that creaked8.
The townspeople were nice to the villagers, took pity on them: Those poor people had lived all year among goyim in a village, without a study house, a bathhouse or a 'mikve' .
For the villagers Rosheshone was a big occasion. They were ever so pleased that the townspeople talked and mixed with them. Rosheshone was the time most marriage deals were made. The less well to do townspeople married their children off to the more solid villagers who always had bread on the table. However simple their lifestyle, almost all of them had food in the cupboard. Especially the richer villagers had a very good life.
In the old days the villagers mainly took students for sons-in-law. They asked their relatives in the city to look out for a husband for their daughters among the boys from the study-house. These boys, as I mentioned before, often came from other towns to study. These students were much sought after. [vi matse-vaser].
During the Days of Awe the trade in prospective husbands blossomed. Around Rosheshone each villager would select a youngster, a student, taking into account how big a dowry he could afford. Usually an understanding was reached on Rosheshone between the parents-in-law and the young student, whose parents lived far away. The boy and girl concerned weren't allowed to talk together. They would secretly throw burning glances at each other, while their hearts throbbed wildly.
After Rosheshone the poor boy would write a letter to his parents, informing them that had been noticed favorably by a villager, a solid householder or a rich man, who wanted him as his son-in-law. Soon after he would receive his parents power of attorney, stating that they consented to the marriage arrangement and the marriage contract would be drawn up in due course. If it was possible for the young man's parents to come over, they would be present at the 'tnoim' ceremony, if not, no big deal, it could be done without them.
Sometimes these young men were not the brightest students, but they made up for study skills with good looks or being good talkers. Once these 'students' had moved in with their fathers-in-law on contractual food and lodging, the young couple would get a room of their own and the student would take up his studies by loudly singsonging texts. He might not really look in his books, only incantate some lines from the Gemore, but his father and mother-in-law would be delighted just the same.
They were overjoyed. Deep in their heart they knew for sure that because of their son-in-law, their student, their place in 'ganeydn' was ensured. I am talking especially about the poorer villagers.
During the first year such a young man would live as a king, get only the very best on his plate, sleep a lot and sing Gemore.
It would not take long before the son-in-law announced that he needed a new Gemore, he was through with the first one. The father-in-law, ever so pleased, would go and borrow another Gemore from a rich villager. - The well to do ones used to have the complete set. After some time the son-in-law would say that he had finished studying this part too and that he needed another 'mesekhte'. The father-in-law would happily bring away the last 'mesekhte' and exchange it for a new one, even more pleased than the last time.
These young people behaved haughtily, they looked down on everyone. To tell the truth, even the farmers who came to my tavern for a drink spoke favourably of those young gents.
"They are well-educated, you know", they would comment respectfully.
But villagers also liked to forge relations through marriage with other villagers in the neighborhood, in which case the boys and girls knew each other beforehand. They might even keep teachers for their boys. Learning wasn't for girls.
Sometimes a group of villagers would hire a teacher for their boys who was to teach at the house of one of them. The villager in whose house he stayed was responsible for food and lodging and for the boys of the others the teacher received a salary. They normally paid a teacher between thirty and forty rubles per semester. Fifty rubles per semester was considered extremely well paid.
These village-teachers were usually bad instructors and their instruction normally did the village boys little good.
There were some rich villagers who employed really good teachers for their sons-in-law; there is nothing that money won't buy. Before the days of Nicolai9 there were very few villagers at all. Well brought up Jews would not think of becoming one. It was considered a miserable thing to do. Jews would only have taverns on a lease contract or hold concessions.
But after the Polish uprising, when lots of Jews settled down on the estates and in the forests, even fine Jews of the best families started negotiating leases for taverns and bidding for concessions from the estate-holding Jews, the new nobility. In those days the whole Jewish aristocracy flocked from the cities into the villages. The village daughters started dressing in the finest clothes, to dispel in no time the bad name 'those ignorant villagers' used to have. At least, they improved their standing a lot, though some of the old prejudices remain to this very day.
In the sixties their daughters already had education, just like the boys. They would employ excellent teachers.
It was during this very period that I lived in Makarovtsi. It was already seven, eight years after the Polish uprising10. First class, fine and rich Jews had settled in the villages. In my time villagers were considered highly respectable. On Rosheshone they would ride into town in style and they would own the best place in the study houses and synagogues.
Before Rosheshone I had purchased a 'shtot' for myself11. In the shul of Krinik there was a very good one to be had, right next to the 'arnkoydesh', where the rov always stands or moves about. I acquired the place and thought myself quite an aristocrat. But as I said before, most villagers bought themselves good places and I doubt whether my pleasure was much greater than theirs. There was a very strong competition trying to get respectability.
1brokhes: there are only six during a shabes dinner.
2grester gelernter. filosof un geystiker firer fun di yidn in bavl in di zayt fun di geyoynim (942-882). Saadiah ibn Yusuf al-Fayyum = Saadiah (ben Yosef) Gaon. He did believe in the resurrection of the dead (sefer ha-emunes ve ha-daas).
3"Tu nous as choisis d'entre tous les peuples; Tu nous as aimés et a pris plaisir en nous, et nous as haussés au-dessus de toutes les langues; Tu nous as sanctifiés par Tes commandements et nous as rapprochés de Ton culte, notre Roi; Tu nous as appelés par Ton Nom grand et sacré." "du hot unz oysderveylt", erste verter fun a tfile, vos me zogt yontev baym davnen; zats vos drikt oys dem gedank az yidn zaynen gots oysderveylt folk.
4R. shin - of the 14 ranks in the czarist civil service.
5The Ha-Melits was published in Odessa, the Ha-Maggid in Lutsk, East-Prussia. Fom Warsaw came the Ha-Tsefirah. All these newspapers were in Hebrew.
61870-1871; 10 May, Peace of Frankfurt, France lost Alsace-Lorraine.
71 Tishri 5632 or 16 Sept. 1871 was a Saturday. Rosheshone lasts two days. The holidays could only last three days if Rosheshone was preceded by a Shabbes. The earliest date Kotik could have taken wife and children to Krinik is 1868 (he had arrived there autumn 1867), but it seems that he is talking about the year after the Franco-Prussian war, 1871. During the Period 1870-1877 the first of Tishri never fell on a Sunday.
8Comp. Vol. I, Chapt. XVII, 'amolike malbushim', where the materials used and their qualities are described.
9Nicholas I - Nicolai Pavlovich 1796-1855; Czar of Russia (1825-1855).
10For a description of the impact the Polish Uprising of 1863 had on the Kotik family and on the Polish Jews in general, see Vol. I, Chapt. XXII.
11Comp. Vol. I, Chapt. XXIX, wher the author says: "I recall that in my youth the price of a 'shtot' on the western wall of a prayer house in a small city equaled the price of a house."
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