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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. "Reb" Shemuel
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. 'Reb' Shemuel Post by :Samoyedman Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :1184

Click below to download : Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. "Reb" Shemuel (Format : PDF)

Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. "Reb" Shemuel

BOOK I. CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO CHAPTER VI. "REB" SHEMUEL

"The Torah is greater than the priesthood and than royalty, seeing that royalty demands thirty qualifications, the priesthood twenty-four, while the Torah is acquired by forty-eight. And these are they: By audible study; by distinct pronunciation; by understanding and discernment of the heart; by awe, reverence, meekness, cheerfulness; by ministering to the sages; by attaching oneself to colleagues; by discussion with disciples; _by sedateness; by knowledge of the Scripture and of the Mishnah; by moderation in business, in intercourse with the world, in pleasure, in sleep, in conversation, in laughter; by long suffering; by a good heart; by faith in the wise; by resignation under chastisement; by recognizing one's place, rejoicing in one's portion, putting a fence to one's words, claiming no merit for oneself; by being beloved, loving the All-present, loving mankind, loving just courses, rectitude and reproof; by keeping oneself far from honors, not boasting of one's learning, nor delighting in giving decisions; by bearing the yoke with one's fellow, judging him favorably and leading him to truth and peace; by being composed in one's study; by asking and answering, hearing and adding thereto (by one's own reflection), by learning with the object of teaching and learning with the object of practising, by making one's master wiser, fixing attention upon his discourse, and reporting a thing in the name of him who said it. So thou hast learnt. Whosoever reports a thing in the name of him that said it brings deliverance into the world, as it is said--And Esther told the King in the name of Mordecai."--(_Ethics of the Fathers_, Singer's translation.)

Moses Ansell only occasionally worshipped at the synagogue of "The Sons of the Covenant," for it was too near to make attendance a _Mitzvah_, pleasing in the sight of Heaven. It was like having the prayer-quorum brought to you, instead of your going to it. The pious Jew must speed to _Shool to show his eagerness and return slowly, as with reluctant feet, lest Satan draw the attention of the Holy One to the laches of His chosen people. It was not easy to express these varying emotions on a few nights of stairs, and so Moses went farther afield, in subtle minutiae like this Moses was _facile princeps_, being as Wellhausen puts it of the _virtuosi of religion. If he put on his right stocking (or rather foot lappet, for he did not wear stockings) first, he made amends by putting on the left boot first, and if he had lace-up boots, then the boot put on second would have a compensatory precedence in the lacing. Thus was the divine principle of justice symbolized even in these small matters.

Moses was a great man in several of the more distant _Chevras_, among which he distributed the privilege of his presence. It was only when by accident the times of service did not coincide that Moses favored the "Sons of the Covenant," putting in an appearance either at the commencement or the fag end, for he was not above praying odd bits of the service twice over, and even sometimes prefaced or supplemented his synagogal performances by solo renditions of the entire ritual of a hundred pages at home. The morning services began at six in summer and seven in winter, so that the workingman might start his long day's work fortified.

At the close of the service at the Beth Hamidrash a few mornings after the Redemption of Ezekiel, Solomon went up to Reb Shemuel, who in return for the privilege of blessing the boy gave him a halfpenny. Solomon passed it on to his father, whom he accompanied.

"Well, how goes it, Reb Meshe?" said Reb Shemuel with his cheery smile, noticing Moses loitering. He called him "Reb" out of courtesy and in acknowledgment of his piety. The real "Reb" was a fine figure of a man, with matter, if not piety, enough for two Moses Ansells. Reb was a popular corruption of "Rav" or Rabbi.

"Bad," replied Moses. "I haven't had any machining to do for a month. Work is very slack at this time of year. But God is good."

"Can't you sell something?" said Reb Shemuel, thoughtfully caressing his long, gray-streaked black beard.

"I have sold lemons, but the four or five shillings I made went in bread for the children and in rent. Money runs through the fingers somehow, with a family of five and a frosty winter. When the lemons were gone I stood where I started."

The Rabbi sighed sympathetically and slipped half-a-crown into Moses's palm. Then he hurried out. His boy, Levi, stayed behind a moment to finish a transaction involving the barter of a pea-shooter for some of Solomon's buttons. Levi was two years older than Solomon, and was further removed from him by going to a "middle class school." His manner towards Solomon was of a corresponding condescension. But it took a great deal to overawe Solomon, who, with the national humor, possessed the national _Chutzpah_, which is variously translated enterprise, audacity, brazen impudence and cheek.

"I say, Levi," he said, "we've got no school to-day. Won't you come round this morning and play I-spy-I in our street? There are some splendid corners for hiding, and they are putting up new buildings all round with lovely hoardings, and they're knocking down a pickle warehouse, and while you are hiding in the rubbish you sometimes pick up scrumptious bits of pickled walnut. Oh, golly, ain't they prime!'"

Levi turned up his nose.

"We've got plenty of whole walnuts at home," he said.

Solomon felt snubbed. He became aware that this tall boy had smart black clothes, which would not be improved by rubbing against his own greasy corduroys.

"Oh, well," he said, "I can get lots of boys, and girls, too."

"Say," said Levi, turning back a little. "That little girl your father brought upstairs here on the Rejoicing of the Law, that was your sister, wasn't it?"

"Esther, d'ye mean?"

"How should I know? A little, dark girl, with a print dress, rather pretty--not a bit like you."

"Yes, that's our Esther--she's in the sixth standard and only eleven."

"We don't have standards in our school!" said Levi contemptuously. "Will your sister join in the I-spy-I?"

"No, she can't run," replied Solomon, half apologetically. "She only likes to read. She reads all my 'Boys of England' and things, and now she's got hold of a little brown book she keeps all to herself. I like reading, too, but I do it in school or in _Shool_, where there's nothing better to do."

"Has she got a holiday to-day, too?"

"Yes," said Solomon.

"But my school's open," said Levi enviously, and Solomon lost the feeling of inferiority, and felt avenged.

"Come, then, Solomon," said his father, who had reached the door. The two converted part of the half-crown into French loaves and carried them home to form an unexpected breakfast.

Meantime Reb Shemuel, whose full name was the Reverend Samuel Jacobs, also proceeded to breakfast. His house lay near the _Shool_, and was approached by an avenue of mendicants. He arrived in his shirt-sleeves.

"Quick, Simcha, give me my new coat. It is very cold this morning."

"You've given away your coat again!" shrieked his wife, who, though her name meant "Rejoicing," was more often upbraiding.

"Yes, it was only an old one, Simcha," said the Rabbi deprecatingly. He took off his high hat and replaced it by a little black cap which he carried in his tail pocket.

"You'll ruin me, Shemuel!" moaned Simcha, wringing her hands. "You'd give away the shirt off your skin to a pack of good-for-nothing _Schnorrers_."

"Yes, if they had only their skin in the world. Why not?" said the old Rabbi, a pacific gleam in his large gazelle-like eyes. "Perhaps my coat may have the honor to cover Elijah the prophet."

"Elijah the prophet!" snorted Simcha. "Elijah has sense enough to stay in heaven and not go wandering about shivering in the fog and frost of this God-accursed country."

The old Rabbi answered, "Atschew!"

"For thy salvation do I hope, O Lord," murmured Simcha piously in Hebrew, adding excitedly in English, "Ah, you'll kill yourself, Shemuel." She rushed upstairs and returned with another coat and a new terror.

"Here, you fool, you've been and done a fine thing this time! All your silver was in the coat you've given away!"

"Was it?" said Reb Shemuel, startled. Then the tranquil look returned to his brown eyes. "No, I took it all out before I gave away the coat."

"God be thanked!" said Simcha fervently in Yiddish. "Where is it? I want a few shillings for grocery."

"I gave it away before, I tell you!"

Simcha groaned and fell into her chair with a crash that rattled the tray and shook the cups.

"Here's the end of the week coming," she sobbed, "and I shall have no fish for _Shabbos_."

"Do not blaspheme!" said Reb Shemuel, tugging a little angrily at his venerable beard. "The Holy One, blessed be He, will provide for our _Shabbos_"

Simcha made a sceptical mouth, knowing that it was she and nobody else whose economies would provide for the due celebration of the Sabbath. Only by a constant course of vigilance, mendacity and petty peculation at her husband's expense could she manage to support the family of four comfortably on his pretty considerable salary. Reb Shemuel went and kissed her on the sceptical mouth, because in another instant she would have him at her mercy. He washed his hands and durst not speak between that and the first bite.

He was an official of heterogeneous duties--he preached and taught and lectured. He married people and divorced them. He released bachelors from the duty of marrying their deceased brothers' wives. He superintended a slaughtering department, licensed men as competent killers, examined the sharpness of their knives that the victims might be put to as little pain as possible, and inspected dead cattle in the shambles to see if they were perfectly sound and free from pulmonary disease. But his greatest function was _paskening_, or answering inquiries ranging from the simplest to the most complicated problems of ceremonial ethics and civil law. He had added a volume of _Shaaloth-u-Tshuvoth_, or "Questions and Answers" to the colossal casuistic literature of his race. His aid was also invoked as a _Shadchan_, though he forgot to take his commissions and lacked the restless zeal for the mating of mankind which animated Sugarman, the professional match-maker. In fine, he was a witty old fellow and everybody loved him. He and his wife spoke English with a strong foreign accent; in their more intimate causeries they dropped into Yiddish.

The Rebbitzin poured out the Rabbi's coffee and whitened it with milk drawn direct from the cow into her own jug. The butter and cheese were equally _kosher_, coming straight from Hebrew Hollanders and having passed through none but Jewish vessels. As the Reb sat himself down at the head of the table Hannah entered the room.

"Good morning, father," she said, kissing him. "What have you got your new coat on for? Any weddings to-day?"

"No, my dear," said Reb Shemuel, "marriages are falling off. There hasn't even been an engagement since Belcovitch's eldest daughter betrothed herself to Pesach Weingott."

"Oh, these Jewish young men!" said the Rebbitzin. "Look at my Hannah--as pretty a girl as you could meet in the whole Lane--and yet here she is wasting her youth."

Hannah bit her lip, instead of her bread and butter, for she felt she had brought the talk on herself. She had heard the same grumblings from her mother for two years. Mrs. Jacobs's maternal anxiety had begun when her daughter was seventeen. "When _I was seventeen," she went on, "I was a married woman. Now-a-days the girls don't begin to get a _Chosan till they're twenty."

"We are not living in Poland," the Reb reminded her.

"What's that to do with it? It's the Jewish young men who want to marry gold."

"Why blame them? A Jewish young man can marry several pieces of gold, but since Rabbenu Gershom he can only marry one woman," said the Reb, laughing feebly and forcing his humor for his daughter's sake.

"One woman is more than thou canst support," said the Rebbitzin, irritated into Yiddish, "giving away the flesh from off thy children's bones. If thou hadst been a proper father thou wouldst have saved thy money for Hannah's dowry, instead of wasting it on a parcel of vagabond _Schnorrers_. Even so I can give her a good stock of bedding and under-linen. It's a reproach and a shame that thou hast not yet found her a husband. Thou canst find husbands quick enough for other men's daughters!"

"I found a husband for thy father's daughter," said the Reb, with a roguish gleam in his brown eyes.

"Don't throw that up to me! I could have got plenty better. And my daughter wouldn't have known the shame of finding nobody to marry her. In Poland at least the youths would have flocked to marry her because she was a Rabbi's daughter, and they'd think It an honor to be a son-in-law of a Son of the Law. But in this godless country! Why in my village the Chief Rabbi's daughter, who was so ugly as to make one spit out, carried off the finest man in the district."

"But thou, my Simcha, hadst no need to be connected with Rabbonim!"

"Oh, yes; make mockery of me."

"I mean it. Thou art as a lily of Sharon."

"Wilt thou have another cup of coffee, Shemuel?"

"Yes, my life. Wait but a little and thou shalt see our Hannah under the _Chuppah_."

"Hast thou any one in thine eye?"

The Reb nodded his head mysteriously and winked the eye, as if nudging the person in it.

"Who is it, father?" said Levi. "I do hope it's a real swell who talks English properly."

"And mind you make yourself agreeable to him, Hannah," said the Rebbitzin. "You spoil all the matches I've tried to make for you by your stupid, stiff manner."

"Look here, mother!" cried Hannah, pushing aside her cup violently. "Am I going to have my breakfast in peace? I don't want to be married at all. I don't want any of your Jewish men coming round to examine me as if! were a horse, and wanting to know how much money you'll give them as a set-off. Let me be! Let me be single! It's my business, not yours."

The Rebbitzin bent eyes of angry reproach on the Reb.

"What did I tell thee, Shemuel? She's _meshugga_--quite mad! Healthy and fresh and mad!"

"Yes, you'll drive me mad," said Hannah savagely. "Let me be! I'm too old now to get a _Chosan_, so let me be as I am. I can always earn my own living."

"Thou seest, Shemuel?" said Simcha. "Thou seest my sorrows? Thou seest how impious our children wax in this godless country."

"Let her be, Simcha, let her be," said the Reb. "She is young yet. If she hasn't any inclination thereto--!"

"And what is _her inclination? A pretty thing, forsooth! Is she going to make her mother a laughing-stock! Are Mrs. Jewell and Mrs. Abrahams to dandle grandchildren in my face, to gouge out my eyes with them! It isn't that she can't get young men. Only she is so high-blown. One would think she had a father who earned five hundred a year, instead of a man who scrambles half his salary among dirty _Schnorrers_."

"Talk not like an _Epicurean_," said the Reb. "What are we all but _Schnorrers_, dependent on the charity of the Holy One, blessed be He? What! Have we made ourselves? Rather fall prostrate and thank Him that His bounties to us are so great that they include the privilege of giving charity to others."

"But we work for our living!" said the Rebbitzin. "I wear my knees away scrubbing." External evidence pointed rather to the defrication of the nose.

"But, mother," said Hannah. "You know we have a servant to do the rough work."

"Yes, servants!" said the Rebbitzin, contemptuously. "If you don't stand over them as the Egyptian taskmasters over our forefathers, they don't do a stroke of work except breaking the crockery. I'd much rather sweep a room myself than see a _Shiksah pottering about for an hour and end by leaving all the dust on the window-ledges and the corners of the mantelpiece. As for beds, I don't believe _Shiksahs ever shake them! If I had my way I'd wring all their necks."

"What's the use of always complaining?" said Hannah, impatiently. "You know we must keep a _Shiksah to attend to the _Shabbos fire. The women or the little boys you pick up in the street are so unsatisfactory. When you call in a little barefoot street Arab and ask him to poke the fire, he looks at you as if you must be an imbecile not to be able to do it yourself. And then you can't always get hold of one."

The Sabbath fire was one of the great difficulties of the Ghetto. The Rabbis had modified the Biblical prohibition against having any fire whatever, and allowed it to be kindled by non-Jews. Poor women, frequently Irish, and known as _Shabbos-goyahs or _fire-goyahs_, acted as stokers to the Ghetto at twopence a hearth. No Jew ever touched a match or a candle or burnt a piece of paper, or even opened a letter. The _Goyah_, which is literally heathen female, did everything required on the Sabbath. His grandmother once called Solomon Ansell a Sabbath-female merely for fingering the shovel when there was nothing in the grate.

The Reb liked his fire. When it sank on the Sabbath he could not give orders to the _Shiksah to replenish it, but he would rub his hands and remark casually (in her hearing), "Ah, how cold it is!"

"Yes," he said now, "I always freeze on _Shabbos when thou hast dismissed thy _Shiksah_. Thou makest me catch one cold a month."

"_I make thee catch cold!" said the Rebbitzin. "When thou comest through the air of winter in thy shirt-sleeves! Thou'lt fall back upon me for poultices and mustard plasters. And then thou expectest me to have enough money to pay a _Shiksah into the bargain! If I have any more of thy _Schnorrers coming here I shall bundle them out neck and crop."

This was the moment selected by Fate and Melchitsedek Pinchas for the latter's entry.

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