A Maskil (follower of the Enlightenment) Among Hasidim

My brother Arya-Shakhna and his family, may God avenge his blood

Gad Zaklilowski

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Arya, such a quiet one, was the quietest in the family. We came from a great distance, my wife and I, to the reception at his wedding in Czyzewo and there we saw our entire family. Hasidim were also there as wedding guests from the bride's side, with Shabbos-yom-tovidikn [Sabbath and holidays] charm. Jews with beards and peyes [side curls] and Hasidim with satin kapotes [long frock coats worn by married men] and shtreimlekh [traditional fur hats worn by some Hasidim] like my father. I alone was in European clothing. My father asked me if I had something with which I could change my cap and pointed to my wife, who was wearing a silk shawl on her head that was much prettier than her hair. She was much more practical than I. She knew she was coming among Hasidim.

Father – I said – it is true that there were various customs in various places about bare hair for me, as with women. But mostly, people went with uncovered heads. Our blessed sages also were not fastidious about this and even went to the Beis haMedrash [synagogue] with an uncovered head.

A conversation started on this theme that I will not repeat here, only that my father concluded: – Listen to what I have to say. My firstborn, I will not examine your learning. But, an observant Jew does not go with an uncovered head. And what does the Mishnah [rabbinic commentaries] say: Notnin alaf khomer makom shehalakh kesham [A person may have great knowledge, but his behavior can put him in a situation where he does not want to be.] and: “One should not act differently, so as not to cause divisiveness.” We need to carry on the way they do where we come from in order to avoid a quarrel.

The bride's relatives also came closer to be able to hear the conversation in which several older Hasidim took part. I listened to the Czyzewo juicy, Hasidic conversation with great enjoyment, until my father, smiling, realized that the conversation was taking up another subject and said:
– What do you say, Gad (strongly stressing the letter “daled” [d] in my name, as the “daled” in “ekhad” is stressed in the Krishme Shema,so that it would not come out as an error as with the word God). But Arya the khazan [cantor] approached unexpectedly: – He said, “Father, just as the “your” from “Honor your father” in the Torah, you should also honor your brother even with your knowledge. Therefore, I must give Gad respect and not carry on any disputes with him.” And Dowid, the youngest brother, with the rabbinical diploma in his pocket, said: “I do have rabbinical ordination, but he [is the one who] studied, not I, so that in matters of Halakah I will not interrogate him. But the customs are not according to law but according to compassion.” My mother also listened to the conversation and answered intoxicatedly: “I also know the law. I am the daughter of a rabbi.” Here I said to her: “And my father is the son of a rabbi.”

Avrahaml Lande, the Sokolower rabbi, a son-in-law of the Czyzewer rabbi, mentioned, pointing to me: “You see, he is quiet. Soon he will probably have something to say to you.” The older Czyzewo people of stately appearance divided themselves. Some spoke favorably about me, because I come from an area where the rabbis even dress in this way. But the others, several strict Kotsker [Kock] Hasidim took even more offense at me because I did not even have any sign of a beard with which they could console themselves:
“Probably it is not with any kind of ta'ar (razor), but with a scissors, or a machine.”

They intensely wondered how this could happen in a Hasidic house. Such attire? My father said to me: – Do you think they are, God forbid, separate? It is “just like this” – having a conversation with a man from the newspapers. I know them, dear, good Jews. I understood that my father wanted me to spend them with them. He said: – Of course, they must then be answered: Therefore, I answered and said:
– Gentlemen, two things happened here – one, an error, and the second that we understand our sages of blessed memory. The mistake is that all religious laws and customs about which my respected brother, the ordained rabbi, asks that we obey with a moderate application of the law is only about “bareheadedness,” about going with a bare head. But not about with what the head is covered, if with a hat or with a cap? The Maymer Khazal [aphorisms of the sages], which we appreciate is the commentary in Messekhta Shabbat, daf kal [the tractate dedicated to the laws of Shabbos, page 130] which states “Likha ketuva dela mai b tigra” – (at every wedding, a quarrel takes place) and thus as it then written how much and about what the quarrel must be, we then fulfill the mitzvah [obligation] with the Maymer Khazal.

To the veiling of the kale [bride]! Then to the khupah [wedding canopy – marriage ceremony]. When the khosan-kale [groom and bride] were sitting at the table after the khupah, they demanded their due from me, a blessing in addition to a mazel tov [good luck]. I said to them:
“The letters kale [khof, lamed, hey] arranged differently, are read as hakl [hey, khof, lamed – “everything”] and the letters of khosan [khes, sof, nun] changed in the same manner to nakhes [nun, sof, khof – “joy']. Therefore when khosan and kale are together, there will be hakl nakhes [everything joyful].

I could record a “world” of Hasidic conversations from that Shabbos here, about the minyon [minyonim in the plural – 10 men required for prayer] at the bride's house, how six minyonim of men occupied the two rooms, who sang, with such excitement, a great number of boldHasidic Shabbos songs, with such warm-hearted sincerity.

Where are you Czyzewo, amiable shtetele?
Where is your undug grave? What remained of you?

Where are you, Arya, my quiet, quiet brother? The only horapashnik [proletarian], the only manual laborer in the family.

What can I do for you, for your remembrance, more than saying Kaddish [memorial prayer] with those from Czyzewo, one of the warmest Jewish shtetlekh?

Thus I sit on a stone and cry: “Yisgadal veyishkadash” [“Exalted and hallowed…” – the first words of the Kaddish].