A Jewish Child
: SHALOM ASCH
The mother came out of the bride's chamber, and cast a piercing look at
her husband, who was sitting beside a finished meal, and was making
pellets of bread crumbs previous to saying grace.
"You go and talk to her! I haven't a bit of strength left!"
"So, Rochel-Leoh has brought up children, has she, and can't manage
them! Why! People will be pointing at you and laughing--a ruin to your
"To my years?! A ruin to yours! My children, are they? Are they not
yours, too? Couldn't you stay at home sometimes to care for them and
help me to bring them up, instead of trapesing round--the black year
knows where and with whom?"
"Rochel, Rochel, what has possessed you to start a quarrel with me now?
The bridegroom's family will be arriving directly."
"And what do you expect me to do, Moishehle, eh?! For God's sake! Go in
to her, we shall be made a laughing-stock."
The man rose from the table, and went into the next room to his
daughter. The mother followed.
On the little sofa that stood by the window sat a girl about eighteen,
her face hidden in her hands, her arms covered by her loose, thick,
black hair. She was evidently crying, for her bosom rose and fell like a
stormy sea. On the bed opposite lay the white silk wedding-dress, the
Chuppeh-Kleid, with the black, silk Shool-Kleid, and the black stuff
morning-dress, which the tailor who had undertaken the outfit had
brought not long ago. By the door stood a woman with a black scarf round
her head and holding boxes with wigs.
"Channehle! You are never going to do me this dishonor? to make me the
talk of the town?" exclaimed the father. The bride was silent.
"Look at me, daughter of Moisheh Groiss! It's all very well for Genendel
Freindel's daughter to wear a wig, but not for the daughter of Moisheh
Groiss? Is that it?"
"And yet Genendel Freindel might very well think more of herself than
you: she is more educated than you are, and has a larger dowry," put in
The bride made no reply.
"Daughter, think how much blood and treasure it has cost to help us to a
bit of pleasure, and now you want to spoil it for us? Remember, for
God's sake, what you are doing with yourself! We shall be
excommunicated, the young man will run away home on foot!"
"Don't be foolish," said the mother, took a wig out of a box from the
woman by the door, and approached her daughter. "Let us try on the wig,
the hair is just the color of yours," and she laid the strange hair on
the girl's head.
The girl felt the weight, put up her fingers to her head, met among her
own soft, cool, living locks, the strange, dead hair of the wig, stiff
and cold, and it flashed through her, Who knows where the head to which
this hair belonged is now? A shuddering enveloped her, and as though
she had come in contact with something unclean, she snatched off the
wig, threw in onto the floor and hastily left the room.
Father and mother stood and looked at each other in dismay.
* * * * *
The day after the marriage ceremony, the bridegroom's mother rose early,
and, bearing large scissors, and the wig and a hood which she had
brought from her home as a present for the bride, she went to dress the
latter for the "breakfast."
But the groom's mother remained outside the room, because the bride had
locked herself in, and would open her door to no one.
The groom's mother ran calling aloud for help to her husband, who,
together with a dozen uncles and brothers-in-law, was still sleeping
soundly after the evening's festivity. She then sought out the
bridegroom, an eighteen-year-old boy with his mother's milk still on his
lips, who, in a silk caftan and a fur cap, was moving about the room in
bewildered fashion, his eyes on the ground, ashamed to look anyone in
the face. In the end she fell back on the mother of the bride, and these
two went in to her together, having forced open the door between them.
"Why did you lock yourself in, dear daughter. There is no need to be
"Marriage is a Jewish institution!" said the groom's mother, and kissed
her future daughter-in-law on both cheeks.
The girl made no reply.
"Your mother-in-law has brought you a wig and a hood for the procession
to the Shool," said her own mother.
The band had already struck up the "Good Morning" in the next room.
"Come now, Kallehshi, Kalleh-leben, the guests are beginning to
The groom's mother took hold of the plaits in order to loosen them.
The bride bent her head away from her, and fell on her own mother's
"I can't, Mame-leben! My heart won't let me, Mame-kron!"
She held her hair with both hands, to protect it from the other's
"For God's sake, my daughter? my life," begged the mother.
"In the other world you will be plunged for this into rivers of fire.
The apostate who wears her own hair after marriage will have her locks
torn out with red hot pincers," said the other with the scissors.
A cold shiver went through the girl at these words.
"Mother-life, mother-crown!" she pleaded.
Her hands sought her hair, and the black silky tresses fell through them
in waves. Her hair, the hair which had grown with her growth, and lived
with her life, was to be cut off, and she was never, never to have it
again--she was to wear strange hair, hair that had grown on another
person's head, and no one knows whether that other person was alive or
lying in the earth this long time, and whether she might not come any
night to one's bedside, and whine in a dead voice:
"Give me back my hair, give me back my hair!"
A frost seized the girl to the marrow, she shivered and shook.
Then she heard the squeak of scissors over her head, tore herself out of
her mother's arms, made one snatch at the scissors, flung them across
the room, and said in a scarcely human voice:
"My own hair! May God Himself punish me!"
That day the bridegroom's mother took herself off home again, together
with the sweet-cakes and the geese which she had brought for the wedding
breakfast for her own guests. She wanted to take the bridegroom as well,
but the bride's mother said: "I will not give him back to you! He
belongs to me already!"
The following Sabbath they led the bride in procession to the Shool
wearing her own hair in the face of all the town, covered only by a
But may all the names she was called by the way find their only echo in
some uninhabited wilderness.
* * * * *
A summer evening, a few weeks after the wedding: The young man had just
returned from the Stuebel, and went to his room. The wife was already
asleep, and the soft light of the lamp fell on her pale face, showing
here and there among the wealth of silky-black hair that bathed it. Her
slender arms were flung round her head, as though she feared that
someone might come by night to shear them off while she slept. He had
come home excited and irritable: this was the fourth week of his married
life, and they had not yet called him up to the Reading of the Law, the
Chassidim pursued him, and to-day Chayyim Moisheh had blamed him in the
presence of the whole congregation, and had shamed him, because she,
his wife, went about in her own hair. "You're no better than a clay
image," Reb Chayyim Moisheh had told him. "What do you mean by a woman's
saying she won't? It is written: 'And he shall rule over thee.'"
And he had come home intending to go to her and say: "Woman, it is a
precept in the Torah! If you persist in wearing your own hair, I may
divorce you without returning the dowry," after which he would pack up
his things and go home. But when he saw his little wife asleep in bed,
and her pale face peeping out of the glory of her hair, he felt a great
pity for her. He went up to the bed, and stood a long while looking at
her, after which he called softly:
"Channehle ... Channehle ... Channehle...."
She opened her eyes with a frightened start, and looked round in sleepy
"Nosson, did you call? What do you want?
"Nothing, your cap has slipped off," he said, lifting up the white
nightcap, which had fallen from her head.
She flung it on again, and wanted to turn towards the wall.
"Channehle, Channehle, I want to talk to you."
The words went to her heart. The whole time since their marriage he had,
so to say, not spoken to her. During the day she saw nothing of him, for
he spent it in the house-of-study or in the Stuebel. When he came home to
dinner, he sat down to the table in silence. When he wanted anything, he
asked for it speaking into the air, and when really obliged to exchange
a word with her, he did so with his eyes fixed on the ground, too shy to
look her in the face. And now he said he wanted to talk to her, and in
such a gentle voice, and they two alone together in their room!
"What do you want to say to me?" she asked softly.
"Channehle," he began, "please, don't make a fool of me, and don't make
a fool of yourself in people's eyes. Has not God decreed that we should
belong together? You are my wife and I am your husband, and is it
proper, and what does it look like, a married woman wearing her own
Sleep still half dimmed her eyes, and had altogether clouded her thought
and will. She felt helpless, and her head fell lightly towards his
"Child," he went on still more gently, "I know you are not so depraved
as they say. I know you are a pious Jewish daughter, and His blessed
Name will help us, and we shall have pious Jewish children. Put away
this nonsense! Why should the whole world be talking about you? Are we
not man and wife? Is not your shame mine?"
It seemed to her as though someone, at once very far away and very
near, had come and was talking to her. Nobody had ever yet spoken to her
so gently and confidingly. And he was her husband, with whom she would
live so long, so long, and there would be children, and she would look
after the house!
She leant her head lightly against him.
"I know you are very sorry to lose your hair, the ornament of your
girlhood, I saw you with it when I was a guest in your home. I know
that God gave you grace and loveliness, I know. It cuts me to the heart
that your hair must be shorn off, but what is to be done? It is a rule,
a law of our religion, and after all we are Jews. We might even, God
forbid, have a child conceived to us in sin, may Heaven watch over and
She said nothing, but remained resting lightly in his arm, and his face
lay in the stream of her silky-black hair with its cool odor. In that
hair dwelt a soul, and he was conscious of it. He looked at her long and
earnestly, and in his look was a prayer, a pleading with her for her own
happiness, for her happiness and his.
"Shall I?" ... he asked, more with his eyes than with his lips.
She said nothing, she only bent her head over his lap.
He went quickly to the drawer, and took out a pair of scissors.
She laid her head in his lap, and gave her hair as a ransom for their
happiness, still half-asleep and dreaming. The scissors squeaked over
her head, shearing off one lock after the other, and Channehle lay and
dreamt through the night.
On waking next morning, she threw a look into the glass which hung
opposite the bed. A shock went through her, she thought she had gone
mad, and was in the asylum! On the table beside her lay her shorn hair,
She hid her face in her hands, and the little room was filled with the
sound of weeping!