Part 2 out of 12
"I have been out of work for three weeks," Moses answered, omitting to
expound the state of his health in view of more urgent matters.
"Unlucky fool! What my silly cousin Gittel, peace be upon him, could see
to marry in thee, I know not."
Moses could not enlighten her. He might have informed her that _olov
hasholom_, "peace be upon him," was an absurdity when applied to a
woman, but then he used the pious phrase himself, although aware of its
"I told her thou wouldst never be able to keep her, poor lamb," Malka
went on. "But she was always an obstinate pig. And she kept her head
high up, too, as if she had five pounds a week! Never would let her
children earn money like other people's children. But thou oughtest not
to be so obstinate. Thou shouldst have more sense, Meshe; _thou_
belongest not to my family. Why can't Solomon go out with matches?"
"Gittel's soul would not like it."
"But the living have bodies! Thou rather seest thy children starve than
work. There's Esther,--an idle, lazy brat, always reading story-books;
why doesn't she sell flowers or pull out bastings in the evening?"
"Esther and Solomon have their lessons to do."
"Lessons!" snorted Malka. "What's the good of lessons? It's English, not
Judaism, they teach them in that godless school. _I_ could never read or
write anything but Hebrew in all my life; but God be thanked, I have
thriven without it. All they teach them in the school is English
nonsense. The teachers are a pack of heathens, who eat forbidden things,
but the good Yiddishkeit goes to the wall. I'm ashamed of thee, Meshe:
thou dost not even send thy boys to a Hebrew class in the evening."
"I have no money, and they must do their English lessons. Else, perhaps,
their clothes will be stopped. Besides, I teach them myself every
_Shabbos_ afternoon and Sunday. Solomon translates into Yiddish the
whole Pentateuch with Rashi."
"Yes, he may know _Terah_" said Malka, not to be baffled. "But he'll
never know _Gemorah_ or _Mishnayis_." Malka herself knew very little of
these abstruse subjects beyond their names, and the fact that they were
studied out of minutely-printed folios by men of extreme sanctity.
"He knows a little _Gemorah_, too," said Moses. "I can't teach him at
home because I haven't got a _Gemorah_,--it's so expensive, as you know.
But he went with me to the _Beth-Medrash_, when the _Maggid_ was
studying it with a class free of charge, and we learnt the whole of the
_Tractate Niddah_. Solomon understands very well all about the Divorce
Laws, and he could adjudicate on the duties of women to their husbands."
"Ah, but he'll never know _Cabbulah_," said Malka, driven to her last
citadel. "But then no one in England can study _Cabbulah_ since the days
of Rabbi Falk (the memory of the righteous for a blessing) any more than
a born Englishman can learn Talmud. There's something in the air that
prevents it. In my town there was a Rabbi who could do _Cabbulah_; he
could call Abraham our father from the grave. But in this pig-eating
country no one can be holy enough for the Name, blessed be It, to grant
him the privilege. I don't believe the _Shochetim_ kill the animals
properly; the statutes are violated; even pious people eat _tripha_
cheese and butter. I don't say thou dost, Meshe, but thou lettest thy
"Well, your own butter is not _kosher_," said Moses, nettled.
"My butter? What does it matter about my butter? I never set up for a
purist. I don't come of a family of Rabbonim. I'm only a business woman.
It's the _froom_ people that I complain of; the people who ought to set
an example, and are lowering the standard of _Froomkeit_. I caught a
beadle's wife the other day washing her meat and butter plates in the
same bowl of water. In time they will be frying steaks in butter, and
they will end by eating _tripha_ meat out of butter plates, and the
judgment of God will come. But what is become of thine apple? Thou hast
not gorged it already?" Moses nervously pointed to his trousers pocket,
bulged out by the mutilated globe. After his first ravenous bite Moses
had bethought himself of his responsibilities.
"It's for the _kinder_," he explained.
"_Nu_, the _kinder_!" snorted Malka disdainfully. "And what will they
give thee for it? Verily, not a thank you. In my young days we trembled
before the father and the mother, and my mother, peace be upon him,
_potched_ my face after I was a married woman. I shall never forget that
slap--it nearly made me adhere to the wall. But now-a-days our children
sit on our heads. I gave my Milly all she has in the world--a house, a
shop, a husband, and my best bed-linen. And now when I want her to call
the child Yosef, after my first husband, peace be on him, her own
father, she would out of sheer vexatiousness, call it Yechezkel."
Malka's voice became more strident than ever. She had been anxious to
make a species of vicarious reparation to her first husband, and the
failure of Milly to acquiesce in the arrangement was a source of real
Moses could think of nothing better to say than to inquire how her
present husband was.
"He overworks himself," Malka replied, shaking her head. "The misfortune
is that he thinks himself a good man of business, and he is always
starting new enterprises without consulting me. If he would only take my
Moses shook his head in sympathetic deprecation of Michael Birnbaum's
"Is he at home?" he asked.
"No, but I expect him back from the country every minute. I believe they
have invited him for the _Pidyun Haben_ to-day."
"Oh, is that to-day?"
"Of course. Didst thou not know?"
"No, no one told me."
"Thine own sense should have told thee. Is it not the thirty-first day
since the birth? But of course he won't accept when he knows that my own
daughter has driven me out of her house."
"You say not!" exclaimed Moses in horror.
"I do say," said Malka, unconsciously taking up the clothes-brush and
thumping with it on the table to emphasize the outrage. "I told her that
when Yechezkel cried so much, it would be better to look for the pin
than to dose the child for gripes. 'I dressed it myself, Mother,' says
she. 'Thou art an obstinate cat's head. Milly,' says I. 'I say there
_is_ a pin.' 'And I know better,' says she. 'How canst thou know better
than I?' says I. 'Why, I was a mother before thou wast born.' So I
unrolled the child's flannel, and sure enough underneath it just over
the stomach I found--"
"The pin," concluded Moses, shaking his head gravely.
"No, not exactly. But a red mark where the pin had been pricking the
poor little thing."
"And what did Milly say then?" said Moses in sympathetic triumph.
"Milly said it was a flea-bite! and I said, 'Gott in Himmel, Milly, dost
thou want to swear my eyes away? My enemies shall have such a
flea-bite.' And because Red Rivkah was in the room, Milly said I was
shedding her blood in public, and she began to cry as if I had committed
a crime against her in looking after her child. And I rushed out,
leaving the two babies howling together. That was a week ago."
"And how is the child?"
"How should I know? I am only the grandmother, I only supplied the
bed-linen it was born on."
"But is it recovered from the circumcision?"
"Oh, yes, all our family have good healing flesh. It's a fine, child,
_imbeshreer_. It's got my eyes and nose. It's a rare handsome baby,
_imbeshreer_. Only it won't be its mother's fault if the Almighty takes
it not back again. Milly has picked up so many ignorant Lane women who
come in and blight the child, by admiring it aloud, not even saying
_imbeshreer_. And then there's an old witch, a beggar-woman that
Ephraim, my son-in-law, used to give a shilling a week to. Now he only
gives her ninepence. She asked him 'why?' and he said, 'I'm married now.
I can't afford more.' 'What!' she shrieked, 'you got married on my
money!' And one Friday when the nurse had baby downstairs, the old
beggar-woman knocked for her weekly allowance, and she opened the door,
and she saw the child, and she looked at it with her Evil Eye! I hope to
Heaven nothing will come of it."
"I will pray for Yechezkel," said Moses.
"Pray for Milly also, while thou art about it, that she may remember
what is owing to a mother before the earth covers me. I don't know
what's coming over children. Look at my Leah. She _will_ marry that Sam
Levine, though he belongs to a lax English family, and I suspect his
mother was a proselyte. She can't fry fish any way. I don't say anything
against Sam, but still I do think my Leah might have told me before
falling in love with him. And yet see how I treat them! My Michael made
a _Missheberach_ for them in synagogue the Sabbath after the engagement;
not a common eighteen-penny benediction, but a guinea one, with
half-crown blessings thrown in for his parents and the congregation, and
a gift of five shillings to the minister. That was of course in our own
_Chevrah_, not reckoning the guinea my Michael _shnodared_ at Duke's
Plaizer _Shool_. You know we always keep two seats at Duke's Plaizer as
well." Duke's Plaizer was the current distortion of Duke's Place.
"What magnanimity," said Moses overawed.
"I like to do everything with decorum," said Malka. "No one can say I
have ever acted otherwise than as a fine person. I dare say thou couldst
do with a few shillings thyself now."
Moses hung his head still lower. "You see my mother is so poorly," he
stammered. "She is a very old woman, and without anything to eat she may
not live long."
"They ought to take her into the Aged Widows' Home. I'm sure I gave her
"God shall bless you for it. But people say I was lucky enough to get
my Benjamin into the Orphan Asylum, and that I ought not to have brought
her from Poland. They say we grow enough poor old widows here."
"People say quite right--at least she would have starved in, a Yiddishe
country, not in a land of heathens."
"But she was lonely and miserable out there, exposed to all the malice
of the Christians. And I was earning a pound a week. Tailoring was a
good trade then. The few roubles I used to send her did not always reach
"Thou hadst no right to send her anything, nor to send for her. Mothers
are not everything. Thou didst marry my cousin Gittel, peace be upon
him, and it was thy duty to support _her_ and her children. Thy mother
took the bread out of the mouth of Gittel, and but for her my poor
cousin might have been alive to-day. Believe me it was no _Mitzvah_."
_Mitzvah_ is a "portmanteau-word." It means a commandment and a good
deed, the two conceptions being regarded as interchangeable.
"Nay, thou errest there," answered Moses. "'Gittel was not a phoenix
which alone ate not of the Tree of Knowledge and lives for ever. Women
have no need to live as long as men, for they have not so many
_Mitzvahs_ to perform as men; and inasmuch as"--here his tones
involuntarily assumed the argumentative sing-song--"their souls profit
by all the _Mitzvahs_ performed by their husbands and children, Gittel
will profit by the _Mitzvah_ I did in bringing over my mother, so that
even if she did die through it, she will not be the loser thereby. It
stands in the Verse that _man_ shall do the _Mitzvahs_ and live by them.
To live is a _Mitzvah_, but it is plainly one of those _Mitzvahs_ that
have to be done at a definite time, from which species women, by reason
of their household duties, are exempt; wherefore I would deduce by
another circuit that it is not so incumbent upon women to live as upon
men. Nevertheless, if God had willed it, she would have been still
alive. The Holy One, blessed be He, will provide for the little ones He
has sent into the world. He fed Elijah the prophet by ravens, and He
will never send me a black Sabbath."
"Oh, you are a saint, Meshe," said Malka, so impressed that she
admitted him to the equality of the second person plural. "If everybody
knew as much _Terah_ as you, the Messiah would soon be here. Here are
five shillings. For five shillings you can get a basket of lemons in the
Orange Market in Duke's Place, and if you sell them in the Lane at a
halfpenny each, you will make a good profit. Put aside five shillings of
your takings and get another basket, and so you will be able to live
till the tailoring picks up a bit." Moses listened as if he had never
heard of the elementary principles of barter.
"May the Name, blessed be It, bless you, and may you see rejoicings on
your children's children."
So Moses went away and bought dinner, treating his family to some
_beuglich_, or circular twisted rolls, in his joy. But on the morrow he
repaired to the Market, thinking on the way of the ethical distinction
between "duties of the heart" and "duties of the limbs," as expounded in
choice Hebrew by Rabbenu Bachja, and he laid out the remnant in lemons.
Then he stationed himself in Petticoat Lane, crying, in his imperfect
English, "Lemans, verra good lemans, two a penny each, two a penny
THE REDEMPTION OF THE SON AND THE DAUGHTER.
Malka did not have long to wait for her liege lord. He was a
fresh-colored young man of thirty, rather good-looking, with side
whiskers, keen, eager glance, and an air of perpetually doing business.
Though a native of Germany, he spoke English as well as many Lane Jews,
whose comparative impiety was a certificate of British birth. Michael
Birnbaum was a great man in the local little synagogue if only one of
the crowd at "Duke's Plaizer." He had been successively _Gabbai_ and
_Parnass_, or treasurer and president, and had presented the plush
curtain, with its mystical decoration of intersecting triangles, woven
in silk, that hung before the Ark in which the scrolls of the Law were
kept. He was the very antithesis of Moses Ansell. His energy was
restless. From hawking he had risen to a profitable traffic in gold lace
and Brummagem jewelry, with a large _clientele_ all over the country,
before he was twenty. He touched nothing which he did not profit by; and
when he married, at twenty-three, a woman nearly twice his age, the
transaction was not without the usual percentage. Very soon his line was
diamonds,--real diamonds. He carried, a pocket-knife which was a
combination of a corkscrew, a pair of scissors, a file, a pair of
tweezers, a toothpick, and half a dozen other things, and which seemed
an epitome of his character. His temperament was lively, and, like
Ephraim Phillips, he liked music-halls. Fortunately, Malka was too
conscious of her charms to dream of jealousy.
Michael smacked her soundly on the mouth with his lips and said: "Well,
He called her mother, not because he had any children, but because she
had, and it seemed a pity to multiply domestic nomenclature.
"Well, my little one," said Malka, hugging him fondly. "Have you made a
good journey this time?"
"No, trade is so dull. People won't put their hands in their pockets.
"People won't take their hands out of their pockets, lazy dogs!
Everybody is striking,--Jews with them. Unheard-of things! The
bootmakers, the capmakers, the furriers! And now they say the tailors
are going to strike; more fools, too, when the trade is so slack. What
with one thing and another (let me put your cravat straight, my little
love), it's just the people who can't afford to buy new clothes that are
hard up, so that they can't afford to buy second-hand clothes either. If
the Almighty is not good to us, we shall come to the Board of Guardians
"Not quite so bad as that, mother," laughed Michael, twirling the
massive diamond ring on his finger. "How's baby? Is it ready to be
"Which baby?" said Malka, with well-affected agnosticism.
"Phew!" whistled Michael. "What's up now, mother?"
"Nothing, my pet, nothing."
"Well, I'm going across. Come along, mother. Oh, wait a minute. I want
to brush this mud off my trousers. Is the clothes-brush here?"
"Yes, dearest one," said the unsuspecting Malka.
Michael winked imperceptibly, flicked his trousers, and without further
parley ran across the diagonal to Milly's house. Five minutes afterwards
a deputation, consisting of a char-woman, waited upon Malka and said:
"Missus says will you please come over, as baby is a-cryin' for its
"Ah, that must be another pin," said Malka, with a gleam of triumph at
her victory. But she did not budge. At the end of five minutes she rose
solemnly, adjusted her wig and her dress in the mirror, put on her
bonnet, brushed away a non-existent speck of dust from her left sleeve,
put a peppermint in her mouth, and crossed the Square, carrying the
clothes-brush in her hand. Milly's door was half open, but she knocked
at it and said to the char-woman:
"Is Mrs. Phillips in?"
"Yes, mum, the company's all upstairs."
"Oh, then I will go up and return her this myself."
Malka went straight through the little crowd of guests to Milly, who was
sitting on a sofa with Ezekiel, quiet as a lamb and as good as gold, in
"Milly, my dear," she said. "I have come to bring you back your
clothes-brush. Thank you so much for the loan of it."
"You know you're welcome, mother," said Milly, with unintentionally dual
significance. The two ladies embraced. Ephraim Phillips, a
sallow-looking, close-cropped Pole, also kissed his mother-in-law, and
the gold chain that rested on Malka's bosom heaved with the expansion of
domestic pride. Malka thanked God she was not a mother of barren or
celibate children, which is only one degree better than personal
unfruitfulness, and testifies scarce less to the celestial curse.
"Is that pin-mark gone away yet, Milly, from the precious little
thing?" said Malka, taking Ezekiel in her arms and disregarding the
transformation of face which in babies precedes a storm.
"Yes, it was a mere flea-bite," said Milly incautiously, adding
hurriedly, "I always go through his flannels and things most carefully
to see there are no more pins lurking about."
"That is right! Pins are like fleas--you never know where they get to,"
said Malka in an insidious spirit of compromise. "Where is Leah?"
"She is in the back yard frying the last of the fish. Don't you smell
"It will hardly have time to get cold."
"Well, but I did a dishful myself last night. She is only preparing a
reserve in case the attack be too deadly."
"And where is the _Cohen_?"
"Oh, we have asked old Hyams across the Ruins. We expect him round every
At this point the indications of Ezekiel's facial barometer were
fulfilled, and a tempest of weeping shook him.
"_Na_! Go then! Go to the mother," said Malka angrily. "All my children
are alike. It's getting late. Hadn't you better send across again for
"There's no hurry, mother," said Michael Birnbaum soothingly. "We must
wait for Sam."
"And who's Sam?" cried Malka unappeased.
"Sam is Leah's _Chosan_," replied Michael ingenuously.
"Clever!" sneered Malka. "But my grandson is not going to wait for the
son of a proselyte. Why doesn't he come?"
"He'll be here in one minute."
"How do you know?"
"We came up in the same train. He got in at Middlesborough. He's just
gone home to see his folks, and get a wash and a brush-up. Considering
he's coming up to town merely for the sake of the family ceremony, I
think it would be very rude to commence without him. It's no joke, a
long railway journey this weather. My feet were nearly frozen despite
"My poor lambkin," said Malka, melting. And she patted his side
Sam Levine arrived almost immediately, and Leah, fishfork in hand, flew
out of the back-yard kitchen to greet him. Though a member of the tribe
of Levi, he was anything but ecclesiastical in appearance, rather a
representative of muscular Judaism. He had a pink and white complexion,
and a tawny moustache, and bubbled over with energy and animal spirits.
He could give most men thirty in a hundred in billiards, and fifty in
anecdote. He was an advanced Radical in politics, and had a high opinion
of the intelligence of his party. He paid Leah lip-fealty on his entry.
"What a pity it's Sunday!" was Leah's first remark when the kissing was
"No going to the play," said Sam ruefully, catching her meaning.
They always celebrated his return from a commercial round by going to
the theatre--the-etter they pronounced it. They went to the pit of the
West End houses rather than patronize the local dress circles for the
same money. There were two strata of Ghetto girls, those who strolled in
the Strand on Sabbath, and those who strolled in the Whitechapel Road.
Leah was of the upper stratum. She was a tall lovely brunette, exuberant
of voice and figure, with coarse red hands. She doted on ice-cream in
the summer, and hot chocolate in the winter, but her love of the theatre
was a perennial passion. Both Sam and she had good ears, and were always
first in the field with the latest comic opera tunes. Leah's healthy
vitality was prodigious. There was a legend in the Lane of such a maiden
having been chosen by a coronet; Leah was satisfied with Sam, who was
just her match. On the heels of Sam came several other guests, notably
Mrs. Jacobs (wife of "Reb" Shemuel), with her pretty daughter, Hannah.
Mr. Hyams, the _Cohen_, came last--the Priest whose functions had so
curiously dwindled since the times of the Temples. To be called first to
the reading of the Law, to bless his brethren with symbolic spreadings
of palms and fingers in a mystic incantation delivered, standing
shoeless before the Ark of the Covenant at festival seasons, to redeem
the mother's first-born son when neither parent was of priestly
lineage--these privileges combined with a disability to be with or near
the dead, differentiated his religious position from that of the Levite
or the Israelite. Mendel Hyams was not puffed up about his tribal
superiority, though if tradition were to be trusted, his direct descent
from Aaron, the High Priest, gave him a longer genealogy than Queen
Victoria's. He was a meek sexagenarian, with a threadbare black coat and
a child-like smile. All the pride of the family seemed to be monopolized
by his daughter Miriam, a girl whose very nose Heaven had fashioned
scornful. Miriam had accompanied him out of contemptuous curiosity. She
wore a stylish feather in her hat, and a boa round her throat, and
earned thirty shillings a week, all told, as a school teacher. (Esther
Ansell was in her class just now.) Probably her toilette had made old
Hyams unpunctual. His arrival was the signal for the commencement of the
proceedings, and the men hastened to assume their head-gear.
Ephraim Phillips cautiously took the swaddled-up infant from the bosom
of Milly where it was suckling and presented it to old Hyams.
Fortunately Ezekiel had already had a repletion of milk, and was drowsy
and manifested very little interest in the whole transaction.
"This my first-born son," said Ephraim in Hebrew as he handed Ezekiel
over--"is the first-born of his mother, and the Holy One, blessed be He,
hath given command to redeem him, as it is said, and those that are to
be redeemed of them from a month old, shalt thou redeem according to
thine estimation for the money of five shekels after the shekel of the
sanctuary, the shekel being twenty gerahs; and it is said, 'Sanctify
unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the
children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is mine.'"
Ephraim Phillips then placed fifteen shillings in silver before old
Hyams, who thereupon inquired in Chaldaic: "Which wouldst thou
rather--give me thy first-born son, the first-born of his mother, or
redeem him for five selaim, which thou art bound to give according to
Ephraim replied in Chaldaic: "I am desirous rather to redeem my son,
and here thou hast the value of his redemption, which I am bound to give
according to the Law."
Thereupon Hyams took the money tendered, and gave back the child to his
father, who blessed God for His sanctifying commandments, and thanked
Him for His mercies; after which the old _Cohen_ held the fifteen
shillings over the head of the infant, saying: "This instead of that,
this in exchange for that, this in remission of that. May this child
enter into life, into the Law, and into the fear of Heaven. May it be
God's will that even as he has been admitted to redemption, so may he
enter into the Law, the nuptial canopy and into good deeds. Amen." Then,
placing his hand in benediction upon the child's head, the priestly
layman added: "God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh. The Lord bless
thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be
gracious unto thee. The Lord turn His face to thee and grant thee peace.
The Lord is thy guardian; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. For
length of days and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. The
Lord shall guard thee from all evil. He shall guard thy soul."
"Amen," answered the company, and then there was a buzz of secular talk,
general rapture being expressed at the stolidness of Ezekiel's demeanor.
Cups of tea were passed round by the lovely Leah, and the secrets of the
paper bags were brought to light. Ephraim Phillips talked horses with
Sam Levine, and old Hyams quarrelled with Malka over the disposal of the
fifteen shillings. Knowing that Hyams was poor, Malka refused to take
back the money retendered by him under pretence of a gift to the child.
The _Cohen_, however, was a proud man, and under the eye of Miriam a
firm one. Ultimately it was agreed the money should be expended on a
_Missheberach_, for the infant's welfare and the synagogue's. Birds of a
feather flock together, and Miriam forgathered with Hannah Jacobs, who
also had a stylish feather in her hat, and was the most congenial of the
company. Mrs. Jacobs was left to discourse of the ailments of childhood
and the iniquities of servants with Mrs. Phillips. Reb Shemuel's wife,
commonly known as the Rebbitzin, was a tall woman with a bony nose and
shrivelled cheeks, whereon the paths of the blood-vessels were scrawled
in red. The same bones were visible beneath the plumper padding of
Hannah's face. Mrs. Jacobs had escaped the temptation to fatness, which
is the besetting peril of the Jewish matron. If Hannah could escape her
mother's inclination to angularity she would be a pretty woman. She
dressed with taste, which is half the battle, and for the present she
was only nineteen.
"Do you think it's a good match?" said Miriam Hyams, indicating Sam
Levine with a movement of the eyebrow.
A swift, scornful look flitted across Hannah's face. "Among the Jews,"
she said, "every match is a grand _Shidduch_ before the marriage; after,
we hear another tale."
"There is a good deal in that," admitted Miriam, thoughtfully. "The
girl's family cries up the capture shamelessly. I remember when Clara
Emanuel was engaged, her brother Jack told me it was a splendid
_Shidduch_. Afterwards I found he was a widower of fifty-five with three
"But that engagement went off," said Hannah.
"I know," said Miriam. "I'm only saying I can't fancy myself doing
anything of the kind."
"What! breaking off an engagement?" said Hannah, with a cynical little
twinkle about her eye.
"No, taking a man like that," replied Miriam. "I wouldn't look at a man
over thirty-five, or with less than two hundred and fifty a year."
"You'll never marry a teacher, then," Hannah remarked.
"Teacher!" Miriam Hyams repeated, with a look of disgust. "How can one
be respectable on three pounds a week? I must have a man in a good
position." She tossed her piquant nose and looked almost handsome. She
was five years older than Hannah, and it seemed an enigma why men did
not rush to lay five pounds a week at her daintily shod feet.
"I'd rather marry a man with two pounds a week if I loved him," said
Hannah in a low tone.
"Not in this century," said Miriam, shaking her head incredulously. "We
don't believe in that nonsense now-a-days. There was Alice Green,--she
used to talk like that,--now look at her, riding about in a gig side by
side with a bald monkey."
"Alice Green's mother," interrupted Malka, pricking up her ears,
"married a son of Mendel Weinstein by his third wife, Dinah, who had ten
pounds left her by her uncle Shloumi."
"No, Dinah was Mendel's second wife," corrected Mrs. Jacobs, cutting
short a remark of Mrs. Phillips's in favor of the new interest.
"Dinah was Mendel's third wife," repeated Malka, her tanned cheeks
reddening. "I know it because my Simon, God bless him, was breeched the
Simon was Malka's eldest, now a magistrate in Melbourne.
"His third wife was Kitty Green, daughter of the yellow Melammed,"
persisted the Rebbitzin. "I know it for a fact, because Kitty's sister
Annie was engaged for a week to my brother-in-law Nathaniel."
"His first wife," put in Malka's husband, with the air of arbitrating
between the two, "was Shmool the publican's eldest daughter."
"Shmool the publican's daughter," said Malka, stirred to fresh
indignation, "married Hyam Robins, the grandson of old Benjamin, who
kept the cutlery shop at the corner of Little Eden Alley, there where
the pickled cucumber store stands now."
"It was Shmool's sister that married Hyam Robins, wasn't it, mother?"
asked Milly, incautiously.
"Certainly not," thundered Malka. "I knew old Benjamin well, and he sent
me a pair of chintz curtains when I married your father."
"Poor old Benjamin! How long has he been dead?" mused Reb Shemuel's
"He died the year I was confined with my Leah----"
"Stop! stop!" interrupted Sam Levine boisterously. "There's Leah getting
as red as fire for fear you'll blab out her age."
"Don't be a fool, Sam," said Leah, blushing violently, and looking the
lovelier for it.
The attention of the entire company was now concentrated upon the
question at issue, whatever it might be. Malka fixed her audience with
her piercing eye, and said in a tone that scarce brooked contradiction:
"Hyam Robins couldn't have married Shmool's sister because Shmool's
sister was already the wife of Abraham the fishmonger."
"Yes, but Shmool had two sisters," said Mrs. Jacobs, audaciously
asserting her position as the rival genealogist.
"Nothing of the kind," replied Malka warmly.
"I'm quite sure," persisted Mrs. Jacobs. "There was Phoeby and there was
"Nothing of the kind," repeated Malka. "Shmool had three sisters. Only
two were in the deaf and dumb home."
"Why, that, wasn't Shmool at all," Milly forgot herself so far as to
say, "that was Block the Baker."
"Of course!" said Malka in her most acid tone. "My _kinder_ always know
better than me."
There was a moment of painful silence. Malka's eye mechanically sought
the clothes-brush. Then Ezekiel sneezed. It was a convulsive "atichoo,"
and agitated the infant to its most intimate flannel-roll.
"For thy Salvation do I hope, O Lord," murmured Malka, piously, adding
triumphantly aloud, "There! the _kind_ has sneezed to the truth of it. I
knew I was right."
The sneeze of an innocent child silences everybody who is not a
blasphemer. In the general satisfaction at the unexpected solution of
the situation, no one even pointed out that the actual statement to
which Ezekiel had borne testimony, was an assertion of the superior
knowledge of Malka's children. Shortly afterwards the company trooped
downstairs to partake of high tea, which in the Ghetto need not include
anything more fleshly than fish. Fish was, indeed, the staple of the
meal. Fried fish, and such fried fish! Only a great poet could sing the
praises of the national dish, and the golden age of Hebrew poetry is
over. Strange that Gebirol should have lived and died without the
opportunity of the theme, and that the great Jehuda Halevi himself
should have had to devote his genius merely to singing the glories of
Jerusalem. "Israel is among the other nations," he sang, "as the heart
among the limbs." Even so is the fried fish of Judaea to the fried fish
of Christendom and Heathendom. With the audacity of true culinary
genius, Jewish fried fish is always served cold. The skin is a beautiful
brown, the substance firm and succulent. The very bones thereof are full
of marrow, yea and charged with memories of the happy past. Fried fish
binds Anglo-Judaea more than all the lip-professions of unity. Its savor
is early known of youth, and the divine flavor, endeared by a thousand
childish recollections, entwined with the most sacred associations,
draws back the hoary sinner into the paths of piety. It is on fried
fish, mayhap, that the Jewish matron grows fat. In the days of the
Messiah, when the saints shall feed off the Leviathan; and the Sea
Serpent shall be dished up for the last time, and the world and the
silly season shall come to an end, in those days it is probable that the
saints will prefer their Leviathan fried. Not that any physical frying
will be necessary, for in those happy times (for whose coming every
faithful Israelite prays three times a day), the Leviathan will have
what taste the eater will. Possibly a few highly respectable saints, who
were fashionable in their day and contrived to live in Kensington
without infection of paganism, will take their Leviathan in conventional
courses, and beginning with _hors d'oeuvres_ may _will_ him everything
by turns and nothing long; making him soup and sweets, joint and
_entree_, and even ices and coffee, for in the millennium the harassing
prohibition which bars cream after meat will fall through. But, however
this be, it is beyond question that the bulk of the faithful will
mentally fry him, and though the Christian saints, who shall be
privileged to wait at table, hand them plate after plate, fried fish
shall be all the fare. One suspects that Hebrews gained the taste in the
Desert of Sinai, for the manna that fell there was not monotonous to the
palate as the sciolist supposes, but likewise mutable under volition. It
were incredible that Moses, who gave so many imperishable things to his
people, did not also give them the knowledge of fried fish, so that they
might obey his behest, and rejoice, before the Lord. Nay, was it not
because, while the manna fell, there could be no lack of fish to fry,
that they lingered forty years in a dreary wilderness? Other delicious
things there are in Jewish cookery--_Lockschen_, which are the
apotheosis of vermicelli, _Ferfel_, which are _Lockschen_ in an atomic
state, and _Creplich_, which are triangular meat-pasties, and _Kuggol_,
to which pudding has a far-away resemblance; and there is even _gefuellte
Fisch_, which is stuffed fish without bones--but fried fish reigns above
all in cold, unquestioned sovereignty. No other people possesses the
recipe. As a poet of the commencement of the century sings:
The Christians are ninnies, they can't fry Dutch plaice,
Believe me, they can't tell a carp from a dace.
It was while discussing a deliciously brown oblong of the Dutch plaice
of the ballad that Samuel Levine appeared to be struck by an idea. He
threw down his knife and fork and exclaimed in Hebrew. "_Shemah beni_!"
Every one looked at him.
"Hear, my son!" he repeated in comic horror. Then relapsing into
English, he explained. "I've forgotten to give Leah a present from her
"A-h-h!" Everybody gave a sigh of deep interest; Leah, whom the
exigencies of service had removed from his side to the head of the
table, half-rose from her seat in excitement.
Now, whether Samuel Levine had really forgotten, or whether he had
chosen the most effective moment will never be known; certain it is that
the Semitic instinct for drama was gratified within him as he drew a
little folded white paper out of his waistcoat pocket, amid the keen
expectation of the company.
"This," said he, tapping the paper as if he were a conjurer, "was
purchased by me yesterday morning for my little girl. I said to myself,
says I, look here, old man, you've got to go up to town for a day in
honor of Ezekiel Phillips, and your poor girl, who had looked forward to
your staying away till Passover, will want some compensation for her
disappointment at seeing you earlier. So I thinks to myself, thinks I,
now what is there that Leah would like? It must be something
appropriate, of course, and it mustn't be of any value, because I can't
afford it. It's a ruinous business getting engaged; the worst bit of
business I ever did in all my born days." Here Sam winked facetiously at
the company. "And I thought and thought of what was the cheapest thing I
could get out of it with, and lo and behold I suddenly thought of a
So saying, Sam, still with the same dramatic air, unwrapped the thick
gold ring and held it up so that the huge diamond in it sparkled in the
sight of all. A long "O--h--h" went round the company, the majority
instantaneously pricing it mentally, and wondering at what reduction Sam
had acquired it from a brother commercial. For that no Jew ever pays
full retail price for jewelry is regarded as axiomatic. Even the
engagement ring is not required to be first-hand--or should it be
first-finger?--so long as it is solid; which perhaps accounts for the
superiority of the Jewish marriage-rate. Leah rose entirely to her feet,
the light of the diamond reflected in her eager eyes. She leant across
the table, stretching out a finger to receive her lover's gift. Sam put
the ring near her finger, then drew it away teasingly.
"Them as asks shan't have," he said, in high good humor. "You're too
greedy. Look at the number of rings you've got already." The fun of the
situation diffused itself along the table.
"Give it me," laughed Miriam Hyams, stretching out her finger. "I'll say
'ta' so nicely."
"No," he said, "you've been naughty; I'm going to give it to the little
girl who has sat quiet all the time. Miss Hannah Jacobs, rise to receive
Hannah, who was sitting two places to the left of him, smiled quietly,
but went on carving her fish. Sam, growing quite boisterous under the
appreciation of a visibly amused audience, leaned towards her, captured
her right hand, and forcibly adjusted the ring on the second finger,
exclaiming in Hebrew, with mock solemnity, "Behold, thou art consecrated
unto me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel."
It was the formal marriage speech he had learnt up for his approaching
marriage. The company roared with laughter, and pleasure and enjoyment
of the fun made Leah's lovely, smiling cheeks flush to a livelier
crimson. Badinage flew about from one end of the table to the other:
burlesque congratulations were showered on the couple, flowing over even
unto Mrs. Jacobs, who appeared to enjoy the episode as much as if her
daughter were really off her hands. The little incident added the last
touch of high spirits to the company and extorted all their latent
humor. Samuel excelled himself in vivacious repartee, and responded
comically to the toast of his health as drunk in coffee. Suddenly, amid
the hubbub of chaff and laughter and the clatter of cutlery, a still
small voice made itself heard. It same from old Hyams, who had been
sitting quietly with brow corrugated under his black velvet _koppel_.
"Mr. Levine," he said, in low grave tones, "I have been thinking, and I
am afraid that what you have done is serious."
The earnestness of his tones arrested the attention of the company. The
"What do you mean?" said Samuel. He understood the Yiddish which old
Hyams almost invariably used, though he did not speak it himself.
Contrariwise, old Hyams understood much more English than he spoke.
"You have married Hannah Jacobs."
There was a painful silence, dim recollections surging in everybody's
"Married Hannah Jacobs!" repeated Samuel incredulously.
"Yes," affirmed old Hyams. "What you have done constitutes a marriage
according to Jewish law. You have pledged yourself to her in the
presence of two witnesses."
There was another tense silence. Samuel broke it with a boisterous
"No, no, old fellow," he said; "you don't have me like that!"
The tension was relaxed. Everybody joined in the laugh with a feeling of
indescribable relief. Facetious old Hyams had gone near scoring one.
Hannah smilingly plucked off the glittering bauble from her finger and
slid it on to Leah's. Hyams alone remained grave. "Laugh away!" he
said. "You will soon find I am right. Such is our law."
"May be," said Samuel, constrained to seriousness despite himself. "But
you forget that I am already engaged to Leah."
"I do not forget it," replied Hyams, "but it has nothing to do with the
case. You are both single, or rather you _were_ both single, for now you
are man and wife."
Leah, who had been sitting pale and agitated, burst into tears. Hannah's
face was drawn and white. Her mother looked the least alarmed of the
"Droll person!" cried Malka, addressing Sam angrily in jargon. "What
hast thou done?"
"Don't let us all go mad," said Samuel, bewildered. "How can a piece of
fun, a joke, be a valid marriage?"
"The law takes no account of jokes," said old Hyams solemnly.
"Then why didn't you stop me?" asked Sam, exasperated.
"It was all done in a moment. I laughed myself; I had no time to think."
Sam brought his fist down on the table with a bang.
"Well, I'll never believe this! If this is Judaism----!"
"Hush!" said Malka angrily. "These are your English Jews, who make mock
of holy things. I always said the son of a proselyte was----"
"Look here, mother," put in Michael soothingly. "Don't let us make a
fuss before we know the truth. Send for some one who is likely to know."
He played agitatedly with his complex pocket-knife.
"Yes, Hannah's father, Reb Shemuel is just the man," cried Milly
"I told you my husband was gone to Manchester for a day or two," Mrs.
Jacobs reminded her.
"There's the _Maggid_ of the Sons of the Covenant," said one of the
company. "I'll go and fetch him."
The stooping, black-bearded _Maggid_ was brought. When he arrived, it
was evident from his look that he knew all and brought confirmation of
their worst fears. He explained the law at great length, and cited
precedent upon precedent. When he ceased, Leah's sobs alone broke the
silence. Samuel's face was white. The merry gathering had been turned to
a wedding party.
"You rogue!" burst forth Malka at last. "You planned all this--you
thought my Leah didn't have enough money, and that Reb Shemuel will heap
you up gold in the hands. But you don't take me in like this."
"May this piece of bread choke me if I had the slightest iota of
intention!" cried Samuel passionately, for the thought of what Leah
might think was like fire in his veins. He turned appealingly to the
_Maggid_; "but there must be some way out of this, surely there must be
some way out. I know you _Maggidim_ can split hairs. Can't you make one
of your clever distinctions even when there's more than a trifle
concerned?" There was a savage impatience about the bridegroom which
boded ill for the Law.
"Of course there's a way out," said the _Maggid_ calmly. "Only one way,
but a very broad and simple one."
"What's that?" everybody asked breathlessly.
"He must give her _Gett_!"
"Of course!" shouted Sam in a voice of thunder. "I divorce her at once."
He guffawed hysterically: "What a pack of fools we are! Good old Jewish
Leah's sobs ceased. Everybody except Mrs. Jacobs was smiling once more.
Half a dozen, hands grasped the _Maggid's_; half a dozen others thumped
him on the back. He was pushed into a chair. They gave him a glass of
brandy, they heaped a plate with fried fish. Verily the _Maggid_, who
was in truth sore ahungered, was in luck's way. He blessed Providence
and the Jewish Marriage Law.
"But you had better not reckon that a divorce," he warned them between
two mouthfuls. "You had better go to Reb Shemuel, the maiden's father,
and let him arrange the _Gett_ beyond reach of cavil."
"But Reb Shemuel is away," said Mrs. Jacobs.
"And I must go away, too, by the first train to-morrow," said Sam.
"However, there's no hurry. I'll arrange to run up to town again in a
fortnight or so, and then Reb Shemuel shall see that we are properly
untied. You don't mind being my wife for a fortnight, I hope, Miss
Jacobs?" asked Sam, winking gleefully at Leah. She smiled back at him
and they laughed together over the danger they had just escaped. Hannah
laughed too, in contemptuous amusement at the rigidity of Jewish Law.
"I'll tell you what, Sam, can't you come back for next Saturday week?"
"Why?" asked Sam. "What's on?"
"The Purim Ball at the Club. As you've got to come back to give Hannah
_Gett_, you might as well come in time to take me to the ball."
"Right you are," said Sam cheerfully.
Leah clapped her hands. "Oh that will be jolly," she said. "And we'll
take Hannah with us," she added as an afterthought.
"Is that by way of compensation for losing my husband?" Hannah asked
with a smile.
Leah gave a happy laugh, and turned the new ring on her finger in
"All's well that ends well," said Sam. "Through this joke Leah will be
the belle of the Purim Ball. I think I deserve another piece of plaice,
Leah, for that compliment. As for you, Mr. Maggid, you're a saint and a
The _Maggid's_ face was brightened by a smile. He intoned the grace with
unction when the meal ended, and everybody joined in heartily at the
specifically vocal portions. Then the _Maggid_ left, and the cards were
It is inadvisable to play cards _before_ fried fish, because it is well
known that you may lose, and losing may ruffle your temper, and you may
call your partner an ass, or your partner may call you an ass. To-night
the greatest good humor prevailed, though several pounds changed hands.
They played Loo, "Klobbiyos," Napoleon, Vingt-et-un, and especially
Brag. Solo whist had not yet come in to drive everything else out. Old
Hyams did not _spiel_, because he could not afford to, and Hannah Jacobs
because she did not care to. These and a few other guests left early.
But the family party stayed late. On a warm green table, under a
cheerful gas light, with brandy and whiskey and sweets and fruit to
hand, with no trains or busses to catch, what wonder if the
light-hearted assembly played far into the new day?
Meanwhile the Redeemed Son slept peacefully in his crib with his legs
curled up, and his little fists clenched beneath the coverlet.
THE PAUPER ALIEN.
Moses Ansell married mainly because all men are mortal. He knew he would
die and he wanted an heir. Not to inherit anything, but to say _Kaddish_
for him. _Kaddish_ is the most beautiful and wonderful mourning prayer
ever written. Rigidly excluding all references to death and grief, it
exhausts itself in supreme glorification of the Eternal and in
supplication for peace upon the House of Israel. But its significance
has been gradually transformed; human nature, driven away with a
pitchfork, has avenged itself by regarding the prayer as a mass, not
without purgatorial efficacy, and so the Jew is reluctant to die without
leaving some one qualified to say _Kaddish_ after him every day for a
year, and then one day a year. That is one reason why sons are of such
Moses had only a mother in the world when he married Gittel Silverstein,
and he hoped to restore the balance of male relatives by this reckless
measure. The result was six children, three girls and three _Kaddishim_.
In Gittel, Moses found a tireless helpmate. During her lifetime the
family always lived in two rooms, for she had various ways of
supplementing the household income. When in London she chared for her
cousin Malka at a shilling a day. Likewise she sewed underlinen and
stitched slips of fur into caps in the privacy of home and midnight. For
all Mrs. Ansell's industry, the family had been a typical group of
wandering Jews, straying from town to town in search of better things.
The congregation they left (every town which could muster the minimum
of ten men for worship boasted its _Kehillah_) invariably paid their
fare to the next congregation, glad to get rid of them so cheaply, and
the new _Kehillah_ jumped at the opportunity of gratifying their
restless migratory instinct and sent them to a newer. Thus were they
tossed about on the battledores of philanthropy, often reverting to
their starting-point, to the disgust of the charitable committees. Yet
Moses always made loyal efforts to find work. His versatility was
marvellous. There was nothing he could not do badly. He had been
glazier, synagogue beadle, picture-frame manufacturer, cantor, peddler,
shoemaker in all branches, coat-seller, official executioner of fowls
and cattle, Hebrew teacher, fruiterer, circumciser, professional
corpse-watcher, and now he was a tailor out of work.
Unquestionably Malka was right in considering Moses a _Schlemihl_ in
comparison with many a fellow-immigrant, who brought indefatigable hand
and subtle brain to the struggle for existence, and discarded the prop
of charity as soon as he could, and sometimes earlier.
It was as a hawker that he believed himself most gifted, and he never
lost the conviction that if he could only get a fair start, he had in
him the makings of a millionaire. Yet there was scarcely anything cheap
with which he had not tramped the country, so that when poor Benjamin,
who profited by his mother's death to get into the Orphan Asylum, was
asked to write a piece of composition on "The Methods of Travelling," he
excited the hilarity of the class-room by writing that there were
numerous ways of travelling, for you could travel with sponge, lemons,
rhubarb, old clothes, jewelry, and so on, for a page of a copy book.
Benjamin was a brilliant boy, yet he never shook off some of the
misleading associations engendered by the parental jargon. For Mrs.
Ansell had diversified her corrupt German by streaks of incorrect
English, being of a much more energetic and ambitious temperament than
the conservative Moses, who dropped nearly all his burden of English
into her grave. For Benjamin, "to travel" meant to wander about selling
goods, and when in his books he read of African travellers, he took it
for granted that they were but exploiting the Dark Continent for small
profits and quick returns.
And who knows? Perhaps of the two species, it was the old Jewish
peddlers who suffered the more and made the less profit on the average.
For the despised three-hatted scarecrow of Christian caricature, who
shambled along snuffling "Old clo'," had a strenuous inner life, which
might possibly have vied in intensity, elevation, and even sense of
humor, with that of the best of the jeerers on the highway. To Moses,
"travelling" meant straying forlornly in strange towns and villages,
given over to the worship of an alien deity and ever ready to avenge his
crucifixion; in a land of whose tongue he knew scarce more than the
Saracen damsel married by legend to a Becket's father. It meant praying
brazenly in crowded railway trains, winding the phylacteries sevenfold
round his left arm and crowning his forehead with a huge leather bump of
righteousness, to the bewilderment or irritation of unsympathetic
fellow-passengers. It meant living chiefly on dry bread and drinking
black tea out of his own cup, with meat and fish and the good things of
life utterly banned by the traditional law, even if he were flush. It
meant carrying the red rag of an obnoxious personality through a land of
bulls. It meant passing months away from wife and children, in a
solitude only occasionally alleviated by a Sabbath spent in a synagogue
town. It meant putting up at low public houses and common lodging
houses, where rowdy disciples of the Prince of Peace often sent him
bleeding to bed, or shamelessly despoiled him of his merchandise, or
bullied and blustered him out of his fair price, knowing he dared not
resent. It meant being chaffed and gibed at in language of which he
only understood that it was cruel, though certain trite facetiae grew
intelligible to him by repetition. Thus once, when he had been
interrogated as to the locality of Moses when the light went out, he
replied in Yiddish that the light could not go out, for "it stands in
the verse, that round the head of Moses, our teacher, the great
law-giver, was a perpetual halo." An old German happened to be smoking
at the bar of the public house when the peddler gave his acute answer;
he laughed heartily, slapped the Jew on the back and translated the
repartee to the Convivial crew. For once intellect told, and the rough
drinkers, with a pang of shame, vied with one another in pressing bitter
beer upon the temperate Semite. But, as a rule, Moses Ansell drank the
cup of affliction instead of hospitality and bore his share to the full,
without the remotest intention of being heroic, in the long agony of his
race, doomed to be a byword and a mockery amongst the heathen.
Assuredly, to die for a religion is easier than to live for it. Yet
Moses never complained nor lost faith. To be spat upon was the very
condition of existence of the modern Jew, deprived of Palestine and his
Temple, a footsore mendicant, buffeted and reviled, yet the dearer to
the Lord God who had chosen him from the nations. Bullies might break
Moses's head in this world, but in the next he would sit on a gold chair
in Paradise among the saints and sing exegetical acrostics to all
eternity. It was some dim perception of these things that made Esther
forgive her father when the Ansells waited weeks and weeks for a postal
order and landlords were threatening to bundle them out neck and crop,
and her mother's hands were worn to the bone slaving for her little
Things improved a little just before the mother died, for they had
settled down in London and Moses earned eighteen shillings a week as a
machinist and presser, and no longer roamed the country. But the
interval of happiness was brief. The grandmother, imported from Poland,
did not take kindly to her son's wife, whom she found wanting in the
minutiae of ceremonial piety and godless enough to wear her own hair.
There had been, indeed, a note of scepticism, of defiance, in Esther's
mother, a hankering after the customs of the heathen, which her
grandmother divined instinctively and resented for the sake of her son
and the post-mundane existence of her grandchildren. Mrs. Ansell's
scepticism based itself upon the uncleanliness which was so generally
next to godliness in the pious circles round them, and she had been
heard to express contempt for the learned and venerable Israelite, who,
being accosted by an acquaintance when the shadows of eve were beginning
to usher in the Day of Atonement, exclaimed:
"For heaven's sake, don't stop me--I missed my bath last year."
Mrs. Ansell bathed her children from head to foot once a month, and even
profanely washed them on the Sabbath, and had other strange, uncanny
notions. She professed not to see the value to God, man or beast of the
learned Rabbonim, who sat shaking themselves all day in the _Beth
Hamidrash_, and said they would be better occupied in supporting their
families, a view which, though mere surface blasphemy on the part of the
good woman and primarily intended as a hint to Moses to study less and
work longer, did not fail to excite lively passages of arms between the
two women. But death ended these bickerings and the _Bube_, who had
frequently reproached her son for bringing her into such an atheistic
country, was left a drag the more upon the family deprived at once of a
mother and a bread-winner. Old Mrs. Ansell was unfit: for anything save
grumbling, and so the headship naturally devolved upon Esther, whom her
mother's death left a woman getting on for eight. The commencement of
her reign coincided with a sad bisection of territory. Shocking as it
may be to better regulated minds, these seven people lived in one room.
Moses and the two boys slept in one bed and the grandmother and the
three girls in another. Esther had to sleep with her head on a
supplementary pillow at the foot of the bed. But there can be much love
in a little room.
The room was not, however, so very little, for it was of ungainly
sprawling structure, pushing out an odd limb that might have been cut
off with a curtain. The walls nodded fixedly to one another so that the
ceiling was only half the size of the floor. The furniture comprised but
the commonest necessities. This attic of the Ansells was nearer heaven
than most earthly dwelling places, for there were four tall flights of
stairs to mount before you got to it. No. 1 Royal Street had been in its
time one of the great mansions of the Ghetto; pillars of the synagogue
had quaffed _kosher_ wine in its spacious reception rooms and its
corridors had echoed with the gossip of portly dames in stiff brocades.
It was stoutly built and its balusters were of carved oak. But now the
threshold of the great street door, which was never closed, was
encrusted with black mud, and a musty odor permanently clung to the wide
staircase and blent subtly with far-away reminiscences of Mr.
Belcovitch's festive turpentine. The Ansells had numerous housemates,
for No. 1 Royal Street was a Jewish colony in itself and the resident
population was periodically swollen by the "hands" of the Belcovitches
and by the "Sons of the Covenant," who came to worship at their
synagogue on the ground floor. What with Sugarman the _Shadchan_, on the
first floor, Mrs. Simons and Dutch Debby on the second, the Belcovitches
on the third, and the Ansells and Gabriel Hamburg, the great scholar, on
the fourth, the door-posts twinkled with _Mezuzahs_--cases or cylinders
containing sacred script with the word _Shaddai_ (Almighty) peering out
of a little glass eye at the centre. Even Dutch Debby, abandoned wretch
as she was, had this protection against evil spirits (so it has come to
be regarded) on her lintel, though she probably never touched the eye
with her finger to kiss the place of contact after the manner of the
Thus was No. 1 Royal Street close packed with the stuff of human life,
homespun and drab enough, but not altogether profitless, may be, to turn
over and examine. So close packed was it that there was scarce breathing
space. It was only at immemorial intervals that our pauper alien made a
pun, but one day he flashed upon the world the pregnant remark that
England was well named, for to the Jew it was verily the Enge-Land,
which in German signifies the country without elbow room. Moses Ansell
chuckled softly and beatifically when he emitted the remark that
surprised all who knew him. But then it was the Rejoicing of the Law and
the Sons of the Covenant had treated him to rum and currant cake. He
often thought of his witticism afterwards, and it always lightened his
unwashed face with a happy smile. The recollection usually caught him
when he was praying.
For four years after Mrs. Ansell's charity funeral the Ansells, though
far from happy, had no history to speak of.
Benjamin accompanied Solomon to _Shool_ morning and evening to say
_Kaddish_ for their mother till he passed into the Orphan Asylum and
out of the lives of his relatives. Solomon and Rachel and Esther went to
the great school and Isaac to the infant school, while the tiny Sarah,
whose birth had cost Mrs. Ansell's life, crawled and climbed about in
the garret, the grandmother coming in negatively useful as a safeguard
against fire on the days when the grate was not empty. The _Rube's_ own
conception of her function as a safeguard against fire was quite other.
Moses was out all day working or looking for work, or praying or
listening to _Drashes_, by the _Maggid_ or other great preachers. Such
charities as brightened and warmed the Ghetto Moses usually came in for.
Bread, meat and coal tickets, god-sends from the Society for Restoring
the Soul, made odd days memorable. Blankets were not so easy to get as
in the days of poor Gittel's confinements.
What little cooking there was to do was done by Esther before or after
school; she and her children usually took their mid-day meal with them
in the shape of bread, occasionally made ambrosial by treacle The
Ansells had more fast days than the Jewish calendar, which is saying a
good deal. Providence, however, generally stepped in before the larder
had been bare twenty-four hours.
As the fast days of the Jewish calendar did not necessarily fall upon
the Ansell fast days, they were an additional tax on Moses and his
mother. Yet neither ever wavered in the scrupulous observance of them,
not a crumb of bread nor a drop of water passing their lips. In the keen
search for facts detrimental to the Ghetto it is surprising that no
political economist has hitherto exposed the abundant fasts with which
Israel has been endowed, and which obviously operate as a dole in aid of
wages. So does the Lenten period of the "Three Weeks," when meat is
prohibited in memory of the shattered Temples. The Ansells kept the
"Three Weeks" pretty well all the year round. On rare occasions they
purchased pickled Dutch herrings or brought home pennyworths of pea soup
or of baked potatoes and rice from a neighboring cook shop. For Festival
days, if Malka had subsidized them with a half-sovereign, Esther
sometimes compounded _Tzimmus_, a dainty blend of carrots, pudding and
potatoes. She was prepared to write an essay on _Tzimmus_ as a
gastronomic ideal. There were other pleasing Polish combinations which
were baked for twopence by the local bakers. _Tabechas_, or stuffed
entrails, and liver, lights or milt were good substitutes for meat. A
favorite soup was _Borsch_, which was made with beet-root, fat taking
the place of the more fashionable cream.
The national dish was seldom their lot; when fried fish came it was
usually from the larder of Mrs. Simons, a motherly old widow, who lived
in the second floor front, and presided over the confinements of all the
women and the sicknesses of all the children in the neighborhood. Her
married daughter Dinah was providentially suckling a black-eyed boy when
Mrs. Ansell died, so Mrs. Simons converted her into a foster mother of
little Sarah, regarding herself ever afterwards as under special
responsibilities toward the infant, whom she occasionally took to live
with her for a week, and for whom she saw heaven encouraging a future
alliance with the black-eyed foster brother. Life would have been
gloomier still in the Ansell garret if Mrs. Simons had not been created
to bless and sustain. Even old garments somehow arrived from Mrs. Simons
to eke out the corduroys and the print gowns which were the gift of the
school. There were few pleasanter events in the Ansell household than
the falling ill of one of the children, for not only did this mean a
supply of broth, port wine and other incredible luxuries from the
Charity doctor (of which all could taste), but it brought in its train
the assiduous attendance of Mrs. Simons. To see the kindly brown face
bending over it with smiling eyes of jet, to feel the soft, cool hand
pressed to its forehead, was worth a fever to a motherless infant. Mrs.
Simons was a busy woman and a poor withal, and the Ansells were a
reticent pack, not given to expressing either their love or their hunger
to outsiders; so altogether the children did not see so much of Mrs.
Simons or her bounties as they would have liked. Nevertheless, in a
grave crisis she was always to be counted upon.
"I tell thee what, Meshe," said old Mrs. Ansell often, "that woman wants
to marry thee. A blind man could see it."
"She cannot want it, mother," Moses would reply with infinite respect.
"What art thou saying? A wholly fine young man like thee," said his
mother, fondling his side ringlets, "and one so _froom_ too, and with
such worldly wisdom. But thou must not have her, Meshe."
"What kind of idea thou stuffest into my head! I tell thee she would not
have me if I sent to ask."
"Talk not thyself thereinto. Who wouldn't like to catch hold of thy
cloak to go to heaven by? But Mrs. Simons is too much of an Englishwoman
for me. Your last wife had English ideas and made mock of pious men and
God's judgment took her. What says the Prayer-book? For three things a
woman dies in childbirth, for not separating the dough, for not lighting
the Sabbath lamps and for not--"
"How often have I told thee she did do all these things!" interrupted
"Dost thou contradict the Prayer-book?" said the _Bube_ angrily. "It
would have been different if thou hadst let me pick a woman for thee.
But this time thou wilt honor thy mother more. It must be a respectable,
virtuous maiden, with the fear of heaven--not an old woman like Mrs.
Simons, but one who can bear me robust grandchildren. The grandchildren
thou hast given me are sickly, and they fear not the Most High. Ah! why
did'st thou drag me to this impious country? Could'st thou not let me
die in peace? Thy girls think more of English story books and lessons
than of _Yiddishkeit_, and the boys run out under the naked sky with
bare heads and are loth to wash their hands before meals, and they do
not come home in the dinner hour for fear they should have to say the
afternoon prayer. Laugh at me, Moses, as thou wilt, but, old as I am, I
have eyes, and not two blotches of clay, in my sockets. Thou seest not
how thy family is going to destruction. Oh, the abominations!"
Thus warned and put on his mettle, Moses would keep a keen look-out on
his hopeful family for the next day, and the seed which the grandmother
had sown came up in black and blue bruises or, the family anatomy,
especially on that portion of it which belonged to Solomon. For Moses's
crumbling trousers were buckled with a stout strap, and Solomon was a
young rogue who did his best to dodge the Almighty, and had never heard
of Lowell's warning,
You've gut to git up airly,
Ef you want to take in God.
Even if he had heard of it, he would probably have retorted that he
usually got up early enough to take in his father, who was the more
immediately terrible of the two. Nevertheless, Solomon learned many
lessons at his father's knee, or rather, across it. In earlier days
Solomon had had a number of confidential transactions with his father's
God, making bargains with Him according to his childish sense of equity.
If, for instance, God would ensure his doing his sums correctly, so that
he should be neither caned nor "kept in," he would say his morning
prayers without skipping the aggravating _Longe Verachum_, which bulked
so largely on Mondays and Thursdays; otherwise he could not be bothered.
By the terms of the contract Solomon threw all the initiative on the
Deity, and whenever the Deity undertook his share of the contract,
Solomon honorably fulfilled his. Thus was his faith in Providence never
shaken like that of some boys, who expect the Deity to follow their
lead. Still, by declining to praise his Maker at extraordinary length,
except in acknowledgment of services rendered, Solomon gave early
evidence of his failure to inherit his father's business incapacity.
On days when things at the school went well, no one gabbled through the
weary Prayer-book more conscientiously than he; he said all the things
in large type and all the funny little bits in small type, and even some
passages without vowels. Nay, he included the very preface, and was
lured on and coaxed on and enticed by his father to recite the
appendices, which shot up one after the other on the devotional horizon
like the endless-seeming terraces of a deceptive ascent; just another
little bit, and now that little bit, and just that last bit, and one
more very last little bit. It was like the infinite inclusiveness of a
Chinese sphere, or the farewell performances of a distinguished singer.
For the rest, Solomon was a _Chine-ponim_, or droll, having that
inextinguishable sense of humor which has made the saints of the Jewish
Church human, has lit up dry technical Talmudic, discussions with
flashes of freakish fun, with pun and jest and merry quibble, and has
helped the race to survive (_pace_ Dr. Wallace) by dint of a humorous
acquiescence in the inevitable.
His _Chine_ helped Solomon to survive synagogue, where the only drop of
sweetness was in the beaker of wine for the sanctification service.
Solomon was always in the van of the brave boys who volunteered to take
part in the ceremonial quaffing of it. Decidedly. Solomon was not
spiritual, he would not even kiss a Hebrew Pentateuch that he had
dropped, unless his father was looking, and but for the personal
supervision of the _Bube_ the dirty white fringes of his "four-corners"
might have got tangled and irredeemably invalidated for all he cared.
In the direst need of the Ansells Solomon held his curly head high among
his school-fellows, and never lacked personal possessions, though they
were not negotiable at the pawnbroker's. He had a peep-show, made out of
an old cocoa box, and representing the sortie from Plevna, a permit to
view being obtainable for a fragment of slate pencil. For two pins he
would let you look a whole minute. He also had bags of brass buttons,
marbles, both commoners and alleys; nibs, beer bottle labels and cherry
"hogs," besides bottles of liquorice water, vendible either by the sip
or the teaspoonful, and he dealt in "assy-tassy," which consisted of
little packets of acetic acid blent with brown sugar. The character of
his stock varied according to the time of year, for nature and Belgravia
are less stable in their seasons than the Jewish schoolboy, to whom
buttons in March are as inconceivable as snow-balling in July.
On Purim Solomon always had nuts to gamble with, just as if he had been
a banker's son, and on the Day of Atonement he was never without a
little tin fusee box filled with savings of snuff. This, when the fast
racked them most sorely, he would pass round among the old men with a
grand manner. They would take a pinch and say, "May thy strength
increase," and blow their delighted noses with great colored
handkerchiefs, and Solomon would feel about fifty and sniff a few
grains himself with the air of an aged connoisseur.
He took little interest in the subtle disquisitions of the Rabbis, which
added their burden to his cross of secular learning. He wrestled but
perfunctorily with the theses of the Bible commentators, for Moses
Ansell was so absorbed in translating and enjoying the intellectual
tangles, that Solomon had scarce more to do than to play the part of
chorus. He was fortunate in that his father could not afford to send him
to a _Chedar_, an insanitary institution that made Jacob a dull boy by
cutting off his play-time and his oxygen, and delivering him over to the
leathery mercies of an unintelligently learned zealot, scrupulously
The literature and history Solomon really cared for was not of the Jews.
It was the history of Daredevil Dick and his congeners whose surprising
adventures, second-hand, in ink-stained sheets, were bartered to him for
buttons, which shows the advantages of not having a soul above such.
These deeds of derring-do (usually starting in a __school-room period in
which teachers were thankfully accepted as created by Providence for the
sport of schoolboys) Solomon conned at all hours, concealing them under
his locker when he was supposed to be studying the Irish question from
an atlas, and even hiding them between the leaves of his dog-eared
Prayer-book for use during the morning service. The only harm they did
him was that inflicted through the medium of the educational rod, when
his surreptitious readings were discovered and his treasures thrown to
the flames amid tears copious enough to extinguish them.
"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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"But, mother," said Hannah. "You know we have a servant to do the rough
"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 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
This was the moment selected by Fate and Melchitsedek Pinchas for the
THE NEO-HEBREW POET.
He came through the open street door, knocked perfunctorily at the door
of the room, opened it and then kissed the _Mezuzah_ outside the door.
Then he advanced, snatched the Rebbitzin's hand away from the handle of
the coffee-pot and kissed it with equal devotion. He then seized upon
Hannah's hand and pressed his grimy lips to that, murmuring in German:
"Thou lookest so charming this morning, like the roses of Carmel." Next
he bent down and pressed his lips to the Reb's coat-tail. Finally he
said: "Good morning, sir," to Levi, who replied very affably, "Good
morning, Mr. Pinchas," "Peace be unto you, Pinchas," said the Reb. "I
did not see you in _Shool_ this morning, though it was the New Moon."
"No, I went to the Great _Shool_," said Pinchas in German. "If you do
not see me at your place you may be sure I'm somewhere else. Any one who
has lived so long as I in the Land of Israel cannot bear to pray without
a quorum. In the Holy Land I used to learn for an hour in the _Shool_
every morning before the service began. But I am not here to talk about
myself. I come to ask you to do me the honor to accept a copy of my new
volume of poems: _Metatoron's Flames_. Is it not a beautiful title? When
Enoch was taken up to heaven while yet alive, he was converted to flames
of fire and became Metatoron, the great spirit of the Cabalah. So am I
rapt up into the heaven of lyrical poetry and I become all fire and
flame and light."
The poet was a slim, dark little man, with long, matted black hair. His
face was hatchet-shaped and not unlike an Aztec's. The eyes were
informed by an eager brilliance. He had a heap of little paper-covered
books in one hand and an extinct cigar in the other. He placed the books
upon the breakfast table.
"At last," he said. "See, I have got it printed--the great work which
this ignorant English Judaism has left to moulder while it pays its
stupid reverends thousands a year for wearing white ties."
"And who paid for it now, Mr. Pinchas?" said the Rebbitzin.
"Who? Wh-o-o?" stammered Melchitsedek. "Who but myself?"
"But you say you are blood-poor."
"True as the Law of Moses! But I have written articles for the jargon
papers. They jump at me--there is not a man on the staff of them all who
has the pen of a ready writer. I can't get any money out of them, my
dear Rebbitzin, else I shouldn't be without breakfast this morning, but
the proprietor of the largest of them is also a printer, and he has
printed my little book in return. But I don't think I shall fill my
stomach with the sales. Oh! the Holy One, blessed be He, bless you,
Rebbitzin, of course I'll take a cup of coffee; I don't know any one
else who makes coffee with such a sweet savor; it would do for a spice
offering when the Almighty restores us our Temple. You are a happy
mortal, Rabbi. You will permit that I seat myself at the table?"
Without awaiting permission he pushed a chair between Levi and Hannah
and sat down; then he got up again and washed his hands and helped
himself to a spare egg.
"Here is your copy, Reb Shemuel," he went on after an interval. "You see
it is dedicated generally:
"'To the Pillars of English Judaism.'
"They are a set of donkey-heads, but one must give them a chance of
rising to higher things. It is true that not one of them understands
Hebrew, not even the Chief Rabbi, to whom courtesy made me send a copy.
Perhaps he will be able to read my poems with a dictionary; he certainly
can't write Hebrew without two grammatical blunders to every word. No,
no, don't defend him, Reb Shemuel, because you're under him. He ought to
be under you--only he expresses his ignorance in English and the fools
think to talk nonsense in good English is to be qualified for the
The remark touched the Rabbi in a tender place. It was the one worry of
his life, the consciousness that persons in high quarters disapproved of
him as a force impeding the Anglicization of the Ghetto. He knew his
shortcomings, but could never quite comprehend the importance of
becoming English. He had a latent feeling that Judaism had flourished
before England was invented, and so the poet's remark was secretly
pleasing to him.
"You know very well," went on Pinchas, "that I and you are the only two
persons in London who can write correct Holy Language."
"No, no." said the Rabbi, deprecatingly.
"Yes, yes," said Pinchas, emphatically. "You can write quite as well as
I. But just cast your eye now on the especial dedication which I have
written to you in my own autograph. 'To the light of his generation, the
great Gaon, whose excellency reaches to the ends of the earth, from
whose lips all the people of the Lord seek knowledge, the never-failing
well, the mighty eagle soars to heaven on the wings of understanding, to
Rav Shemuel, may whose light never be dimmed, and in whose day may the
Redeemer come unto Zion.' There, take it, honor me by taking it. It is
the homage of the man of genius to the man of learning, the humble
offering of the one Hebrew scholar in England to the other."
"Thank you," said the old Rabbi, much moved. "It is too handsome of you,
and I shall read it at once and treasure it amongst my dearest books,
for you know well that I consider that you have the truest poetic gift
of any son of Israel since Jehuda Halevi."
"I have! I know it! I feel it! It burns me. The sorrow of our race keeps
me awake at night--the national hopes tingle like electricity through
me--I bedew my couch with tears in the darkness"--Pinchas paused to take
another slice of bread and butter. "It is then that my poems are born.
The words burst into music in my head and I sing like Isaiah the
restoration of our land, and become the poet patriot of my people. But
these English! They care only to make money and to stuff it down the
throats of gorging reverends. My scholarship, my poetry, my divine
dreams--what are these to a besotted, brutal congregation of
Men-of-the-Earth? I sent Buckledorf, the rich banker, a copy of my
little book, with a special dedication written in my own autograph in
German, so that he might understand it. And what did he send me? A
beggarly five shillings? Five shillings to the one poet in whom the
heavenly fire lives! How can the heavenly fire live on five shillings? I
had almost a mind to send it back. And then there was Gideon, the member
of Parliament. I made one of the poems an acrostic on his name, so that
he might be handed down to posterity. There, that's the one. No, the one
on the page you were just looking at. Yes, that's it, beginning:
"'Great leader of our Israel's host,
I sing thy high heroic deeds,
Divinely gifted learned man.'
"I wrote his dedication in English, for he understands neither Hebrew
nor German, the miserable, purse-proud, vanity-eaten Man-of-the-Earth."
"Why, didn't he give you anything at all?" said the Reb.
"Worse! He sent me back the book. But I'll be revenged on him. I'll take
the acrostic out of the next edition and let him rot in oblivion. I have
been all over the world to every great city where Jews congregate. In
Russia, in Turkey, in Germany, in Roumania, in Greece, in Morocco, in
Palestine. Everywhere the greatest Rabbis have leaped like harts on the
mountains with joy at my coming. They have fed and clothed me like a
prince. I have preached at the synagogues, and everywhere people have
said it was like the Wilna Gaon come again. From the neighboring
villages for miles and miles the pious have come to be blessed by me.
Look at my testimonials from all the greatest saints and savants. But in
England--in England alone--what is my welcome? Do they say: 'Welcome,
Melchitsedek Pinchas, welcome as the bridegroom to the bride when the
long day is done and the feast is o'er; welcome to you, with the torch
of your genius, with the burden of your learning that is rich with the
whole wealth of Hebrew literature in all ages and countries. Here we
have no great and wise men. Our Chief Rabbi is an idiot. Come thou and
be our Chief Rabbi?' Do they say this? No! They greet me with scorn,
coldness, slander. As for the Rev. Elkan Benjamin, who makes such a fuss
of himself because he sends a wealthy congregation to sleep with his
sermons, I'll expose him as sure as there's a Guardian of Israel. I'll
let the world know about his four mistresses."
"Nonsense! Guard yourself against the evil tongue," said the Reb. "How
do you know he has?"
"It's the Law of Moses," said the little poet. "True as I stand here.
You ask Jacob Hermann. It was he who told me about it. Jacob Hermann
said to me one day: 'That Benjamin has a mistress for every fringe of
his four-corners.' And how many is that, eh? I do not know why he should
be allowed to slander me and I not be allowed to tell the truth about
him. One day I will shoot him. You know he said that when I first came
to London I joined the _Meshumadim_ in Palestine Place."
"Well, he had at least some foundation for that," said Reb Shemuel.
"Foundation! Do you call that foundation--because I lived there for a
week, hunting out their customs and their ways of ensnaring the souls of
our brethren, so that I might write about them one day? Have I not
already told you not a morsel of their food passed my lips and that the
money which I had to take so as not to excite suspicion I distributed in
charity among the poor Jews? Why not? From pigs we take bristles."
"Still, you must remember that if you had not been such a saint and such
a great poet, I might myself have believed that you sold your soul for
money to escape starvation. I know how these devils set their baits for
the helpless immigrant, offering bread in return for a lip-conversion.
They are grown so cunning now--they print their hellish appeals in
Hebrew, knowing we reverence the Holy Tongue."
"Yes, the ordinary Man-of-the-Earth believes everything that's in
Hebrew. That was the mistake of the Apostles--to write in Greek. But
then they, too, were such Men-of-the Earth."
"I wonder who writes such good Hebrew for the missionaries," said Reb
"I wonder," gurgled Pinchas, deep in his coffee.
"But, father," asked Hannah, "don't you believe any Jew ever really
believes in Christianity?"
"How is it possible?" answered Reb Shemuel. "A Jew who has the Law from
Sinai, the Law that will never be changed, to whom God has given a
sensible religion and common-sense, how can such a person believe in the
farrago of nonsense that makes up the worship of the Christians! No Jew
has ever apostatized except to fill his purse or his stomach or to avoid
persecution. 'Getting grace' they call it in English; but with poor Jews
it is always grace after meals. Look at the Crypto-Jews, the Marranos,
who for centuries lived a double life, outwardly Christians, but handing
down secretly from generation to generation the faith, the traditions,
the observances of Judaism."
"Yes, no Jew was ever fool enough to turn Christian unless he was a
clever man," said the poet paradoxically. "Have you not, my sweet,
innocent young lady, heard the story of the two Jews in Burgos
"No, what is it?" said Levi, eagerly.
"Well, pass my cup up to your highly superior mother who is waiting to
fill it with coffee. Your eminent father knows the story--I can see by
the twinkle in his learned eye."
"Yes, that story has a beard," said the Reb.
"Two Spanish Jews," said the poet, addressing himself deferentially to
Levi, "who had got grace were waiting to be baptized at Burgos
Cathedral. There was a great throng of Catholics and a special Cardinal
was coming to conduct the ceremony, for their conversion was a great
triumph. But the Cardinal was late and the Jews fumed and fretted at the
delay. The shadows of evening were falling on vault and transept. At
last one turned to the other and said, 'Knowest them what, Moses? If the
Holy Father does not arrive soon, we shall be too late to say _mincha_."
Levi laughed heartily; the reference to the Jewish afternoon prayer went
home to him.
"That story sums up in a nutshell the whole history of the great
movement for the conversion of the Jews. We dip ourselves in baptismal
water and wipe ourselves with a _Talith_. We are not a race to be lured
out of the fixed feelings of countless centuries by the empty
spirituality of a religion in which, as I soon found out when I lived
among the soul-dealers, its very professors no longer believe. We are
too fond of solid things," said the poet, upon whom a good breakfast was
beginning to produce a soothing materialistic effect. "Do you know that
anecdote about the two Jews in the Transvaal?" Pinchas went on. "That's
a real _Chine_."
"I don't think I know that _Maaseh_," said Reb Shemuel.
"Oh, the two Jews had made a _trek_ and were travelling onwards
exploring unknown country. One night they were sitting by their
campfire playing cards when suddenly one threw up his cards, tore his
hair and beat his breast in terrible agony. 'What's the matter?' cried