Some might say that Sabbath started on Thursdays. This is when women took ritual baths. Those who have just given birth went in first, others have hurried across the path towards the mikveh in the evening. Water carriers were busy fetching buckets from the nearby creek because it is written in the Jewish Orthodoxy that water has to come from a clean nature’s spring, The hills surrounding the town called Yeregin (or otherwise known as Szentgyorgy, Sankt Georgen or Svaty Jur) provided just that.
Now that the women are half immersed in the water, their children are playing by the creek chanting Jeshiva prayers. Christian children catching fish further down are spying on them and disappear only after a fierce looking elder starts to make his way up the hill. A butcher is having a good day, even cheaper cuts of meat are shifting quickly, he can’t wipe that smirk off his moustached face. Just before bed, poorer households up the road check their cupboards for dry beans, ready to be soaked overnight.
On Friday, it is time for men to take to ritual cleansing. Cholent pots come out and Hungarian and Slovak kitchen maids are busier than usual. It’s a common knowledge that Jewish families are not allowed to work from the sun down on Friday and well into the Saturday. Not as much as taking out meals from the ovens or lighting the candles. This is when Christian staff comes in handy, without them Sabbath would not happen.
German, Hungarian or Slovak casual staff played essential role in preparing Sabbath meals, setting the tables, tending candles, fires and clearing off, in a way that families were used to. Those who had done it long enough could no doubt speak a bit of Jiddish or even recite Sabbath prayers when their minds were not occupied by menial tasks. And following strict Orthodox Jewish tradition as opposed to the Reform was a hotly debated topic far and wide across the Austro-Hungarian empire .
On one particular Sabbath night, perhaps 190 years ago (or maybe a bit earlier or a bit later), renowned Rabbi Chatam Sofer visited the Yeregin Jewish community and gave a fierce speech against the Jewish Reform (Neologs). He knew that Yeregin’s community, sheltered by Small Carpathians’, would have little to object. He found keen listeners in the little Jewish Temple behind the river where men sat on one side and women on the other.
Chatam Sofer made sure his words reverberate as he planted his most trusted student, Moshe Schick as the town’s Rabbi. Moshe has stayed for over 30 years, building a strong Jeshiva (Jewish teachings school). Moshe became the most outspoken defender of the Jewish Orthodoxy and have even been approached to form political movement against the Reform. Some say that he raised 80 plus students in the local Jeshiva whom he then managed to relocate with him to Western Ukraine where he found a fertile ground for his ideas in the town Khust.
Reformist Jews were moving towards the idea of more integration with other cultures, introducing more secular education and sciences into teaching and were quite open to ideas of mixed sexes and gender equality in religious worship, choirs and occupations in general. The tension between the two schools of thought continues to this day and some of the Orthodox teachings promoted by Chatam Sofer and Moshe Schick continue to flourish in Jerusalem Pressburg (Bratislava) Jeshiva.
After the Second World War, not one Jewish family had permanently returned to the area of Yeregin and as I have written in my previous posts, the Temple remains a derelict building which happens to stand right behind my parents’ house. Access to the site is prohibited and very few pictures of the interior are available – as seen below.
I found the Torah curtain (parochet) that used to hang in the Temple on the site of Jewish Museum in Bratislava. The Hebrew inscription reads: “This is a donation by the esteemed Mr. Joel Neumann, may his light shine, together with his wife Madam Rikla, may she live, the esteemed Mr. Jeshayahu Markstein, may his light shine, together with his wife Mrs. Rivka, may she live, for the holy community Yergen in the year 666 of the minor reckoning”.
Parochets are used to cover the ark in remembrance of the curtain which covered the Ark of the Covenant, according to Exodus 40:21: “He brought the Ark inside the Tabernacle. Then he put up the curtain for screening, and screened off the Ark of the Covenant…” [FHJ].
My thoughts are going back to the little creek, the man with two buckets and another one with a long beard, his long black coat floating around his muddy shoes, perhaps it’s misty and cold and the thought of a bath is enticing. There’s a pretty woman busying in the larder across the fence and another searching for a clean table cover. They all speak a mish-mash of languages in which mundane words of everyday life are understandable to all, yet deeper thoughts and beliefs come from vastly different places. Still,, they probably all agree that there is only one God, therefore his worship is sacred to everyone on the night of Sabbath.
A lot of you might rush in to say that this kind of religious cooperation exist today. Look at America and UK, Visit multicultural streets of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall Caldmore or Palfrey. But I am yet to see any examples when people of different cultures allowed each other into sacred intimate spaces, into the core of worship. Everyone talks about dangers of parallel lives. Well, 19th century provides its own examples of mutual respect and cultural inter-change. Shame that this model ended in the most tragic way everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe and there’s now a huge fear of religious diversity should it ever reappear again.