Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Custom, Confusion, and Remembrances

There is an excellent book in which a women describes growing up in Lithuana in the early and mid 1800's. This book, Rememberings, originally written in German, has recently been translated into English. The author, Pauline Wengeroff, grew up in a traditional Orthodox home. She records a terrific amout of customs and how life was then. Eventually, due in part to the influence of the haskalah she, her husband and her family did not remain Orthodox. The book was fully translated and the complete unedited version is available online for free here (although there seems to be issues with the first part) or you can purchase a more readable version here.

There is a terrific story relating to Yom Kippur and how, perhaps, some customs get started.

In Europe, it was somewhat common to have what was known as a zoger (a man) or zogerkes (a woman). This, literaly translated, means a sayer or repeater. This person served to allow women who otherwise could not read to be able to recite the proper prayers. The zoger would say the prayer and this was then repeated. When it was a man doing this, he had to crawl into a barrel which was put in the women's section.

With this background we can now move to the story as recorded by Pauline Wengeroff.
"On Yom Kippur the zogerke was supposed to recite the paryer in a tearful voice." The butcher's wife was hard of hearing so "she begged the zogerke to pray a little louder: she'd give her an extra large liver from the shop if she [the zogerke] would do it for her. The zogerke answered in her weepeing prayer voice, weaving her reply into the recitiation: 'The same with the liver, the same without the liver.' A moment later the men were startled to hear the entire women's gallery sob aloud in a full voice: 'The same with the liver, the same without the liver.'"
The story continues when one of the women were leaving Shul and another was entering. The one coming in asked what they were up to, to which she got the reply
"Nu, the prayer about the liver." "Liver? Last year we didn't say anything like that!" "Today, efsher (maybe), because it's a leap year . . ."

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