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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman – Eve Harris

January 2, 2016

TMOCK 2I had a long train journey and I wanted something diverting to read. I didn’t want to be stuck with a boring book with no other distraction. This book fitted the bill; and I found it very moving. I warmed to the main characters, especially the young ones, and wanted to see how they got on with their lives.

Some reviews keep on talking about ‘conservative Judaism’. This community isn’t anywhere near as progressive as the conservative movement. They haredi, sometimes (rudely) called ‘ultra-orthodox’.

The story shows that religious parents shouldn’t prevent sex education for their children.

One reviewer pointed out these mistakes:

1) A marriage does not have to be consummated on the first night.
2) The Sheva Brachot are not to keep the couple apart – they are a series of festive meals to celebrate with the couple and shower them with blessing. The couple are in fact supposed not to work during these days, and must spend time together celebrating, and they share the same bedroom, so clearly this is a ridiculous claim.
3) The bride and groom are taught before their marriage exactly what sex involves. Chani and Baruch’s wonderings about what they are supposed to do is entirely imaginary. Harris clearly came to her own conclusions about this without researching what is actually taught in the one-to-one classes that brides and grooms attend.

TMOCK

Quotations:

Chani wore no jewels, forbidden as they are in the Torah. A Kallah, a Jewish bride must stand under the wedding canopy, hands ringless, ear lobes unadorned to signal the impending union as a commitment based on spirituality and not material acquisition.

What was the point in an unmarried Jewish girl? She did not want to be like Miss Halpern, the bible teacher at school, her long, pale face souring with each passing year, her uncovered head bent over tattered exercise books, ignoring the sniggers of the young girls she taught; girls who were on the verge of womanhood, alive with the vitality of hope and promise. So Chani gritted her teeth and persevered.

There was no television or internet at home or school. ‘A television is an open sewer in the living-room,’ her father growled. After school at Brent Cross shopping centre, she stalked the front of Dixons, mesmerised by the flickering screens and lurid colours of a world which she desperately wanted to plunge into.

Thick, black marker pens violated Shakespeare’s texts. Brand new copies of Julius Caesar had been desecrated, ugly inky patches hiding the ‘inappropriate language’ beneath. In art, her favourite subject, Gauguin’s nudes had been skilfully doctored. Da Vinci’s drawings looked like a patchwork quilt. Buttocks, breasts and genitalia had been covered over with white labels.

He was twenty. His life felt narrow: the pressure to suc­ceed, to be a rabbi, to please his father. His quick analytical mind was to be harnessed to The Talmud. The English degree he longed to study remained a blasphemous secret buried in his heart. He listened to Coldplay on his iPod, his father believing that the wisdom of Rabbi Shlomo was filling his ears. Beneath his mattress lay the novels he was banned from reading — Dickens, Chandler, Orwell — but they were no longer enough. He felt controlled — there was no release, no relief.

At night, he pressed his need into the mattress. He hoped his mother wouldn’t notice the wasted seed when she did the laundry. He had tried to restrain himself by wearing gloves and two pairs of underpants, but now his dreams were a forbidden landscape of enormous breasts, rising like dunes in the desert. He was lonely and craved something, someone.

It had stood here for almost two thousand years. Instinc­tively she ran her hands over its wrinkled surface. The tone was still warm from the sun and its crevices were rammed with hundreds of tiny folded notes. Rebecca wished she had brought a secret plea of her own but she had not known what to ask for. She had had a vague idea but was too scared to put it into words in case the note really worked. She was not sure she was ready for the outcome.

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