Mazel Tov Chani!
Yes, nineteen-year-old Chani Kaufman is about to get married to Baruch (a man she barely knows, who is only a year older than herself). Naturally, she has questions. Many questions. What will Baruch be like as a husband? What will her wedding night be like? How many kids will she have? Oh dear, she doesn’t think she’s ready for kids just yet.
Will Chani, who has a streak of rebelliousness in her, succumb to these traditional norms? Will she get along with her mother-in-law who has made it clear that Chani is not her ideal choice for her son?
But, Baruch has chosen her – despite his parents’ wishes – and Chani feels a certain warmth for him. So now her entire house is elated; feet stomping in celebration, carpet’s pounding, and the older women are ululated, their throats thrilling their happiness. Blessings ring out from different corners of the room. The traditional ultra-orthodox Jewish ceremony is underway.
When all the Shabbes is complete, Shani is ordered to sit on her throne and relax, which is easier said than done.
“With nothing to distract her, the panic that lurked at the back of her mind overwhelmed her again. She eyed the four women in the room. None of them was approachable. Shulamis was ignorant of her fears and her comprehension of the carnal act itself was even more muddled than her own.”
Chani’s mom is quite occupied with various other duties and doesn’t have a lot of time to coddle her daughter.
“Well…I guess every Kallah has to do what she’s got to do. All your sisters seemed to manage perfectly well…” pondered Mrs Kaufman.
“Mum! That’s not helping!” She could brook her frustration no longer.
It’s been so long since Chani’s mom was a bride, and she can’t seem to remember what it felt like. But she does offer her daughter some advice:
“…let your husband do his duty. Don’t stop him. And you must do yours…the less fuss, the better..and may Ha Kodesh Ha Borech Hoo bless you with a child – he has already blessed you with a hossen, hasn’t He? A boy from a good Hasiddisher family, the right sort – and he’s a yeshiva bocher. I am sure it will be fine.”
The Rabbi’s wife, Rivka, teaches Chani what it means to be a Jewish wife, but Rivka has her own questions to answer as she struggles with her religious obligations. Soon buried secrets, fear, sexual desire bubble to the surface in a story of liberation and choice.
Baruch has his own concerns. Will Chani like him? Will she rebuff him on their wedding night? He wants to know her thoughts. He wants to share his thoughts with her, but he fears he would bore her. His mind is full of the future, their future – how will it be and how will he support her? What will the move to Jerusalem be like?
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is a funny and unvarnished narrative into a fascinating culture that most of us know very little about. It is beautifully written, with characters that touch us and challenge our understanding of what we think life should hold for us. It’s no wonder it was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
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