Friday, October 09, 2009

Samuel Pepys discovers Simchas Torah

From the Diary Samuel Pepys Wednesday 14 October 1663 (Simchas Torah)

"Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them..."

Samuel Pepys was a 17th century Englishmen whose diary remains once of history's best sources for the English Restoration period, while providing first person accounts of events he witnessed such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London. The diary, which he kept for ten years, also tells us much about the morality of the period: It describes his daily life including, his various affairs with servants and neighborhood women, the casual beatings he administered to his wife and servants, and the official bribes he cheerfully accepted-- all while imagining himself one of Britain and Christendom's shining stars. Its not known why he visited the shul on Simchat Torah; some speculate he, or his companion, was the congregation's landlord; others say he was merely curious, and indeed his curiosity about nearly all things is well represented in the diary.

[Note: I have not read the diary. My information comes from Wikipedia, an old TNR review of the newest edition of the diary, and osmosis.]

Tip of the hat to Pen Tivokesh.

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