b. Skudvil, Lithuania, 1922
Life did not change much in Skudvil, Lithuania. Each day had its own routine. Saturday was the most special day. On that day everything came to a standstill. The change really started on Friday, when the Jewish mothers and daughters cleaned and scrubbed every room in the house. The tables were covered with white cloth and shiny brass candlesticks. Anticipation was in the air, the smell of Sabbath food in the homes. Before sundown the shops would close. Everybody felt loved by God, blessed by God. On the four streets and five alleys, Jews dressed in Sabbath garments and walked from their homes to the house of God. And the same was done Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon. That day was to be for God and man, and nothing else.
It was not only on Saturdays that Jewish men of Skudvil went to our shul. Three times every day—morning, afternoon and evening—every male participated in a service to God. Afterward, if one did not have to rush home or go to work, he would linger and talk with friends. He might discuss conditions in the country or how certain events would affect their lives. He would analyze news items from yesterday's paper, news from foreign countries. Is it good or bad for the Jews? How could a pronouncement by the American President affect the Jews of America or even of other countries?
There were study groups that met every day. “To learn a page, ” they called it. They studied from a tractate of the Talmud, analyzed the validity of a ruling by our sages, debated the meaning of a word and sometimes even of a single letter. Their debating never ceased.
My father belonged to such a group. He usually took the moderate, lenient approach, where the others adhered to the stricter ruling. They would say, “According to you, Reb Shmuel, everything is permissible.”
“Show me, prove it to me, ” my father would respond. “Where in the Talmud can you find a prohibition against such and such?”
“Your permissive rulings are a sin. They will cause others to sin, it will be the ruin of our traditions, of our faith, ” they would reply.
The argumentation would sometimes get heated, and they would accuse my father of apostasy. I heard them refer to my father as “the Berliner rabbi.” That hurt me, especially when I was still young. Could my father, who was so gentle and unassuming, and whom I loved very much, be guilty of sin?