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Divorce Court

Long before Jerry Springer, divorcing couples fought it out before Warsaw’s rabbinical court

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“A makeh,” from Der blofer, Oct. 1929 (All images courtesy of Eddy Portnoy.)

“In the Shadows of Jewish Family Life: A Woman of Valor,” Moment, January 1929

The door of the rabbinate is thrust open and in falls one Tshipe-Kayle Yagora of Black Street, shlepping her husband Borekh Einbinder behind her. About two dozen Jews, men and women, pour in after them. Some of them are “helpers” planning to testify and the rest are simply curious.

The shamus asks, “What do you want?”

Tshipe-Kayle is in the mood for a song and starts off on a high note: “I gotta get to the rabbinate. What I want is none a ya business. For once and for all I want my Borekh should have a carcass, right now. I’ll light a candle in shul! ”

One of the Rabbis steps in: “In short, what’s this all about?”

Tshipe-Kayle starts her tune. Oy, does she pour out a hail of accusations on her husband’s head, among them that at the time they were married, she, a divorcee, gave him 300 dollars as dowry and in only a short time he wasted all of it. And on top of that he’s got a lover and doesn’t come home for nights at a time.

Borekh, a scrawny Jew with a scratchy little beard and red eyes, stands there and doesn’t utter a word. When the rabbi asks him if he is guilty of what Tshipe-Kayle accuses him, he simply shrugs his shoulders without making a peep.

“You idiot! ” yells one of her supporters, shoving him, “now that you’re not with Tshipe-Kayle, you have to tell the rabbi everything….nu, talk!”

Illustration from Shone-toyve, September, 1929

Illustration from Shone-toyve, September, 1929

Borekh finally gets the courage to say something and begins to describe the troubles that he suffers from his “woman of valor.”

“It’s true,” he says, that Tshipe-Kayle gave him 300 dollars, but what could he do if business was bad and his own money was also lost? “That she is a malicious woman I learned right after the wedding, but because she was mine ‘according to the laws of Moses and Israel,’ I didn’t want to ridicule anyone and suffered in silence. And did I suffer. Just when business started to take off, my toast landed butter side down. She began to make all kinds of scandals, driving me out of the house and not cooking for me even a spoonful of food. I was forced to go to my 68-year old aunt’s house to get something to eat. And my nag calls that a ‘lover.’”

“Rotten little Borekh!” Tshipe-Kayle can’t take it any longer, “You should live as long as you speak the truth! Why don’t you tell the rabbi where you spend your nights?”

“Yes, rabbi,” answers Borekh meekly, “that’s also true. I purposely try to avoid having to listen to her curses by spending half the night in the study house reading psalms or studying a bit of Mishna. I can’t take any more of her. Rabbi, please grant us a divorce. Maybe it’s still possible for me to have a few comfortable years.”

“What?!” booms Tshipe-Kayle, like a canon, “You wanna divorce? I’ll dress you in a shroud first and send you express mail into the next world!”

The rabbi decides that the couple should try to live together in peace for two weeks. Tshipe-Kayle is warned not to pester Borekh—because if she does they will force her to accept a divorce.

“Ha, ha, ha,” she laughs to herself, “I’d like to see the Cossacks that will force me to get a divorce.”

Tshipe-Kayle is dragged out of the rabbinate by force and, for a long time, her screams and curses reverberate in the stairs.

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Scott Aaron says:

Thanks, Ms. Portnoy, for your great history pieces from the yiddish press. Brings to life an era I think sometimes get romanticized because of our loss of the language. I really enjoy reading your pieces as an educator and they are helpful when teaching European Jewish history too as examples of daily life.

J. Garber says:

Another gift to antisemites.

Jerry Springer originated in the Rabbinic tradition.

You people are out to lunch.


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Divorce Court

Long before Jerry Springer, divorcing couples fought it out before Warsaw’s rabbinical court