The Rabbi and my Father
We were to be married in weeks rather than months. My parents were booked to fly back to our native South Africa two days after the wedding.
So it was all arranged in a bit of a rush.
My Father and I had an appointment to see the Rabbi.
We were ushered into a wood-panelled study and sat down in upright leather-upholstered chairs.
The Rabbi leaned back in his recliner and sighed. He looked at us through milk-bottle lenses.
“Well, Mr. Rudolph” he nodded at my father, then a slight acknowledgement of my presence ” AND of course the Chossen, Michael,………. firstly a hearty Mazeltov to you both. I have known the bride’s family for many years, they are active members of the Shul”.
He smiled, eyes twinkling “All done in a bit of a rush, wasn’t it?”
My father explained that their stay in England was the maximum period allowable for the excursion airfare and that we understood that 90 days was the necessary time to wait after my fiancee’s Jewish divorce or ‘Get’ before we could be married.
“So you see, Rabbi, this day was virtually the only day we could make it.”
The Rabbi fondled his luxuriant beard.
“Yes, I understand . Now to business. Firstly, we will need both your and your wife’s South African Birth Certificates and your marriage certificate, and of course Michael’s birth certificate and Bamitzvah details.
My father drew the documents from his briefcase.
I was then the object of a stern rabbinical gaze.
“ And from you, the Chossen, I need your Hebrew name, if you please”.
“My Hebrew names are Moshe Yayzel.”
“WHAT!!!” the Rabbi’s face turned a shade of vermilion. “That’s impossible. Did you say Yayzel?”
I was shocked rigid, speechless at the sudden violence of the Rabbi’s outburst. So too, I could see, was my normally meek and non-confrontational Father.
“But what’s wrong with Yayzel?” he inquired mildly.
“EVERYTHING’S WRONG WITH IT!!!! Yayzel is the Hebrew word for Jesus,” the Rabbi splurted, now bolt upright in his chair. “It’s forbidden, you cannot be called that!”
“But…but” my Father stammered, "that was the Hebrew name my late grandfather, may he rest in peace, was known by all his life, both in Russia and South Africa. And….and that’s who we named Michael after, Michael John….. Moshe Yayzel”!!!!.
“Nonsense “ shouted the Rabbi. ”Yayzel means Jesus, it’s a Christian name, you can’t have it and that’s final!”
Thus far I had kept out of the fracas although I was sorely tempted to remind the Rabbi as gently as possible, that there was a very well-documented precedent in history of a pretty eminent (or so he later became) Jewish boy by the name of Yayzel. Only 2000 years ago, or so!
But I sat shtum, actually enjoying somewhat the duel between irascible Rabbi and rapidly incandescent Father of the Groom-to-be!
After about half an hour it was stalemate. Neither man would give an inch. It was decided to apply to the Office of the Chief Rabbi’s office for a ruling.
While we waited, little in the way of pleasantries was offered. It was only the second time in all my twenty-seven years that I had seen my Father really,really angry. The first time was soon after my Bamitzvah when I informed him and my Mother that Cheider was at an end for me and that I was seriously considering becoming a Jewish Atheist.!
Looking back over the years it was the only major altercation I ever had with my parents but, hey, here I was getting married to a Jewish girl in the first place and in the second place in an Orthodox Shul to boot. What more could they want?
After a space of twenty minutes and cups of milky tea, back came the Chief Rabbi’s ruling.
‘Yayzel’ was a definite no-no, but ‘Yuzel’ was acceptable!!!!.
The Rabbi beamed with self-righteous satisfaction.
He turned to my Father, whose shoulders were now shrugged in defeat.
“Mr. Rudolph, your Hebrew name, if you please”
“Gittel” replied my Father
“OY A BROG, you can’t have that, it’s a girl’s name” yelled the Rabbi
PS On my marriage certificate, which, in spite of the above, passed off without major incident, I am listed as ‘Moshe Yosef’, so in South African Jewish legal/matrimonial terms, I am still single! Woweee!
C copyright Michael Davidson 6th September 2006 (altered 31st October 2006)
Printed in Jewish Chronicle December 22 2006