Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Shaving the corpse, 1996
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 in.
"A story is told in the Apt memorial book about a rich man in Apt who abandoned most of his religion. One day the famous rabbis in the city called all the Jewish barbers together and made them swear a solemn oath not to shave the beards of any Jews. So the man asked a gentile barber to shave off his beard and sidelocks. The rabbi often berated this man, warning him of what might befall him for this transgression. The man went around clean-shaven in a top hat and fashionable clothes rather than in the traditional Jewish cap and long coat. He only attended the synagogue once a year, for Kol Nidre. One day he got sick. He was bedridden for several months. During that time, his beard grew back. He finally passed away. When the rabbi learned of his death, he decreed that, before the body could be interred, the beard had to come off. This man had to appear in front of the Lord looking just the way he did when he was alive--without a beard. The rabbi ordered the body brought to the synagogue courtyard and the man's face lathered and shaved. So it was done. They shaved the corpse. The incident took place before my time. I read about it in the memorial book for my town."
Mayer tells this story as he remembers it from the Apt (Opatów) Yizkor Book. Listen to it.