They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust

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Shaving the corpse

A story is told in the Apter memorial book about a rich man in Apt who abandoned most of his religion. Since the famous rabbis in the city had called all the Jewish barbers together and made them swear a solemn oath not to shave the beards of any Jews, this man asked a Gentile barber to shave off his beard and sidelocks. 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 Nidrah on the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year. The rabbi often berated this man, warning him of what might befall him for these transgressions.

One day the man got sick. He was bedridden for several months, during which 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. This incident took place before my time.