Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Bridal Canopy, a major work in Hebrew literature, has been compared to Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615). On the surface, Agnon’s work seems a simple tale set in early nineteenth century Galicia. On another level, the story is not simple. It treats Agnon’s all-but-simple themes: good and evil, loss of faith, marriage as the fulfillment of a divine command, divine providence, the centrality of the Torah, and the return to Israel. The surreal scenes often concern the separation of the Diaspora Jew from the Holy Land and from the Torah. On one level, the story is charming and naïve, like a folktale, but on another level, it critiques its own naïveté.
The Bridal Canopy is a comedy, with Nuta, a wagoner and Reb Yudel’s traveling companion, playing the foil. It evolves through parody, the creation not of Agnon the nineteenth century Eastern European Hasid, but of Agnon the twentieth century Israeli writer. An observant Jew, Reb Yudel is responsible for marrying his daughters and finding their dowries, or “bringing them under the bridal canopy” (as the Hebrew title indicates). His wife Frummet moves him to action, and, with the counsel of the Rabbi of Apta, he sets out on a wagon journey to fulfill his obligations. This sets the picaresque plot in motion, with Reb Yudel, Nuta the wagoner, and talking horses telling stories.
The first part of the story ends as Yudel sends Nuta home. He plans to wait for God to send a bridegroom. The comic device of mistaken identity comes into play. Although he is poor, he is mistaken for a wealthy man. A match is made for his daughter with the son of a family as wealthy as they mistakenly think Reb Yudel to be. When the family is despairing that they will never come up with a dowry appropriate to this financially ill-matched engagement, a miracle happens. Reb Reveille, the rooster, in escaping from being served to the potential in-laws, leads Frummet and the daughters to a hidden treasure, enough to supply huge dowries for all three daughters. Filled with gratitude, Reb Yudel and his wife go to Israel. The devices of comedy inform the artist’s gentle attitude.