The Bridal Canopy is set in the Jewish world of eastern Galicia in the early 1800’s, in a culture still coherent and traditional, not yet fragmented by the impact of Haskalah (the Enlightenment) and emancipation. Most Jews lived either in a shtetl (small village) or in a larger town, such as Brody, the home of Reb Yudel. In dire poverty, without bed, table, or chair, Yudel spends his life “fashion[ing] a seat for the Divine Presence.” A Hasid, he sees beneficent Providence in every occurrence and joyfully fulfills each of the 613 commandments of his religion. Unfortunately, one of these commandments is to bring the bride under the wedding canopy, and Yudel has three daughters, so he must disrupt his routine of prayer and study to go begging for three dowries and the first of three bridegrooms.
Yudel starts his journey on the wagon of Nuta the drayman. His travels to fulfill the commandment elicit hospitality and generosity, and he and his hosts entertain one another with stories. From time to time, the two horses tell each other stories as well. These stories have little connection with one another or with Yudel’s quest; they are quarried from the rich veins of Jewish folklore and religious tradition, and are both didactic and steeped in the unquestioning acceptance of Providence and miracle.
When Yudel has collected two hundred gold pieces, he cannot continue to beg. He therefore installs himself in an inn and resumes his normal routine of prayer and study, with complete faith that God will provide. The townsfolk conclude that he must be rich, especially when they discover that his last name, Nathanson, is also that of a wealthy Brody merchant. Thus begins the series of coincidences and scenes of mistaken identity through which Yudel moves in pious serenity. He accepts a match for his daughter with the son of the town’s wealthy merchant, pledging an enormous dowry despite his poverty.
After accepting the match, Yudel returns home and resumes his interrupted routine. He is untouched by the fact that his adventures have become legendary in the verses of the popular Brody singers. As the groom’s family and the real Reb Yudel Nathanson finally discover the bride, Yudel’s wife and daughters attempt to prepare a feast in their dank cellar room. They decide to cook the rooster who awakens Yudel for the...
(The entire section is 961 words.)