In The Devil's Arithmetic, why are the local girls shocked to hear Rachel's account of Shmuel and Fayge's courtship?
In the early 1940s, in the rural villages of Poland where all the girls are from, marriages are arranged by a marriage broker. The broker takes into consideration factors such as social class in making the match, but the feelings the bride and groom might have for each other are unimportant. The idea that a couple might marry for love is almost scandalous to the simple country people.
As the pre-wedding celebrations begin, Shifre tactlessly asks why Fayge is marrying Shmuel. It is obvious from the lavishness of the preparations that "Fayge's father must have a lot of money", and although Shmuel is handsome, "he is not so rich or so learned". The match between Fayge and Shmuel does not fit traditionally accepted practices in many ways.
In answer to Shifre's question, Rachel reveals a juicy piece of gossip. She says, "...they say that Fayge is (her father's) favorite and always gets her way...they say she saw Shmuel and fell in love". Hannah, who comes from a later time and a more cosmopolitan place, does not find anything unusual about this, but the village girls are amazed. Shifre explains their reaction to Hannah, saying that "it may happen in Lublin that a Jewish girl marries for love...but here in the country, we still marry the one our parents pick out with the shadchan, the marriage broker (Chapter 7).