Years ago there
lived a wonderful rabbi in the German town that is still known today as Worms.
It has an old Jewish community that goes back to the generations of Jesse. The
rabbi, whose name was Zalmen, was a very rich man, and he headed a large yeshiva
attended by a hundred distinguished students, who pored over the holy books
day and night. Rabbi Zalmen had an only son, likewise distinguished, who also
studied at the yeshiva. His father and his mother loved him very much for his
Now when the holiday of
rolls around, the students like to have a good time. The town of Worms has a
public park called Jubilee Gardens, and people who have been here must know
where it is. On that holiday the yeshiva students, taking along the rabbi's
son, went to the park, where they played a game called hide-and-seek in our
language. One boy has to lean over [and cover his eyes] while the rest conceal
themselves, and he then has to look for the others until he finds them all.
Finally, the rabbi's son was "it," and he had to lean over. The boys
all hid, and then the rabbi's son began his search. Eventually he found everybody
except for a boy named Anshel, though he kept looking and looking.
the park was densely wooded, and the rabbi's son hunted for Anshel beyond the
trees. Soon he came to a hollow tree, and when he saw an arm sticking out, he
figured it must belong to Anshel, who was evidently hidden inside the tree.
The rabbi's son shouted: "Anshel, c'mon out, I've found you." But
he saw that the hand did not retreat. So the rabbi's son removed a gold ring
from his finger, slipped it over a finger on the hand looming from the tree,
and said: "Since you won't come out of the tree, I hereby wed thee."
He played his prank because he thought that the hand belonged to his friend
As soon as the rabbi's
son married the hand, it vanished with the ring. Upon seeing this, he was alarmed,
for the ring was very valuable, and he was afraid of going home to his father
and mother without it. When he rejoined his fellow students, he found his friend
among them and he said: "Dear Anshel, please give me my ring."
Anshel replied: "I
haven't seen your ring, I don't know anything about it."The
rabbi's son retorted: "I slipped it over your finger when you were hiding
in that tree."
"All of our fellow
students can testify that I wasn't in that tree. I hid somewhere else."
And so the ring was lost.
The boys all went back and
told the rabbi the whole story, and upon hearing it, he said: "Go and bring
my son home and tell him not to worry. I'm going to give him a lovelier ring."
So they went to get him and brought him home. And the ring was forgotten.
A long time later, when
the rabbi's son became an adult, a wonderful person, his learning was renowned
far and wide. Now a leader of the Jewish community in the town of Speier
sent Rabbi Zalmen an inquiry: Would the rabbi let his son marry the leader's
daughter? He had heard about how good a student the boy was, and that was why
he desired him for a son-in-law. The man was willing to provide a large dowry.
And so the wedding took place, a joyous celebration. There were many guests
at the ceremony as is customary among wealthy people, and they had a marvelous
time. After the nuptials and the banquet, the groom and bride were led very
festively to the bedchamber, and the door was then shut according to tradition.
No sooner did the groom
lie down than he fell asleep. The bride, however, lay awake. And as she lay
there, she saw someone coming to the bed: a beautiful woman dressed in gold
and silk. The woman said to the bride: "You brazen hussy, why have you
lain down with my husband, who married me in a tree?"
The bride retorted: "That's
not true! He's my husband! I married him today, so get away from here!"
Upon hearing this, the woman
strangled the bride and left her corpse next to the groom.
Past midnight, the groom
awakened and he wanted to talk to his bride as is the custom. But then he saw
her lying next to him dead. Terrified, he got to his feet and woke the people
up. .They hurried into the chamber, where they found the bride dead, and they
asked him how it happened. He answered: "Unfortunately I was asleep, I
The bride was buried, and
their joy turned into grief. And before everyone went home, there were many
people who said that the groom had killed the bride.
So for a good three years
the rabbi's son was unable to find a bride despite his great wealth and vast
learning, for no father wanted to risk his daughter's life.
Eventually, however, a rich
community leader, who was related to the boy, told the Rabbi of Worms: "I'll
risk my daughter's life since you're my own flesh and blood. And if a terrible
surprise occurred once, I hope it won't happen again."
The marriage took place,
and they became man and wife. After taking them to bed, the people left, shutting
the door behind them.
Once again, the groom fell
asleep, while the frightened bride lay awake. And as she lay there, the beautiful
woman dressed in gold came again and said to the bride: "You brazen hussy,
I've already killed one girl who lay with my husband, but you weren't warned!"
And she killed this bride too.
When the groom awoke, he
again found his bride dead. He screamed so loudly that all the people came running.
He told them: "My poor bride is dead!"
The bride was buried, and
the wedding guests all left in profound grief.
For some ten years the groom
stayed put, unable to find another bride. And then he reached thirty.
Now once, on the Sabbath
of Repentance [between the start of the new year and the Day of Atonement],
the rabbi was sitting with his wife, the rebbetsin, and the rabbi said: "Dear
wife, what should we do? We have an only son and great wealth, and if he stays
unmarried, all memory of us will be wiped from the face of the earth and our
wealth will be divided among strangers. But what father will allow his daughter
to marry our son?" And they shared their anguish and misery with each other.
The rebbetsin then said:
"Dear husband, I don't think I'm mistaken: No community leader will ever
allow his daughter to marry our son.
However, I know of a poor
widow from an excellent family her husband was a
rabbi. She has an only child, a beautiful daughter, and they live in a poorhouse.
Who knows, my dear husband? What if I go to her and offer to have our son marry
the girl? Perhaps she'll be rewarded for her piety: God will see her poverty
and allow her to live."
The rabbi then said to his
wife: "You're right! Go and talk to the poor widow now and ask her if she'd
like to have her daughter marry our son."
The boy's mother, the wealthy
rebbetsin, then promptly went and knocked on the door of the poorhouse. The
poor rebbetsin, upon seeing the rich one knocking, hurried over to her daughter
and said: "Dear daughter, why is the wealthy rebbetsin knocking on our
The daughter replied: "Dear
mother, perhaps she's bringing us some food."
So they opened the door
and welcomed her very courteously. They invited her to sit and they said: "Dear
rebbetsin, why are you honoring us with your visit?"
The wealthy rebbetsin answered:
"Let me explain why I've come here. You've probably heard what's happened
to our son twice God help us! So if it's at all
possible, I'd like your daughter to marry our son. Who knows? Perhaps she'll
be rewarded for her piety and will survive. It will make up for your and your
The poor rebbetsin then
spoke to her daughter: "Dear daughter, you've heard what the wealthy rebbetsin
has said. It's up to you, I won't force you. But I can't supply a dowry. So
if you don't accept this offer, you'll remain an old maid."
Her daughter replied: "Dear
mother, we're poor, that's true, and a poor person is like a dead man. I'll
do it so long as the marriage contract stipulates that if I die, the rabbi will
provide for you in his home for the rest of your days. If he agrees, then I'll
risk my life and marry his son."
And so another wedding was
set to take place.
The wealthy rebbetsin ordered
lovely clothes for the poor girl. And when she put them on, she looked so beautiful
that no one recognized her when she went about, and she no longer had to go
begging. Now that she was a bit adorned and was lovely anyway, everyone talked
about her beauty.
Few guests were invited
to the wedding, which was not especially joyous, because people said: "If
she stays alive, then we'll really celebrate!" They carried out the ceremony
and, after the banquet, they took the groom and bride to their bed, as is the
custom. The people then left and shut the door behind them. The groom fell asleep
while the frightened bride lay awake.
At last, when midnight came,
the bride saw a beautiful woman in splendid clothes and with golden hair approaching
the bed. The woman said to the bride: "You brazen hussy, I've already killed
two girls who lay with my husband! You've heard about that and yet you're risking
your own life! So I'm going to kill you too!"
Upon hearing that, the bride
was terrified and she said: "Dear mother, I've lived in the poorhouse all
my life and I've never heard that he lost two wives. So, dear mother, he's your
bridegroom. I'll get up and I'll let you lie with him."
When the beautiful she-demon
heard that, she said: "Dear child, you must be rewarded for your piety,
for speaking to me so piously. This is what you must do to make him your husband:
He will vanish from your sight for one hour every day and come to me. So don't
say a word to anyone if you value your life and if God is dear to you!"
The bride answered that
no one would know but the Good Lord. And the she-demon vanished from her sight.
Less than half an hour later,
the husband awoke, terrified, and quickly reached for his bride. He was overjoyed
to see that she was still alive. Since it was almost dawn, the people came into
the chamber and found the groom and bride still lying together. The groom's
parents and the bride's mother were ecstatic, and they all had a wonderful time
at the celebration. The poor girl was wealthy now, everything belonged to her.
She loved her husband, and he loved her, for she was very modest.
Eventually the couple had
Now women always want to
know a lot more than is useful for them. The wife lost her husband for an hour
each day and she didn't know what became of him. She saw him go into the bedchamber,
where he would disappear. The good woman saw her husband vanish and she thought
to herself. "I'm willing to risk my neck to find out where he goes. I'm
going to follow him, even if I have to risk my neck."
Noting where he had left
his keys, she took them and unlocked the door. But her husband wasn't in the
chamber. She searched every nook and cranny. At last, underneath the bed she
found a large rock. As she spotted it, the rock moved from its place. She now
saw a large hole with a ladder descending inside it. The wife thought to herself.
"Dear God, should I go down? I'm sure my husband is down there."
After pondering for a long
time, she finally climbed down the ladder and found herself in a large field.
And in the large field she saw an elegant mansion. She entered the mansion and
found an open door. She entered the room and found a table set with fine dishes
and cutlery. The room had a second open door leading to another room, which
she entered. And there she found her husband lying in a silken bed with the
beautiful demon, their bodies enlaced. The demon lay in front, with her golden
hair hanging down to the floor. Upon seeing this, the wife felt it was a shame
for the golden hair to be hanging down to the floor like that. So she took a
chair, put it next to the bed, and placed the hair upon it.
Then she went back the way
she had come. She rolled the rock on top of the hole, locked the door, and left
the keys where she had found them. And she didn't breathe a single word to anyone
in the entire house.
When the demon woke up,
she began screaming, loudly and bitterly, and she said: "Dear husband,
I'm here and I have to die. When your dear wife was here, she touched my feet.
If someone touches me, I have to die. Therefore, dear husband, since she did
it out of piety, it was good for her that my beautiful hair was hanging down
to the floor. You have to be rewarded. Well, dear husband, I've got the gold
ring that you gave me when you married me. Take it back and go home through
the hole. The hole is going to disappear, and we will be divorced forever."
He did what she told him
to do and he returned home. And the hole disappeared. He also remained at home,
and he said nothing to his wife, nor did his wife say anything to him.
After staying at home for
three days, he gave a large banquet for the entire Jewish community. Neither
his wife nor his parents knew why. The whole community ate and drank and were
going to say their blessings. Thereupon the rabbi's son began: "Dear guests,
before saying the blessing, let me explain why I'm giving this banquet. Dear
father, here is the ring that I lost in a tree. At that time I married a demon
because I thought it was the boy I was looking for. The she-demon murdered my
first two brides, but now my dear wife has released me from her." And he
told the entire story. And then his wife told her story and described what had
happened to her, from the wedding night until his release.
And that was how the poor
girl became rich and respected through her great piety and modesty.
That is why everyone should
follow her example.
And that is the end of the
tale of Worms.
City in Germany. Documentary evidence points to the settlement of Jews
in Worms at the end of the tenth century; the community grew during the
11th century, and a synagogue was inaugurated in 1034. [back]
The 33rd (Heb. lamed-gimmel) day of the counting of the Omer,
which is reckoned from the second day of Passover until Shavuot. It occurs
on the 18th day of Iyyar and has been celebrated as a semi-holiday since
the early Middle Ages. [back]
Speyer (Fr. Spire; Eng. sometimes Spires) is a city in Rhenish Palatinate,
Germany. Although local traditions, largely legendary, speak of Jewish
settlement in Speyer in Roman times, Jews probably first came to the city
in the early 11th century. [back]
The Dybbuk and the Yiddish Imagination
A Haunted Reader. Edited and translated from the Yiddish by Joachim
Neugroschel (Syracuse University Press).
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