Eilenberg's Beard

Vanity Versus Piety When It Comes to Facial Hair

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published November 12, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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It was the temptation, he explained in tears. He could not restrain himself. After weeks of thinking about cutting, of imagining how it looked after cutting, of holding a scissor to his chin pretending he was cutting, he had finally gone and done it. He had snipped off inches of his own beard — and then it struck him that he could not glue any of it back on.

Gitty called him a fool. She called him other names too. She had known of his secret desire, laughed when he showed her the many different shapes his beard could take. But to actually go ahead and do it? What was he, a child? A man gone mad? And what would her father say?

Eilenberg hid in his room. He did not attend the morning prayers. He did not catch the bus to work. He did not leave the apartment even for shtieble (shul), where he prayed with men he’d known all his life.

Shtieble was not a safe place. He could almost hear the gasp of his friends, Sruli’s head leaning back in a question.

“So tell me,” his old friend would say. “What happened? The beard was too heavy to carry?

“So tell us,” his older cousin would chime in. “The beard shrunk overnight? It wasn’t nice before? Eh? Ehhh?”

And Chezky the strange one would stare at him with silent eyes, judging him in horror.

“Pah!” he’d say, and in Eilenberg’s mind, he and his beard would go hurtling down to the bottom, the lowest rung in the hierarchy, reserved for the bums and the putzes, the half-true Hasidim, those who’ll get to paradise, but only by standing in the last position in the heavenly line.

Eilenberg could have just rolled it up like some other men in the shtieble, tucking the trailing end beneath his chin with a bobby pin so that it did not get in the way. But he had cut it. He had put a scissor to that which should not be touched. Madness.

Eilenberg went to sleep early that night. He closed his eyes at 9 p.m., easing his mind into obliviousness, for in his dreams he still looked like the glorious saint of shnorrers. Perhaps the night would take away the day, swallow it up like a bad dream, and life would then tread on in the exact same steady rhythm of before.


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