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He could hear their inward gasp. He could see Sruli’s head lean back in a question.
“So tell me,” his old friend finally said. “The beard was too heavy to carry?”
“So tell us,” his older cousin interjected. “The beard shrank overnight? Eh? Ehhh?”
And Chezky the strange one stared at him with silent eyes, judging him in horror.
Even Goldman and Heshy laughed at his misery, teasing him mercilessly, those worthless bums. And after the long prayers, Mendel nudged him aside, wanting to know how he had done it. “Your wife let you?” he asked in wonder. “She agreed? If I’d cut just one hair, just one, my wife would divorce me the same evening. … Look at my beard, look — enough for three men. How’d you do it?”
Eilenberg mumbled. He did not know. He had to go home, now.
Two days passed in this way — the teasing, the stares, the questions — and Eilenberg thought it would never end. But on the third day, another man’s wife demanded a divorce, and in the shock of that news Eilenberg’s friends lost interest in his beard.
Eilenberg walked home that day sighing in relief. But just after he arrived, his father-in-law strode in without knocking. Eilenberg rushed down the hall, thinking that now would be a good time to die. But his father-in-law saw him, and called his name. He said loudly that he had heard that his son in law had tampered with his beard. And he wanted to know now, immediately, if Eilenberg had used a single-bladed razor.
“A what?” whispered Eilenberg from the other end of the hallway.
“A razor!” his father in law shouted. As it says in Vayikra, Jews must not destroy the corners of the beard. According to nearly all interpretations, shaving with a single blade against the skin, close to the root, in a smooth manner, is completely prohibited. So did he or did he not use a single-bladed razor?
No, said Eilenberg. No.