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In the beginning of the second part of Satan in Goray, Rechele is followed to the mikveh (bathhouse) by a band when she visits for the first time before her wedding:

Chinkele the Pious daily for hours on end instructed Rechele in morality, stroked her head, and kissed her with cold lips, as though Rechele were her own daughter. The previous evening, Rechele had been taken to the bathhouse for the first time. As they always did at a virgin's first visit, the bandsmen followed her, playing a merry dance tune. A number of women accompanied Rechele, forming a circle around her that she might not be contaminated by encountering a dog or a pig on the way.
Satan in Goray, part 2, chapter 1: "The Wedding" (translated by Jacob Sloan)

This is not a tradition I'm familiar with. Why, then, is she followed by the band, and why is this something they "always go"? Does this have anything to do with the slowly degenerating traditions of Goray throughout the book?

2 Answers 2

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This has the ring of authentic folk tradition that Singer would have been familiar with, either seeing for himself as a child in Bilgoraj or hearing about secondhand. The band would have been seen as honoring the bride. Today using a mikveh is seen as a private monthly action that an Orthodox Jewish woman would not flaunt, but several things are different in this situation.

As a bride, this is the first time she would have ritually immersed there, so there is no public knowledge that she had recently finished menstruating. In previous centuries and small villages, many details of life that we consider private today were public; the private sphere was considerably smaller. Also, while formal halacha (Jewish ritual law) would not consider encountering a dog or pig to cause tumah (ritual uncleanness), in the realm of folk superstitions this is quite believable. In addition to signaling a joyous occasion, the band is helping the women to guard Rechele against bad luck by scaring off unclean animals and evil spirits.

In the context of the book, this would not be seen as part of the degradation of the town of Goray. Rather, this would be seen as a pious tradition that survived despite the town's recent degradation.

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This was a tradition in some communities. To quote from this rabbinic response to a question relating to this:

The custom that the girls in the family, and the friends, escort the bride to her first immersion has its source in the eastern communities, and in later years has spread to all communities. There are no clear rules for this custom, but nevertheless the idea is that they escort the bride to the immersion with song and dance.

(My translation of the original Hebrew)

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