I reproduce two excerpts of the book below.
Sophia's family received him with great warmth and countless apologies. Sophia, they said, is young and inexperienced. She knows nothing of life, they said. She's innocent. She's only thirteen. Isaac waved away their concerns, and to show his good faith, he promised to make their union official. There was no time for a proper wedding, he said. Could the Chamys family round up two witnesses, and could they meet in the shitbl for the ceremony?
Even though the wedding was organized in such haste, and would not be officiated by a religious leader, the Chamys family would not have thought anything amiss. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such ritual weddings were common in the smaller, poorer shtetls where rabbis were rarely present. The ceremony required only the presence of one Jewish witness, and was commonly referred to in Yiddish as a stille chuppah or "silent wedding."
In the presence of the witness, which in Sophia's case could have been the local cobbler or the tailor, Isaac would make her an offer of a ring or money, and the witness would pronounce the couple officially married. It's not clear what Isaac presented to Sophia as a token of his affection, but it became clear to police years later that this was not the first time that he had entered into such a union.
The ritual marriages had absolutely no validity under civil law, so women entering into these compromising situations had no legal protection. The practice had even been outlawed in some parts of Eastern Europe but continued in the more backward regions well into the twentieth century.
Of course, this was very convenient for pimps like Isaac Boorosky, for whom the stille chuppah became a very important tool, allowing them to entrap ignorant women and rob them of their civil rights. It is not known how many impoverished young women Isaac married in these "silent weddings." It is clear that pimps working in America would typically return to Eastern Europe and travel from shtetl to shtetl acquiring multiple wives in stille chuppah ceremonies.
As one prominent Jewish colonel noted in 1893, "In Buenos Aires there are Jews who are a disgrace to Judaism, and when I think of them, I am an anti-Semite of the most bigoted description."
But the traffickers refused to give up; they were determined to be respected Jews at any cost. At the turn of the last century, they bought their own cemetery in the outlying suburbs of Avellaneda. They also donated a portion of their profits to purchase a property where they maintained an office and a synagogue. When they established their headquarters on an upscale stretch of Cordoba Steet in Buenos Aires, most of the members were tapped for donations. The donor list was found years later by investigating authorities, who noted with interest that most of the donations were objects used to outfit the synagogue. According to the list, Simon Briel donated a chandelier for the women's bathroom. M.A. Rosmarin donated a velvet sheath emboridered with gold for the Torah, while Selij Rubinach gave a set of Bibles. David Brostein donated an oak altar.
Their bourgeois sensibilities extended to charitable causes. Men like Isaac clearly wanted to be remembered after they died. In Sholem Aleichem's "The Man from Buenos Aires," the pimp Motek enumerates a dizzying array of his pressing social responsibilities: "There isn't a thing in the world that doesn't cost me money- synagogues, hospitals, emigrant funds, concerts. Not so long ago I received a letter from a yeshiva In Jerusalem. A handsome letter with a Star of David on top, with seals and signatures of rabbis. The letter was addressed to me personally in very impressive language: 'To our Master, the Renowned and Wealthy Reb Mordecai.'"
There's something sickening about people desiring money earned through prostituting innocent women to support Torah institutions...although I suppose one can look at it the other way and say that even a pimp was able to do some good for his religion.
Vincent explores the community the Jewish prostitutes formed in Brazil, specifically those brought there through the Zwi Migdal trade ring. Set apart from the respectable Jewish community, which refused to aid them, uninterested in how they came to be there, and even the fact that they many of them were raped, brutalized, or otherwise forced into their lot, they had no recourse but to create their own community. They had no alternative, as there was no sense of community amongst the prostitutes. The Brazilian prostitutes turned against the Jewish women in an anti-Semitic fit; they accused the Jews of bringing anal sex and sadomasochism to Brazil. Nevertheless, some of the Jewish prostitutes prevailed. They created a society referred to as the Society of Truth, really managed by a former prostitute named Rebecca Freedman who also purchased a cemetery for the prostitutes and created her own Chevra Kadisha for them. The irony of a Jewish prostitute performing taharos for the other women whom the respectable Jewish community chose to ignore is almost monstrous.
The portrait raised by the book is also saddening in that rabbis were for the most part unconcerned:
- In any case, he had no time for mad feminists. He was the spiritual leader of Budapest's Jewish congregation. He had more important things to think about, more important things to do than to speak to this diminutive spinster with the acid tongue. "The issue [of white slavery] doesn't interest me," he said.
When he was reminded of his role as the chairman of the Society for the Protection of Children, the rabbi seemed to shrug off his responsibilities to protect them from slave traffickers. "Yes," he said without batting an eyelid. "But only of children up to twelve or thirteen years of age. The older ones are not my business."