BEHALAH ("terror" or "panic"):
A name commonly bestowed on several periods of great excitement in Lithuania and Poland, when, for various reasons, Jewish parents thought it prudent to have their children married at the earliest possible age. Early marriages were customary in those times, and therefore those which occurred in the behalahs, being exceptionally early, were contracted for children of very tender age, sometimes not more than seven or eight years, in order to save them from some supposedly impending danger. There is reason to believe that there was a Behalah as early as 1754 (Ephraim Solomon Margoliot, "Bet Ephraim," part "Eben ha-'Ezer," No. 41, Lemberg, 1818); but the first about which there is positive information occurred in 1764. It is described by Ezekiel Feivel of Dretschin, in his "Toledot Adam" (1st ed., Dyhernfurth, 1801, 11a), in the name of R. Ḥayyim of Volozhin, who describes how, in that year, terror was spread among the Jews of Lithuania by a report that Jewish girls were to be prohibited from marrying beforethe age of thirty, and boys before twenty-five. Many of the Jews then hastened the marriages of their children, even of the youngest. Then, naturally, soon arose the question of the legality of such marriages, and a discussion of it is found in a responsum by Raphael Cohen of Hamburg (then at Pinsk), dated 1765.
The second Behalah occurred in Poland between 1780 and 1793. It is mentioned in a responsum in Ezekiel Landau's "Noda' bi-Yehudab," part "Eben ha-'Ezer," No. 43, which is preceded by the remark that this question from Poland came before Joseph of Posen "in the time of the great excitement before the issue of the severe law ["gezerah"] about marriages, when a rumor was spread . . . and they were marrying little boys to little girls, and now they repent. . . ." As Joseph came to Posen in 1780, and Ezekiel Landau died in 1793, this Polish Behalah must have taken place between those dates.
The next Behalah occurred in 1833. It was caused by some wild rumors of enlisting Jewish girls in the army, and other absurd reports about terrible gezerot, spread before the promulgation of the regulations concerning the Jews, in the year 1835. Section 17 of these regulations prohibits marriages among Jews before the bridegroom has reached the age of eighteen, and the bride that of sixteen. Bogrov, in his "Zapiski Yevreya," p. 3, gives a vivid account of this Behalah.
The latest behalahs took place between 1843 and 1848 at various Russian towns, and were merely precautions taken by some fanatical Jews to save the unmarried children from being forced to attend the schools, then about to be established in various Jewish communities. The last Behalah was rather insignificant, and has been traced to a poor school-master who had a houseful of grown-up daughters for whom he could not provide any dowries, and whom, in the excitement which he helped to cause, he succeeded in marrying to little boys. According to the reports of people still living (1902) who remember that period, the account of the last Behalah, in a novel of Peter Smolenskin, is highly exaggerated.
- Responsa (No. 9) appended to Raphael ben Yekutiel Cohen's Torat Jekutiel, Berlin, 1772;
- Perles, Gesch. der Juden in Posen, in Monatsschrift, xiv. 261;
- Smolenskin, Ha-Toeh Bedarke ha-Ḥayyim, 3d ed., part 2, p. 169, Vienna, 1880;
- Levanda, Svornik Zakonov, p. 362;
- private sources.