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62 SHOFAR TEVYE AND HIS WOMEN by Sheva Zucker Sheva Zucker teaches Yiddish language and literature at Duke University. She is currently on the faculty of Project Judaica at the Russian State University ofthe Humanities in Moscow. Her research interests include Yiddish poetry by women. Sholem Aleichem's Tevye der milkhiker [Tevye the Milkmanjl is the story of Tevye, an Eastern European Job, who, continually tried by God, questions His ways but keeps his faith. Although the tales dealing with Tevye's daughters are the most interesting, Tevye, and not his daughters, always remains the protagonist of the work. The antagonist is, so to say, the changing times. In this essay, I shall analyze the way Tevye reacts to the changing times as they force themselves upon him through his daughters. These reactions are a crucial part of his ongoing dialogue with God and pOignantly illustrate his conflict with modernity. Tevye's involvement in his daughters' lives plunges him into situations which disturb his belief in the order and justice of God and His universe. Tseytl, Hodl, Khave, and Shprintse place their personal desires above those of their parents and society; the dictates of God and His Torah mean little to them. Unlike their father and his generation, they do not view the non-Jewish world with fear, but find it alluring and irresistible. Faith becomes harder in a world where Marx and Gorky replace the 1:'>enerene Ia Yiddish translation of the Pentateuch, enriched by illustrative stories J, and where being born Jewish is no longer enough to ensure that children will remain Jewish. 'Sholem Aleichcm. Teuye der lIlilkhiker ITevye the Milkman J. Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur. vol. 27 (Buenos Aires: Yivo, 1966). Vol. 10, No. 4 Summer 1992 63 I Sholem Aleichem wrote Tevye over a period of twenty-one years, from 1895 to 1916, and he gives the date of publication before each episode. Historical events such as the 1905 Revolution in Russia, its unhappy aftermath, the Constitution, the Russo-Japanese War, pogroms, and the Beilis Affair all resonate in the text. This attention to dates and historical events is significant, because in '[evye, Sholem Aleichem tests faith against modernity. Tevye, half-tragic, half-comic hero, can be seen as the traditional God-fearing Jew struggling to maintain his faith in a new world which threatens the cohesiveness of Jewish life. Although the loose episodic structure of the work suggests that Sholem Aleichem may not have had an overall plan when he began writing the Tevye stories, a structure does emerge by the end. The focus moves from the personal, to the familial, and then to the national. The first chapter, "Dos groyse geviJis" [Tevye Strikes it Rich], bearing the epigram "[God] raises up the poor out of the earth and lifts the needy from the ash heap," taken from the ll3th Psalm, introduces the theme of faith. The book opens on a happy note: Tevye, a poor man, is given the opportunity to do a good deed and is handsomely rewarded. The rest of the book chronicles Tevye's declining fortunes as troubles of ever-broadening scope engulf him, and he suffers as a man, a father, and a Jew. First, he loses most of his money by allowing his wife's cousin Menakhem-Mendl to invest it for him. This financial disaster is followed by the daughter sequence in which Tevye suffers through the loves and marriages of each of his daughters. A pogrom then strikes him, his remaining family, and all the Jews of the area, and they arc exiled from ┬Ěthe village of Anatevke, concluding the story on a note of communal, and by implication, national disaster. The pogrom in Anatevke is but one of many such atrocities being committed at that time against the Jews of Eastern Europe. One may well ask why Sholem Aleichem chose to give Tevye seven daughters and no sons-again, a half comic half desperate situation. A partial answer may be found in the old Yiddish proverb which Tevye quotes, "Az me hot tekhter fargeyt der gclekhter" [Daughters to look after is no cause for laughter] (36; ch. 1). Seven daughters and no son provide a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 62-74
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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