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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 13: Tzeitl’s Last Wish

Tevye in the Promised Land

“What are we going to eat?” Shmuelik asked Tevye as they changed into their Sabbath clothing.

Tevye did not understand the question. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Before Shmuelik could answer, Hillel spoke up in a bard’s satirical manner. “He means that though you may be overjoyed to be reunited with your daughter, the Lord has commanded the Jewish people to observe certain dietary laws like eating properly slaughtered meat. And while we have only been here a short time, I have not seen the likes of a God-fearing butcher.”

“So we won’t eat meat tonight,” Tevye responded. “There is no sin in that.”

“Not eat meat on Shabbos?” Hillel asked. “Even when my mother, God bless her, didn’t have a kopeck to buy a new pair of shoes for me or my brother, we still had meat on Shabbos.”

“That’s the way it goes,” Tevye answered. “The Almighty is in charge of the menu. Whatever He gives us is more than we deserve.”

“The meat is not the only problem,” Shmuelik observed. This is the Holy Land. There are laws of priestly dues and tithes. Before we can eat vegetables and fruits which Jews have grown in the Land, the proper portions must be set aside as commanded in the Torah.”

Tevye sighed. Whoever said it was easy to be a good Jew? Your thoughts had to be holy. Your deeds had to be holy. Your food had to be holy. Your day of rest had to be holy. Even your Land had special religious laws of its own which no one ever thought about in Russia.

“This is one of the reasons why Moses begged the Almighty to let him enter Eretz Yisrael” Shmuelik informed them. “So he could fulfill the mitzvos which we can only perform in the Holy Land.”

“If it was important to Moses, our teacher, than it certainly is important to us,” Tevye agreed. “But how does one take these tithes?”

Because sundown was almost upon them, and a detailed explanation would take much too long, Shmuelik volunteered to hurry to the kitchen to prepare the food as required. Dressed in his Sabbath finery, he ran off across the kibbutz grounds in search of the dining hall. Kibbutzniks pointed the way, their eyes wide with wonder as they stared at the ultra-Orthodox Jew in his white stockings and knickers. Embarrassed, he tapped on the kitchen doorway, noticing that it lacked a mezuzah. The young women inside stopped their work to gape at the bearded, black-coated apparition with a fur shtreimel hat on his head.

“We are visiting Hodel,” Shmuelik explained. “That is, her father and sisters have arrived, and there are certain matters of kashrut which need to be performed.”

The girls stared at him brazenly, directly into his eyes, the way men look at each other. Shmuelik had never encountered females like this. Embarrassed, he looked away.

“Do whatever you have to,” one said. “You are a guest.”

Quickly, Shmuelik entered the kitchen and set aside small portions of the vegetables which the women had prepared. When he finished separating the trumah and maaser tithes as the Torah prescribed, he began washing leaves of lettuce in a bucket of water.

“We already rinsed them,” one of the young women said.

“Hold a leaf up to the light,” he answered.

The girl inspected one of leaves which had already been washed. The green stalks were speckled with insects.

“Yeech,” the girl said in disgust.

“A Jew isn’t supposed to eat crawling creatures,” Shmuelik explained.

He asked for some vinegar. Soaking the leaves in the bitter liquid was the best way to make them bug free. “After soaking the leaves in the vinegar, they have to be washed again so that the taste isn’t spoiled,” he taught.

“Oh, nonsense,” said a girl with long braided hair. “Bugs are so small, what harm can they do?”

Once again, with the Sabbath only minutes away, Shmuelik didn’t have time to answer the question. “Did you bake any loaves of bread?” he asked.

“Certainly we did,” the girl named Sonia answered. “What do you take us for?”

Shmuelik broke off some pieces from the bread which the women had baked and said a blessing over the special challah portion. As it turned out, kosher meat wasn’t a problem at all. The evening’s main course was fish. Meat was a luxury which the kibbutz could not afford even on the Sabbath.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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