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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Seventeen: The Milkman’s Daughter

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

Tevye decided to stay in Shoshana until the birth of Hodel’s baby, which was only a month away. He forbade Bat Sheva to speak to Ben Zion, and asked Goliath to keep his eyes open to make sure there were no rendezvous. Tevye, by nature, had a trusting, good-natured soul, and in the past, it had led him to be too lax with his daughters. This time, he was determined to keep a tight rein on his youngest, lest her impetuousness lead her astray.

Hava went to work in the kitchen. For all of her openness to modern ideas, Hava felt ill at ease with the notion of women’s rights. To her way of thinking, a man had his duties, and a woman had hers. The theory that a woman could do the work of a man seemed foolish to her. As far as she was concerned, it was better to work in the kitchen, feeding people, than to work in a stable, feeding horses and cows.

Everyone in the commune ate together in the dining hall, so there was always plenty of work to occupy Hava, and to keep her from thinking about Hevedke’s new life in a faraway Jaffa yeshiva. The kibbutz diet consisted of sour cereals, vegetables, olives, goat’s cheese, black bread, eggs, and sardines. Meat was a luxury which the treasury of the kibbutz could rarely afford. The unrefined olive oil they used for cooking was purchased from Arabs in goatskin bags which gave the oil a bitter taste. There were not enough knives and forks for everyone, and settlers had to sometimes eat their main course with spoons. Though many of life’s staples were lacking, a spirit of thankfulness and singing accompanied the meals. Even Tevye was impressed. He had been in the luxurious homes of the rich people of Yehupetz and had never experienced such genuine happiness and joy. Inspired by their mission of working the land, the kibbutzniks were happy with the little they had. Hava tried to do what she could to improve their conditions, but when she put flowers and tablecloths on the tables for the Friday night meal, she was criticized for being bourgeoise.

For all of his devotion to Torah, Tevye was not a fanatic. Though the lifestyle in Shoshana irked him, he was able to restrain his chagrin over the secular character of the kibbutz. He remembered the words of the wise Rabbi Kook who said that the very act of settling the Land of Israel was a religious act in itself. Hadn’t the Sages of the Midrash taught that living in the Land of Israel was equal to all of the commandments in the Torah? Perhaps it was his age, or because Hodel was his daughter, or because Tzeitl’s death had left him too tired to fight – whatever the reason, Tevye accepted the lapses of Yiddishkiet as a situation which was not in his power to change.

Shmuelik’s reaction was different. The fervent scholar was horrified by the kibbutzniks and by their disdain for Jewish tradition. While Tevye had traveled far from Anatevka with his wagonful of cheeses, rubbing elbows with the rich and meeting free-thinkers in Boiberik and St. Petersburg, the young Shmuelik had never left the sheltered confines of his shtetl. To him, the kibbutznikim were heretical apikorsim who were to be avoided as much as the plague. “Gentiles who speak Hebrew,” he called them. Their desecration of the Sabbath, of the dietary laws, and the laws of family purity, were offenses that cried out to Heaven. That their heretical behavior should occur in the Holy Land was even more of an outrage in his eyes. When he learned that an animal pen under construction was intended for the breeding of pigs, that was the end. Though Shmuelik had come to love Tevye as a father, he found the situation unbearable. After ten days, he decided to set off for Zichron Yaacov, where the central office of the Jewish Colony Association was located. Just as Jacob’s son, Yehuda, had journeyed to Egypt to prepare the way for his family, Shmuelik would scout out new settlements and send word to Tevye regarding the opportunities he found. That way, Tevye would have a kosher, religious community waiting for him when he left the kibbutz. Alexander Goliath, the oversized Jew with the oversized heart, decided to stay by Tevye’s side. At Tzeitl’s gravesite, he had made a solemn promise to look after her children. Her last wish had been that Moishe and Hannie would grow up with Ruchel and Nachman, and Goliath felt it was his duty to carry out her request.

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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