Ever since her divorce from Perchik, his poor daughter, Hodel, had become the opposite of her usually happy and spontaneous self.
“Why the sad face all of the time?” Tevye asked her. “You should be happy. Thank God that you are finished with that scoundrel.”
But Hodel was not consoled. After all, Perchik had been her whole life. As an impetuous teenager, she had run away from home to marry the man of her dreams. She had torn herself from her family, and from all of their ways. She had followed after him to Siberia, and then, when he had become bitter with the revolutionary cause, she had followed dutifully after him to the Land of Israel. She had trusted in him and shared all of his visions. And now, their great balloon ride had come to a tragic crash. He had introduced her to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, to Shakespeare, Voltaire, and Abraham Lincoln, but what good did it do her now? She was alone. She was abandoned. She was betrayed. The rib she had shared with her husband had cracked. A part of her was missing. Bringing up their child kept her busy, but a child wasn’t a husband. A child wasn’t a man.
Tevye found it difficult to talk to his daughter. He didn’t understand her deeper emotions. To his way of thinking, she was depressed because of the shame. After all, in Anatevka, a divorce was unheard of. If a man and woman didn’t get along, they learned to live with each other for the good of their children. The stigma was so great that a matchmaker wouldn’t even consider arranging a match for person whose parents had divorced. Nonetheless, Tevye told his daughter, if a divorce meant getting rid of an unbeliever like Perchik, it wasn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it was a great mitzvah.
“You don’t understand me at all,’’ she told him sadly. “‘Unfortunately, you never have.”
“That ended their conversation. Perhaps, it was true, Tevye thought. After all, Hodel belonged to a generation which was far different from his. Young minds were full of questions. Simple answers weren’t enough. Tevye’s simple faith was scoffed at. The wisdom of the Sages, all of their insights, and all of their pearls, were looked at as primitive prattle. For the young generation, the existence of God had to be proved! In short, sons and daughters grew up with minds of their own, and parents no longer knew how to answer their bewildering questions.
Strangely, Tevye didn’t have the same problem at all with his wife. Though she was almost the same age as Hodel, she understood Tevye completely. Sometimes Tevye felt that Carmel had slipped into his beloved Golda’s soul, may her memory be for a blessing. True, his young wife was from Yemen, and Jews had lived a sheltered life there. The thought of disagreeing with her husband and challenging his ways never entered her mind. Peace was achieved by giving in to the man of the house. And besides, she truly respected her husband’s life experience and wisdom.
But in Anatevka, living side-by-side with the gentiles, how could a father protect his children from the modern world and the heretical culture it bred? It was no wonder that one generation didn’t get along with the next. Outside of the ghetto, the world changed every day. Now there were automobiles, airplanes, and telephones. The eternal truths stayed the same, but in an age of cameras and fast-moving pictures, who was interested in dusty, worn volumes of Talmud? So, instead of getting into a quarrel with his daughter, Tevye sent his wife to find out what was the matter.
“She needs a new husband,” Carmel said after spending a long evening with Hodel.
Tevye’s wife didn’t know who were Spinoza, Mendelssohn, or Karl Marx, but she knew that Hodel needed a man.
“Did she mention anyone in particular?” Tevye asked.
“No. She’s still too hurt about Perchik to be thinking about getting married again.”
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“You know her better than I do,” Tevye’s wife answered.
“She’s fiery, and stubborn, and is filled with all kinds of highfalutin ideas. I remember that she always liked music, that is, before she learned how to read.”