It was a time when everything seemed to prosper around him. Little Moishe and Hannei grew bigger each day. Nachman taught in the Talmud Torah. Passing by the synagogue, one could hear the singsong verses of Bible being recited by the high-pitched voices of the children. Ruchel opened a kindergarten, though she didn’t know how long she could run it alone. She was pregnant, thank God, and as the months passed, and her belly grew bigger, she found herself exhausted by mid-morning.
The arrival of Hodel solved the problem. One day, she showed up in Olat HaShachar with her child. With her head bowed in shame, she told her father that she was divorced. Upon her return to Shoshana, she had found her husband, Perchik, living with the girl called Libby. He had taken the strumpet into their house, at first as a house maid, he said. But they had been living together ever since Hodel had left, in defiance of everything holy.
“I’ll kill him,’’ Tevye exclaimed.
“It’s all right,” Hodel answered. ‘‘I’ve left him. We arranged
for a divorce with the rabbinical court in Tiberias.”
“You have a get?” her father asked.
Hodel showed her father the official writ of divorce.
“What a shandah! What a scandal!” Tevye thought. Who ever heard of a Jewish husband and wife getting a divorce? In all of Anatevka, he couldn’t think of one case. With such a black stain, who would ever agree to marry his daughter? Then again, Tevye thought, it was better than going hack to her swine of a husband.
Tearfully, Hodel explained how she had lived months and months in Tiberias until a proper divorce was granted. Perchik had wished her good riddance and told her that he never wanted to see either her or their child again. Angrily, Hodel had vowed that he wouldn’t.
“You have done the right thing,” Tevye said. “Here, you can be sure that your child will be raised like a Jew.”
“Oh, Abba, it was so awful,” she cried, weeping in his arms like a baby.
Tevye hugged her. When she stopped sobbing, he wiped her tears away.
“Why didn’t you send word to me sooner?” he asked.
“I’ve been so ashamed.”
“It isn’t the end of the world.”
“I loved Perchik so much. My heart was so broken. I suppose it still is. He was everything to me.”
“You made a mistake, that’s all.”
“I felt so betrayed.”
Tevye nodded his head. He didn’t want to say, “I told you.” How could he? He himself was to blame. Hadn’t he invited the free-thinking Perchik into his house to teach his daughters about the wonders of the world? Well, now, thanks to her father, she knew.
In the meantime, to cover up the scandal, Tevye told his friends that his daughter, Hodel had come for a visit. She started to help Ruchel in her kindergarten, and the sisters got along fine. But the unpleasant matter left Tevye pensive. Not only about Hodel’s uncertain future, but about his other daughter, Hava. Could it be that her husband, the convert, was deceiving her also? What was he doing alone in Jaffa, separated weeks on end from his wife?
The suspicion harped at Tevye for days, like a mosquito that won’t go away. Finally, he decided to find out the truth for himself. Taking the day off from work, he awoke before dawn, mounted a horse, and rode off toward Jaffa. He reached the city by mid-afternoon. Stopping by the Yemenite market which bordered the Jewish neighborhood, Tevye bought himself a long flowing caftan and turban. He had decided that for his intrigue to work, he would have to wear a disguise. That way he could spy on Hevedke without being recognized. He slipped the white robe over his clothes and let the salesman adjust the turban in the proper fashion on his head. The salesman held up a mirror, and his customer nodded in approval. Straightening his shoulders and holding his head high, Tevye rather fancied the regal image he made. He looked like an Arab sheik with a bushy Jewish beard, or he could have passed for a holy Jew from Morocco. The salesman praised Tevye’s new wardrobe and offered to sell him a sword and string of gleaming trinkets, but Tevye refused. He paid the persistent merchant and led his horse through the market, feeling like a newly crowned prince. He walked leisurely, as if he had all the time in the world. Nobly, he bowed his head to passersby, and enjoyed the deep bows he received in return, as if he were really a man of importance. Remembering the location of the yeshiva, he walked up to the side window and glanced in. Immediately, Hevedke’s, or Issac’s, blond hair and red-pepper beard caught his attention. He was engaged in a fervent discussion, arguing a point of Talmudic law with a study partner, just as he had been when Tevye had visited the yeshiva over a year before.