The girl’s father stared anxiously at Tevye.
“You can examine her alone if you like,” he said. “We can leave the room.”
“I don’t have to examine her,” Tevye answered. “I think she has hepatitis.”
Elisha translated the ailment as “the yellow disease.”
“Can she be cured?” the Muktar asked.
Tevye didn’t know what to tell him. In Russia, when hepatitis struck, some people lived and others were carried out of their houses in burial sheets. The only treatment he knew, he remembered from his grandfather’s house. But he wasn’t at all certain that it would work on an Arab. It was a secret the Jews had kept to themselves. If a plague of yellow fever hit the gentiles, the Jews went about their own business, without saying a word, in fear that if the cure didn’t work, the gentiles would attack them for witchcraft.
“Allah is great,” Tevye said.
“Yes, Allah is great,” the father concurred. “But what can we mortals do?”
“I can only suggest a possible remedy, but I cannot promise the Muktar that the treatment will work. Take a young dove and placed it on the girl’s stomach,” Tevye advised. “If Allah decrees, the fever will pass from your daughter into the bird. The dove will die, and your daughter will live.”
Inspired with hope, the father rushed out of the bedroom, ordering that a dove be immediately brought to the house. The girl looked up at Tevye with her dark Mediterranean eyes and said a soft thank you. Abdulla yelled that refreshments be served, and in minutes a banquet of fruit was laid out in the salon before Tevye and Elisha. Within minutes, a young man rushed into the house holding a dove in his hands. The worried father took it from him and held it out to the doctor, but Tevye modestly declined.
“Your wife can do it,” he said.
“Wife!” Abdulla called. Immediately, four women appeared. The Muktar handed the dove to one of them, gave her instructions, and they all followed her into the bedroom. “Gevalt,” Tevye thought. “The old goat has four wives!”
Elisha smiled, reading Tevye’s mind.
“Thank God that I’m not a Muktar,” Tevye said quietly as Abdulla followed the women into the bedroom. His Golda, may her memory be blessed, had been the treasure of his life. But four Goldas? Even if he had had four houses and a Golda in every house, that was a blessing he was thankful to have been spared. After delivering milk from morning till night, what man had the strength to placate four women at home?
The house became tensely silent. The Arabs filling the room stared at the Jewish visitors. Minutes passed. Suddenly, a cheer sounded from the bedroom. The sick girl’s mother returned to the room with a dead dove in her hands. She had placed the bird on her daughter’s belly, and within minutes, the bird had turned limp and died. The patient was peacefully sleeping.
A happy Abdulla returned to the room. Tevye stood up and said the death of the bird was a positive sign. For the time being, there was nothing more he could do. If the girl didn’t improve by morning, they could repeat the procedure again, but two doves were the limit. The grateful father insisted on sending Tevye home with a wagon load of produce, but Tevye refused. If the girl recovered, that would be his payment. Before letting the Jews start on their way, the Muktar begged Tevye to pray for his daughter.
“Allah answers the prayers of the Jews,” he said.
What choice did Tevye have? The Arabs were their neighbors. The Muktar, in a way, was his friend. There was nothing in the Bible which forbade a Jew from praying for the health of a gentile. On the contrary, Abraham prayed for the Philistine king, Avimelech, and the king and his wife were healed. And the liturgy of Rosh HaShana, one of the holiest days of the year, was filled with prayers for all of mankind. So Tevye prayed, “May the Almighty heal the Muktar‘s daughter.”
Ten days later, the Abdul Abdulla showed up once again in Morasha. This time his daughter was with him. Like a princess, she rode in a wagon, swathed in a shawl and a veil which covered her cheeks. Flowers, the color of a sunset, were braided into her hair like a crown. Tevye was working in his garden when the Muktar rushed up and embraced him. His daughter had miraculously recovered. His friend Tevye had saved her from death. The very same day that Tevye had come to their village, the sick girl had stood on her feet. The next day, her color had returned to her face.
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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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