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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Plague

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

Unfortunately for the settlers, the winter was one of the harshest in years. While the Russian Jews were used to below freezing temperatures and months after months of snow, in Russia they had had warmer clothing and houses which kept out the cold. When the winds and rains began, the pioneers of Morasha were caught unprepared. Most of the succot fell down in the gusts which blew over the mountain. The straw-matted roof of Tevye’s cottage began to sag over the dining-room table and finally caved in. Because permanent building permits had not yet been granted for recent construction, many of the cottages in the colony had been erected with temporary, succah-like roofing. When other roofs began to cave in, an emergency meeting was held and the decision was taken to build roofs which would last.

Working frantically around the clock, the settlers managed to fortify their dwellings before the next rains swept over the Morasha mountainside. Though everyone had expected difficulties in building the new settlement, the hardships never ended. Wandering into the barn one Shabbat to make sure that the animals had been fed, Tevye found one of his cows lying lifelessly on its side with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. Years before, Tevye had seen the very same symptoms during an epidemic that had broken out in a neighboring Russian village.

Quickly, Tevye ran to call Nachman. If the sickness spread, it could wipe out all of their livestock. Tevye wanted to remove the infected animal from the barn and bury it immediately, but he remembered that certain Sabbath laws forbade moving objects from place to place, and digging was strictly forbidden. Word spread through the colony, and all of the men who were not taking a Sabbath snooze hurried to the barn to hear the rabbinic discussion. Nachman explained that the fence which the settlers had erected around the perimeter of the colony served as an eruv which united the private houses and public yards into one large private domain. This allowed them to move the cow from the barn without violating the law against carrying from one domain to the next. The trail in the dirt which would result from dragging the beast along the ground resembled plowing, which was also forbidden on the Sabbath, but since the marks in the dirt were only the unnecessary by-product of the action, and not their real goal, which was burying the cow, then this too would he permitted. The same principle applied to the digging.

“If we were to dig because we needed dirt,” Nachman said, using his thumb for emphasis, as if digging out an answer from the air, “this would be forbidden. But if our goal is the hole. then in an emergency, this could be sanctioned, even though digging resembles field work which certainly isn’t in the spirit of the rest which is commanded on Sabbath.”

“In that case, we can dig the hole, but we can’t use the dirt

from the hole to cover the cow afterward,” Hillel said.

Tevye was getting impatient. With all due respect to their Talmudic discussion, with every passing moment, the cattle blight might spread.

“Doesn’t it say that a Jew shouldn’t he overly righteous?” he

asked. “If an epidemic breaks out, we can lose all of our live stock.”

“There are certain leniencies which can be taken if a great loss is at stake,” Nachman answered. “But it seems to me that there is an additional problem here.”

Everyone waited to hear the solution to the puzzle as if it were a suspense-filled mystery.

“At the commencement of the Sabbath, the cow was living. Now it is dead. In effect, it is something entirely new – no longer a cow, but a carcass. Thus it has the status of muksah, something which can’t even be touched.

“Like an egg which is laid on the Shabbos,” Reb Guttmacher

added.

“Precisely,” Naehman said. “Because the egg, or in our case,

the carcass, was not in existence at the start of the day, it remains forbidden all Shabbos long.”

B’kitzor,” Tevye said. “To make a long story short, we’re pickled.”

“I’m afraid so,” Nachman said. “The carcass has to stay were it is.”

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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