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

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“I was wondering,” Shmuelik hesitantly began, not wanting to give the impression that he was contradicting his more-learned friend.

“By all means,” Nachman encouraged.

“If there is the slightest danger that the disease may spread to the residents of the colony, then perhaps it is a matter of pekuach nefesh, which would permit us to violate the Sabbath in order to save lives.”

“That’s an excellent point,” Nachman answered. “But that requires a more expert opinion than mine. Tevye, is there a danger that people can be contaminated from the cattle disease?”

Everyone looked at the famed veterinarian.

“People don’t get hoof and mouth disease, but they can be struck by cholera. A lot of epidemics have been known to start in barns.”

“God forbid,” the undertaker added.

“In that case,” Nachman concluded, “It is a mitzvah to remove the carcass from the barn and to bury it immediately!”

Thus the animal’s carcass was buried, but the incident left Tevye with premonitions regarding the future. One night, a week later, as Tevye trekked through the rain on his midnight rounds, he stumbled over another dead cow.

The very next evening, a cold stinging wind howled over the naked hillside. The night was so black, Tevye could hardly see. To distinguish friend from foe, he had ordered that lanterns be carried by any Jew who left his house after dark. The security committee had adopted this safety precaution after Hillel had taken a wild shot at Reb Pincus. The storekeeper had wandered away from his house late one evening to take care of his private needs in the outhouse. Thinking the dark form might be a prowler, Hillel panicked and fired. Fortunately for Pincus, the accordion player was a terrible shot.

Suddenly, just as Tevye was thinking how vulnerable the yishuv was to the elements, to invisible epidemics, and enemy attack, a bolt of lightning lit up the sky. In the brilliant white flash, Tevye saw two figures running away from the barn, carrying what looked like two sheep in their arms. A third figure appeared, cried out, and collapsed by the door of the barn.

“I’ve been stabbed! I’ve been stabbed,” the minstrel’s familiar voice called out.

A crash of thunder echoed through the heavens. Darkness returned to the mountainside. Tevye fired a shot in the air to alert the yishuv, and ran after the thieves. With the next crackle of lightning, Tevye spotted the prowlers and fired. The lead Arab tripped and his partner tumbled to the ground over him. Bleating, the two sheep ran free. By the time Tevye reached the site, one of the Arabs had fled. The other was limping as he scampered away. Tevye took off like a stallion. Breathing heavily, he managed to catch up with the thief. Shoving the Arab hard on the back, he toppled him down to the ground. Tevye stood over him, aiming his rifle at his head until reinforcements arrived. The Jews dragged the trembling Arab off to the barn, where Hillel sat slumped in the doorway. His hand glowed a bright shade of red. His shoulder was bleeding. But in the light of their lanterns, his wound appeared worse than it was.

The Jews tied the thief up to a post in the barn. When he refused to tell them to what tribe he belonged, Elisha continued the investigation in a more persuasive manner. The important thing, he said, was not to leave marks. In Yemen, Moslems would beat up the Jews in a similar fashion. That way, the Jews couldn’t prove to the authorities that they had been beaten.

The thief, it turned out, was from Muktar Mohammed’s village. Tevye wanted to complain personally to his friend, Mustafa, but the other settlers said that Tevye had complained in the past, and the stealing had continued even though the Muktar had assured them that it would stop.

“Either your friend doesn’t know what his tribesmen are up to, or he really doesn’t care,” Elisha said. A vote was taken, and it was decided to report the incident to the Turkish authorities. Luckily, Hillel had only been wounded. But the next time, Elisha warned, a Jew might he killed.

None other than Jamal Pasha himself, the Turkish military

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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