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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Six: Tevye Takes a Wife

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Bat Sheva was happy for Tevye too. Unbeknownst to her father, she had been seeing a lot of Ariel, Elisha’s oldest son. She had arranged to work with him in the fields and even joined him for guard duty at night. He was as handsome and idealistic as Ben Zion had been, yet humble and unassuming. To attract him, Bat Sheva found herself behaving more modestly and religiously than she ever had in the past. Never once did he touch her or kiss her, even when she pretended that she didn’t know how to shoot a rifle and asked him to teach her. She did her best not to flirt in a manner which would scare him away. How strange fortune was, Bat Sheva thought. If her father and Carmel were to marry, and if she and Ariel were to wed, Carmel would be not only her sister-in-law, but her stepmother as well.

Once Tevye’s children consented, there was only one obstacle in the way. Golda. But here too, like in every other question of life, the code of the Torah was clear. Nachman showed Tevye the law in the Shulchan Aruch. Opening the large volume, he let Tevye read. If a man’s wife were to die, God forbid, as soon as the period of mourning had ended, he was to marry again. A man was a man, and he had been created to live with a woman, as it said in the Bible, “Be fruitful and multiply.” That was God’s will. The Jews had to populate the Holy Land’s borders. They needed farmers, teachers, builders, rabbis, and soldiers. “Be fruitful and multiply,” was a mitzvah. The Jews had a country to build!

Tell that to Golda. She wasn’t just a memory that Tevye could forget. She inhabited his every thought and breath, just as she had when she was living. She had remained his faithful partner, in death as in life. How could he abandon her now? How could he expect her to turn the other way when he brought a strange exotic woman into his house? He tried to explain to her, to cajole her, apologize to her, and, patiently, he tried to assure her that he loved her now more than ever, and that he would never let his new wife take her place in his heart.

“But my Golda,” he pleaded, as the day of the wedding approached, “a man needs a women in the house. Have mercy. Is your Tevye an angel that you expect him to share his life with a farm animal forever?”

But all of his entreaties did him no good. The week before the wedding, he hardly slept a wink. Closing his eyes, he immediately saw his wife, Golda, standing at the entrance to the barn with a butcher’s cleaver in her hand.

“Is this my reward?” she would say. “After cleaning your dirty clothes and underwear for twenty-five years, you bring a Yemenite princess into my house? A young girl. A child the age of my daughters? Is this scandal my thanks? Is this humiliation to be my destiny in heaven? Is my soul to fly between heaven and hell without rest? Is this why you brought me to Israel? To witness your betrayal firsthand? To die a thousand new deaths each time you embrace this stranger?”

More than once, Tevye woke up in a sweat. On the day of the wedding, desperate to quiet her screams, he went to sit in the blacksmith’s shed, and held his head near the clang of the anvil to exorcise the curses he heard. But the ringing of the hammer only made his anguish worse. Finally, unable to stand up to his wife, he searched for Elisha in his field. Finding him, Tevye fell to his knees.

“I’m calling off the wedding,” he said.

“Stand on your feet like a man!” the little Yemenite commanded.

Flustered, Tevye stood up. He remembered that when Tzeitl had refused to go through with the match he had made with Lazar Wolf, in order to convince Golda that the marriage would bring only disaster, Tevye had invented a dream. Once again, with Elisha, he would use the same scheme.

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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