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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Seventeen: The Milkman’s Daughter

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Tevye decided to stay in Shoshana until the birth of Hodel’s baby, which was only a month away. He forbade Bat Sheva to speak to Ben Zion, and asked Goliath to keep his eyes open to make sure there were no rendezvous. Tevye, by nature, had a trusting, good-natured soul, and in the past, it had led him to be too lax with his daughters. This time, he was determined to keep a tight rein on his youngest, lest her impetuousness lead her astray.

Hava went to work in the kitchen. For all of her openness to modern ideas, Hava felt ill at ease with the notion of women’s rights. To her way of thinking, a man had his duties, and a woman had hers. The theory that a woman could do the work of a man seemed foolish to her. As far as she was concerned, it was better to work in the kitchen, feeding people, than to work in a stable, feeding horses and cows.

Everyone in the commune ate together in the dining hall, so there was always plenty of work to occupy Hava, and to keep her from thinking about Hevedke’s new life in a faraway Jaffa yeshiva. The kibbutz diet consisted of sour cereals, vegetables, olives, goat’s cheese, black bread, eggs, and sardines. Meat was a luxury which the treasury of the kibbutz could rarely afford. The unrefined olive oil they used for cooking was purchased from Arabs in goatskin bags which gave the oil a bitter taste. There were not enough knives and forks for everyone, and settlers had to sometimes eat their main course with spoons. Though many of life’s staples were lacking, a spirit of thankfulness and singing accompanied the meals. Even Tevye was impressed. He had been in the luxurious homes of the rich people of Yehupetz and had never experienced such genuine happiness and joy. Inspired by their mission of working the land, the kibbutzniks were happy with the little they had. Hava tried to do what she could to improve their conditions, but when she put flowers and tablecloths on the tables for the Friday night meal, she was criticized for being bourgeoise.

For all of his devotion to Torah, Tevye was not a fanatic. Though the lifestyle in Shoshana irked him, he was able to restrain his chagrin over the secular character of the kibbutz. He remembered the words of the wise Rabbi Kook who said that the very act of settling the Land of Israel was a religious act in itself. Hadn’t the Sages of the Midrash taught that living in the Land of Israel was equal to all of the commandments in the Torah? Perhaps it was his age, or because Hodel was his daughter, or because Tzeitl’s death had left him too tired to fight – whatever the reason, Tevye accepted the lapses of Yiddishkiet as a situation which was not in his power to change.

Shmuelik’s reaction was different. The fervent scholar was horrified by the kibbutzniks and by their disdain for Jewish tradition. While Tevye had traveled far from Anatevka with his wagonful of cheeses, rubbing elbows with the rich and meeting free-thinkers in Boiberik and St. Petersburg, the young Shmuelik had never left the sheltered confines of his shtetl. To him, the kibbutznikim were heretical apikorsim who were to be avoided as much as the plague. “Gentiles who speak Hebrew,” he called them. Their desecration of the Sabbath, of the dietary laws, and the laws of family purity, were offenses that cried out to Heaven. That their heretical behavior should occur in the Holy Land was even more of an outrage in his eyes. When he learned that an animal pen under construction was intended for the breeding of pigs, that was the end. Though Shmuelik had come to love Tevye as a father, he found the situation unbearable. After ten days, he decided to set off for Zichron Yaacov, where the central office of the Jewish Colony Association was located. Just as Jacob’s son, Yehuda, had journeyed to Egypt to prepare the way for his family, Shmuelik would scout out new settlements and send word to Tevye regarding the opportunities he found. That way, Tevye would have a kosher, religious community waiting for him when he left the kibbutz. Alexander Goliath, the oversized Jew with the oversized heart, decided to stay by Tevye’s side. At Tzeitl’s gravesite, he had made a solemn promise to look after her children. Her last wish had been that Moishe and Hannie would grow up with Ruchel and Nachman, and Goliath felt it was his duty to carry out her request.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Sixteen: A Vote is Taken

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Ben Zion’s troop returned empty-handed to the well. They found Tevye hiding behind a tree, sunburned and poised to shoot. Back at Shoshana, a community meeting was once again summoned by clanging the dining-hall bell. Everyone in the kibbutz gathered to express an opinion. Perchik and Ben Zion sat at the head table, representatives of the two leading camps. Within minutes a fiery debate erupted over the best course of action to follow – whether to negotiate with the Arabs, or to declare outright war. Shouts in Russian and Hebrew were heard from all corners. Tevye did not understand every word, but he gathered that Perchik led the pacifists, while Ben Zion championed a more militant posture. As far as Tevye could tell, the settlers were divided in half. Even the women participated, shouting out opinions as vituperatively as the men. The milkman had never seen anything like it. In fact, all of his life, he had never attended at a gathering where men and women sat mixed together. Even at a wedding, the sexes were kept discreetly apart.

During the week-long conversations in Perchik’s home, Tevye had learned enough history to grasp the roots of the problem. Rome’s long conquest over Eretz Yisrael had been brought to an end by the Persians. Omayyad Moslems chased out the Persians, overcoming the last Roman strongholds. Then came the Crusades, as the Christians set out to conquer the Holy Land by slaughtering all of the Moslems and Jews in the country. Then Mongul hordes swept through the region, leaving behind a devastating trail of destruction. Cities were razed, landscapes burned, fields uprooted, and the population terrorized. Two-hundred years of savagery followed as warring Moslem tribes battled for control. They had names which Tevye could scarcely pronounce – Abbasids, Fatamids, Seljuks, and the barbarous Mamluks. Throughout the rampage of history, Jewish life in the Holy Land always continued, like a candle that never burns out. Finally, for the last four-hundred years, the Ottoman Turks had ruled over Palestine. Presently, the country was a hodge-podge of Ottoman districts, ruled over by Turkish Muktars who took orders from Constantinople and Damascus. The Bedouin and Arab tribes who roamed through the country never had ruled over Palestine. Some sheiks possessed legal deeds, but more often than not, they lived far away in other districts. Roaming Arab tribes ignored Turkish law and squatted on lands to which they had no legal right. Thus their claims of land ownership brought them into conflict with the new wave of Jewish settlers who were purchasing tracts of land. These transactions were officially recorded in the Ottoman Land Office in Constantinople, which people were now calling Istanbul. The tiny community of Shoshana was not the first Jewish settlement to find itself at odds with the largely unfounded claims of these nomadic Arab tribes. Further complicating the matter was the lackluster way which the Turks had made surveys and maps. Property boundaries were forever in dispute and detailed deeds were a rarity, if they could be located at all in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the disorganized Istanbul archives.

When the tall, stately figure of Gordon rose in the hall, the noisy, raucous debate momentarily quieted to give the respected visionary a chance to speak.

“Herzl proposed that the benefits of economic advancement would outweigh Arab nationalism,” he said. “We have to let our hard work and economic endeavor convince the people of Palestine that our presence here is a boon to the area and not a threat.”

Following his lead, another intellectual rose to his feet.

“Sokolov wrote that cultural rapprochement would bring a new Palestine civilization. We should invite our Arab neighbors to Shoshana for a social encounter.”

A statesman for Ben Zion’s camp rose in rebuttal.

“Arthur Ruppin asserted that a policy of transfer is the only solution. The Arabs need to be chased out of the Land.”

A roar of approval from the militants sounded throughout the room. With a gavel, Perchik banged on the table.

“You all know how I feel,” he said. “Marxists believe that peace and world unity can only be achieved through a cooperative society – through a pan-worker state without nationalist factions. As Herzl said, if we will it, this region can be a model for the world.”

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Five: A Husband For Ruchel

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The next morning, Hevedke was waiting out on the road when Tevye and his Zionist entourage took up their journey. The two men stared at one another in silence.

“He has more guts than I thought,” Tevye brooded, giving the reins of the wagon a whip.

Hava was hoping that her father would give Hevedke a chance to prove his sincerity, but there was no sign of conciliation in her father’s angry expression. Hava herself was confused. Her heart was torn between a man she still loved, and the realization that the bond between them could never be sanctified as long as he belonged to the tormentors of her people. It wasn’t enough that Hevedke was ashamed of the evil decrees of the Czar. Unless he tore up all ties to his religion and his past, he would always remain one of them. Even if he were to fast a hundred days to prove his love for Hava, that would not be enough. Hava knew that he loved her. He had to prove he loved God by taking on the yoke of her people. Though Hava felt compassion and pity for Hevedke, she didn’t plead with her father to accept him into the fold. If she had listened to her parents in the first place, the whole painful situation would never have occurred. Now she wanted to make amends for the breach she had rent in the family. She wanted to be faithful to her father. She wanted to show her mother in Heaven that she was sorry for the pain she had caused. So sitting beside her father as their wagon drove down the road, Hava fought off her desire to gaze at the man she had lived with only a short time before. She stared forward at the future as if Hevedke did not exist, as if they had never crossed paths, trusting that one way or the other, God would restore peace to her torn, aching heart.

That evening they reached the Jewish shtetl of Branosk. The ultra-religious community was smaller than the Jewish community of Anatevka, but the sights, sounds, and smells were the same. The same wooden porches, tiled roofs, and shutters. The same sagging, weathered barns which stood erect by a miracle. The same aroma of horses, chickens, and soups. The same beards and black skullcaps on the men, and kerchiefs and shawls on the women. Even the fiery red sunset had been stolen from Anatevka and pasted over the Branosk forest.

The villagers rushed out of their houses when they heard that pioneers on the way to the Promised Land had arrived in the shtetl. Children and teenagers crowded around Tevye’s wagon. They all wore the caps and long curling peyes sidelocks which distinguished the Branosk community. Apparently, they had seen other Zionists, but the sight of Tevye, a bearded, God fearing Jew among them, was a novelty to be sure. Ben Zion jumped up on a porch and tried to deliver a spirited harangue, inviting the townspeople to throw off the yoke of the Russians and join them in rebuilding the ancient Jewish homeland, but he only drew heckles and a rotten tomato. Tevye and his daughters attracted a far larger crowd.

Where was he going, they wanted to know? To Eretz Yisrael, he answered, the Land of Israel. With the heretics, they asked? Tevye said that by accident they were traveling together, for safety along the way. But, Tevye assured them, his family was headed for a settlement more religious than the city of Vilna – in God’s Chosen Land. What could be better than that? For hadn’t they heard? The great Baron Rothschild, may he live several lifetimes, was building “frum,” God fearing communities throughout the Holy Land. Everyone who came got a villa and acres of orchards bursting with olives, pomegranates, fig trees, and dates.

People bombarded Tevye with questions. He answered with authority, as if he truly knew, as if he were the Baron’s agent, auctioning off parcels of land. When a question came his way for which he did not have an answer, he responded with a verse or two of Torah. One thing was clear – the expulsion which had hit Anatevka was sure to reach Branosk. Surely they had heard that the Czar’s Cossacks had been thundering throughout Russia, slaughtering thousands of Jews. Now was the time to flee for their lives. Now was the time to stop praying for God to take them to Zion, and let their feet do the talking instead.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Four: ‘Thou Shall Not Murder’

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The Zionists were happy to have Tevye and his family join them. Feeling no pain from the vodka, Tevye invited their young leader to sit alongside him in the wagon. In a feeling of brotherhood, he even offered him a drink. Ben Zion refused. Alcohol, he said, was a drug which the wealthy class used to keep the peasants content in their religious stupor. He and his friends were drunk with the spirit of freedom, so who needed vodka? But if their distinguished traveling companion needed a drink, then by all means, he should imbibe – it was a day of emancipation, a time of independence, a cause for celebration.

“Emancipation from what?” Tevye asked.

“From the yoke of the Czar.”

“Amen,” Tevye said, taking another hearty drink.

Tzeitl reached out to take the bottle away from her father.

“Honor thy father,” Tevye warned, holding the vodka out of her reach. “Didn’t the angels inquire of Abraham, `Where is your wife?’ A woman’s place is out of sight, a queen in her palace, not with the men in the front seat of the wagon.”

“We believe that women should be liberated too,” Ben Zion said.

“You believe in a lot of foolish nonsense,” Tevye answered. “But you have an excuse – you’re still a young whelp.”

“Wasn’t Elazar ben Azariah even younger than I am when he was chosen to head the Sanhedrin?”

“Oh, I see I have the privilege of sharing my seat with a scholar of Torah. I truly am honored,” Tevye said.

“Just because I go with my head uncovered, don’t think that I haven’t learned. My father sent me to heder, and I was quite a good student until I discovered that the world had entered new times.”

“Hasn’t King Solomon taught us that there is nothing new under the sun?” Tevye asked.

“I can quote Scripture too, but don’t you see that it’s all an old-fashioned fable which doesn’t apply anymore?”

Tevye pulled on the reins until his horse came to a halt. “There will be no words of heresy in this wagon. While it may lack a roof, this is, for the time being, our humble abode, and Tevye, the son of Schneur Zalman, will not tolerate blasphemy in the presence of his family. So if you cannot control your speech, please step down from my wagon.”

Ben Zion smiled. “No problem, old man,” he said. “While I am unable to agree with your beliefs, I respect both you and your beautiful daughters. Besides, evening is approaching, and you probably would like to pray to your God. In the meantime, my comrades and I will look for a suitable camp site.”

“My beautiful daughters,” Tevye mumbled when the insolent scoundrel climbed down from the wagon. He would have felt safer if he were traveling with thieves. This free-thinking Herzl was cut from the very same cloth as his son-in-law Perchik. Why, Tevye wondered, had he turned a deaf ear to the Rabbi?

They camped in the woods by the roadside. Tevye unhitched his horse and fed him a bucket of oats. Then he spread out blankets and mats for his daughters under the wagon. The father intended to keep guard under the stars, where he could keep an eye on the Zionists. The family enjoyed a modest meal of black bread and potatoes which Tevye baked in the campfire. A swig of vodka helped to wash down the food. While they ate, Tevye’s eye kept wandering to the flickering light of a campfire on the other side of the road.

“He’s following us like a dog,” Tevye said.

“Please, Tata,” Hava appealed. “Don’t talk about Hevedke like that.”

“I see the devil still has you under his spell.”

“I’m not under a spell. If I were, I wouldn’t be here. But Hevedke is a good man. It isn’t his fault that he was born one of them.”

Tevye took a big bite out of his potato. Grumbling, he tilted his head back and poured some more vodka into his belly.

She’s right, he thought. It wasn’t the youth’s fault that he had been created that way, just as it wasn’t Tevye’s fault that he had been born a Jew. But just as Tevye had to suffer his fate, then let this Galagan suffer his fate too. How long was he planning on following them? Till he drove Tevye out of his mind?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-four-thou-shall-not-murder/2012/07/09/

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