Sholem Aleichem on The Reading Life
First published in May of 1905
“Hoydu lashem ki toyv—whatever God does is for the best. That is, it had better be, because try changing it if you don’t like it! I was once like that myself; I stuck my nose into this, into that, until I realized I was wasting my time, threw up my hands, and said, Tevye, what a big fool you are! You’re not going to remake the world … The good Lord gave us tsa’ar gidul bonim, which means in plain language that you can’t stop loving your children just because they’re nothing but trouble. If my daughter Tsaytl, for example, went and fell for a tailor named Motl Komzoyl, was that any reason to be upset? True, he’s a simple soul, the fine points of being a Jew are beyond him, he can’t read the small print at all-but what of it? You can’t expect the whole world to have a higher education. He’s still an honest fellow who works hard to support his family. He and Tsaytl—you should see what a whiz she is around the house!—have a home full of little brats already, touch wood, and are dying from sheer happiness. Ask her about it and she’ll tell you that life couldn’t be better. In fact, there’s only one slight problem, which is that her children are starving “
“Chava”, one of the Teyve the Milkman stories upon which Fiddler on the Roof was based, is considered one of Aleichem’s greatest stories. Like other stories in the cycle it is in the form of a monologue spoken by Teyve to the author. Teyve and his wife Golde have seven daughters, all at or near marriage age. Custom requires they marry within their faith. Teyve is very concerned when he sees his daughter Chava talking in a familiar way with a Ukrainian Christian man. He asks her what they were talking about and she, any parent will relate to this, says “nothing”.
Compressing a lot, he runs into the local Christian priest. He has a long standing friendly debate going with him about whose faith is valid but this time he gets some shocking news.
I don’t want to tell more of the plot. The very real joy of this story is in the philosophical debate between Teyve and Chava.
We have three daughters 21, 23, and 25 and I found this just totally relatable.
I have access to maybe sixty stories by Sholem Aleichem either in E books or online. I look forward to reading them all.
Sholem Aleichem, the pseudonym of a Russified Jewish intellectual named Solomon Rabinovitz (1859–1916), created many of the most enduring works of modern Yiddish fiction. Born in Pereyaslav, Ukraine, he received a traditional education and lived in Kiev and Odessa before immigrating to New York City. Upon his death in 1916, the New York Times published a front-page obituary, memorializing him as “the Jewish Mark Twain.” More than 100,000 people attended his funeral procession, making it the largest New York City had ever seen. His humorous representations of the rhythms of Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish life have had a lasting influence on modern Jewish literary traditions... From The Yiddish Book Center