Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem

Availability: Amazon, San Jose, Santa Clara County

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Our member Trish McCauley writes:

The Favorite Tales of Sholom Aleichem translated by Julius and Frances Butwin is filled with over 50 Yiddish stories. Originally written in two books The Old Country and Tevye’s Daughters also translated by the Butwins, this volume brings together the collected stories of Solomon Rabinowitz, the author who took on the nom de plume of Sholom Aleichem, originally of the Ukraine.

Fiddler on the Roof  is the more well known translated story of Sholom Aleichem. Included in this book are a number of Tevye’s adventures. The Yiddish tales relating to lessons of the Torah sometimes take a spin thru Seinfeld-like twists thrown in to make you wonder where the story is going and how many roads it will take to get to a conclusion. As with most Yiddish tales, there is a point to all the wandering, not just a Dickens’ type motivation of being paid by the word to write.

I specifically chose this book because of the myriad of stories involved and the variations on Torah themes told within.

“The Joys of Parenthood” describes a father, not wealthy monetarily, but filled with pride over his children and grandchildren. He shares tales of their strengths and weaknesses, family get-togethers and moments that drive them apart. He recognizes that like many parents, he has the wealth of a King with his family around him, without having gold stacked up around himself. This specific lesson is one most of us parents learn as we see our children grow up and have families of their own and understand that no amount of money could ever replace.

Conversely, “If I Were a Rothschild” is a tale of a man dreaming of what it would be like to be rich enough not to have worries. Being able to provide for his family, for the community, for those less fortunate are all foremost on his mind. Or, is having enough money to solve every problem really the way to create enough security that life can be lived without difficulty? He proposes to rid the world of money so that some of the basic sins we study of the Torah are abolished. However, one would still need to provide for Shabbat and without money, how would one accomplish that feat? Solve the Middle-East conflict by sending each of the parties to separate corners, but open another Pandora’s box in the process? Easy to contemplate that money might create world peace, but reality paints a different picture and being wealthy may not bring you everything you wish. Something a dairyman has time to contemplate as he tends his herd.

These are but a bissel of the tales included in The Favorite Tales of Sholom Aleichem. Many more tales await your explorative mind from tales of Purim and Passover to Schprintze and scandals.

Our member Berdeen Coven writes:

The purpose of this book is to give the reader insight into the people.  The folk, the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe are written about at various times and when a variety of different events occur.  The writer felt it very important to make sure that the reader understands that this group of people thought of themselves as “people”.  These were Jews being Jews collectively and individually.  These people are considered to be an actual national character—a specific type—the poor Jewish people of Eastern Europe.

Sholom Aleichem’s stories reflect “a kind of European, seasoned, familiar pleasure in the national circle of one’s own people”.  Enjoyment for these people came because they shared in the feast of their common experience.  They shared in something that was given to them instead of having to make every institution and every habit for themselves, out of nothing, in loneliness and with exertion.

The author chose the name of Sholom Aleichem which means Peace Be Unto You, even though his name was Solomon Rabinowitz.  He chose the name because to him it portrayed an image of the sweet familiarity, the informality, the utter lack of side that was associated with the Yiddish-speaking masses of Eastern Europe.  He portrayed himself to be one of the people.

The drama of the stories in this book is reflected in the history that is reflected and none of it is made up.  Yiddish was the everyday language with which the people in these stories identified and talked in their wandering and in their poor state during this time period.  It was the tongue of everyday life that they loved and with which they identified.  “It was the poor Jew’s everyday clothes rather than his Sabbath garment.”

Each story is a reflection of something—A holiday, A hat, Two dad men, The tailor, Yom-tov, Eternal life, The day before Yom Kippur for example.  Most of the stories are a period unto themselves with little connection to one another.  It is just Sholom Aleichem’s description of, or experience of, a particular time or event that he wanted to describe to and share with the reader.  Each of  the stories has been written to give the reader insight into the people.