Page 77 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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5 7
a m u e l
— T
h e
r ib u n e
o f
t h e
o lu s
farkoyft. Farkoyfn hob ich dos farkoyft tzu a vasser-fierer,
vorem fun di balagoless ken men nor mevuzeh vern. Ich kum
tzu zay farkoyfn mein ferdl, machn zay tzu mir: ‘Got is mit
aych reb Tevye, s’iz den by aych a ferd?’ ‘Vos den, zog ich,
is dos, a henglaychter? ״ ‘S’siz by aych, zogn zay, nisht kein
henglaychter, nor a lamed vovnik.׳ ‘Vos hayst dos, zog ich,
a lamed vovnik?’ ‘Dos hayst,’ zogn zay, ‘a zokn fun seks-un-
drayssig yor, ohn a simmen fun tzayn, mit a groye lip, un
tresslt mit di zayten vi an alte iddinne erev shabbos oyf’n
frost . . . gefelt aych aza min balagoleh-shprakh?’
“Ich vel gehn shvern az dos ferdl hot nebekh farshtanen
itliches vort, vi in posek shteht—
yodea shor koneyoo—a.
tinne fielt az men holt dos bay farkoyfn. A simmen hob ich
az bashaas ich hab tzugeklapt dem vasser-fierer un gezogt tzu
im ‘Mit mazl-brokheh,’ hot mein suss oysgedraht tzu mir di
chenevdikke morde un kukt oyf mir mit shtumme oygn,
vi ayner redt:
Zeh chelki mikol amoli,
ot azoy dankst du
mir op far mayn sluzhbe . . .”
All that is implied in the moving Hebrew phrase
tzaar baaley
the sorrow and suffering of living things (I have not
heard of an equivalent among the ancient pagans), constitutes
the background against which Sholom Aleichem’s humor plays
here with an ironic and tender smile. It almost becomes natural
to have the poor, tired, rejected dobbin speak Hebrew, but of
course with Tevye’s fantastic accompanying translation or com-
ment. The horse is so far humanized that it takes on a Yiddish
character, becomes part of the human population of the
and like any other Jew plays around with the sacred texts to the
edification and amusement of its two-legged fellow Jews.
It is this impossibility of translation, added to the absence of
a cultural background in the large majority of contemporaneous
Jews that points up the unavoidable inadequacies of the attempt
made in
The Fiddler on the Roof
to transmit the essential humor
of the world of Sholom Aleichem. When Tevye quotes the
“Sheloshah sheokhlu,”
and translates it:
“Er hot geges-
sen far drei”
the hilarious effect is heightened not only by the
difference in meaning, but by the sudden passage from the sacred
to the profane, from the exalted to the trivial, a magnificent in-
stance of bathos. For (to explain to the uninitiate) the Hebrew
phrase is the beginning of a Talmudic admonition: “Three that
have eaten together and no words of Torah have passed between
them, might just as well have eaten of the sacrifice of idols.”
And again, when Tevyeh would have it that
“keshoshanah bein
“Vi a finfter rod tzurn vogen”
he is passing in
a single leap from the lofty to the lowly, from the graceful to
For the Hebrew means: “As a rose among thorns”—
and the Yiddish—I hope I need not translate that.