Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
5 8
The Fiddler on the Roof
makes an attempt to reproduce the
effect by: “As the Good Book says: If you spit in the air it lands
in your face” and: “As Abraham said: I am a stranger in a strange
land.” But this would imply that Tevye is actually an ignoramus
in the Bible—an implication which is inadmissible in the original
because there he quotes the Hebrew correctly, while in the Eng-
lish there is no evidence that he knows the true text—and if he
did, most of his audience would be unaware of it. The mis-
fortune is that the Tevye we are thus given is a replica of the
Jewishly uncultivated hundreds of thousands who have seen
him and have taken away the impression that
this
was the Jewish
heritage which was preserved, and this was the life of the
shtetl.
There is a deeper layer of meaning in Tevye’s misapplication
of the sacred texts. It is at once an expression of familiarity with
the Almighty—and of protest. Levi Yitzchok,
der Berditchever,
gave the expression more earnest form: “
Vos host du tzu dein folk
Yisroel, vos host du zich ongezetzt oyf dein folk Yisroel,”
but
the spirit is the same as Sholom Aleichem’s and we may note
that of chassidic rabbis, Levi Yitzchok is generally regarded as
most intimately the
folksmensch.
To expostulate with
dem Oy-
bershten
as with a Father, to complain of His unfairness, was
not inconsistent, in the deeply Yiddish world, with an ultimate
submission to His will; and the profoundest reverence for the
Tanakh and the scarcely less sacred Talmud and Midrashim was
not inconsistent with a touch of friendly mockery, a winking,
finger-to-nose gesture of teasing derision. But these pleasantries
were strictly intramural; they were the jocosities of the family;
and any outsider who tried to play on them, lacking the family
feeling, was considered coarse and uncomprehending. This, per-
haps, is why they are intransmissible; they were never meant for
anyone but ourselves.
There are folk and national types of humor, and there is a
universal humor, an Esperanto of the comic. The folk or re-
gional and the universal overlap, and no great regionalist hu-
morist is entirely shut off from the rest of the world. I have heard
that Sholom Aleichem has been translated into Chinese and may
now be read, if not right to left, then at least perpendicularly.
It would be interesting to have him re-translated into Yiddish
by someone who cannot consult the original. We would then
see how much of Sholom Aleichem remains after a double pas-
sage out and in. Perhaps a glimmer may still be perceived of the
blithe and gentle spirit which was the comfort of our fathers in
the ghettos and
shetlach
of yesterday. However that may be, it
is clear that enough of him survives single transmissions into
European languages to give him a place in the world pantheon.
Between the time when I first met Sholom Aleichem and the
time I wrote the book—
The World of Sholom Aleichem—
which,