Page 121 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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SLOTNICK / GRADE’S CENTRAL CONCERN
113
completely with his in-laws over their treatment of a servant girl
who has become p regnan t by one of Slava’s nephews. In
Tsemakh’s solicitude for the helpless, wronged girl, he hurts his
wife by quarreling with her family; he soon reverses his sudden
extreme shift to secularism, and returns to his former Musarist
ways.
FURTHER TRIALS
But the same violent, passionate nature that made Tsemakh
Atlas unsuited to be a merchant, is his downfall in the traditional
Jewish world. He founds a Musar yeshivah in the small town of
Valkenik, to which he brings students from Vilna and other cities.
Tsemakh creates dissension from the beginning, between parent
and child and between himself and his own students. The
yeshivah is soon left in the care of the assistant principal, Reb
Menachem-Mendl, as Tsemakh Atlas begins to fear that his own
doubts will infect the students. Temptations of the flesh still
haunt him; he moves out of one set of lodgings because he is
attracted to Ronya, the daughter of the landlord.
Even in his subsequent life as a penitent, who eventually takes
up residence in the Navaredok yeshivah in Nareva, Tsemakh
Atlas can find no peace. In the activities of this Musar center, he
sees his own failings repeated and amplified in the behavior of
those who had been his students. Even Chaikl Vilner, who had
been one of the original students of Tsemakh Atlas in Valkenik,
and is now spending time at the Navaredok yeshivah, begins to
stray from the path of Musar by keeping company with heretics
and by openly challenging the principles of the Musar movement.
It is in the figure of Chaikl Vilner that the danger of Tsemakh
Atlas’teachings becomes clearest. Temperamentally similar in his
passionate nature and restlessness, Chaikl Vilner torments him­
self for his sinful tendencies. Like his teacher, Chaikl is tempted
by the daughter of the household in which he stays in Valkenik,
even by his landlady in Vilna. And when Slava comes to visit her
husband in Nareva, it is Chaikl and the heretic Moyshe Chayit
Lohoysker who become her "gentlemen callers,” partaking in a
kind of Platonic adultery with the seductive, secular woman. As
the second volume of the novel draws to a close, Chaikl Vilner’s
doubts and his cynicism are increasing; his growing interest in
secular subjects and philosophies (suggesting Grade’s own path