Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
a prayer: “Blessed is He Who transforms His creatures,” for
Isrulik’s transformation is as substantial as the talking horse’s.
The Wandering Mare informs him that her history began with
the Exile.
During a storm Isrulik recalls the words of the
Psalms,
“And
He rode upon a cherub, and did fly,” and immediately has a
vision of God rising among the clouds. “A dove-gray tatter of
cloud bordered with vivid brightness was rushing by, there above,
shaped like a gigantic steed.” After the storm a mournful night­
ingale sings “an echo of your exile in a wintry foreign clime.”
As if the bird’s melancholy and the nag’s pathos were not enough,
Isrulik flies with Asmodeus, king of the demons and Solomon’s
antagonist, to view widespread tragedy around the world. Naive
Isrulik prays to God to let everyone experience flying, but
Mendele directs his satire equally at Isrulik’s foes who have caused
all the evil and suffering in the world. Aloft or underfoot, birds’
wings or horses’ hooves, the dual perspective reinforces the per­
vasive injustices of anti-Semitism. These fantasies of ordinary
birds and horses are ambivalent emblems of escape and impris­
onment in the Jewish domestication of myth.
While Sholom Aleichem (Mendele’s literary “grandson”) does
not put words in the mouth of Tevye’s horse, he nevertheless
humanizes the dairyman’s companion to show just how dehu­
manized the Jewish situation had become. As Tevye narrates
in the first person and quotes from all kinds of historic sources,
his horse becomes part of the familiar backdrop, somewhere
between Sholom Aleichem’s listening ear and those ancient wit­
nesses in Hebrew sources. Part of the monologic frame in
“Tevye Wins a Fortune,” the horse is identified with both Tevye
and Sholom Aleichem who sit on the grass throughout the nar­
rative: “Let the horse do a little nibbling meanwhile. After all,
even a horse is one of God’s living creatures.” Tevye nibbles
at words: “I worked like a horse, pulling wagonloads,” trying
to fill his family’s mouths, “not counting that boarder of mine,
the poor horse, whom I can’t put off with a quotation from
the
Talmud
.” He addresses his poor nag who barely drags its
feet: “crawl along,
shlimazll
If you are Tevye’s horse you too
must know the pangs of hunger.” And when Tevye is forced
to whip his horse it is as if he were inflicting punishment upon
himself since the two
shlimazls
are so closely identified through
their poverty. While Sholom Aleichem does not allegorize to