Read Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories Online

Authors: Sholem Aleichem

Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)

Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories

BOOK: Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories
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THE LIBRARY OF YIDDISH CLASSICS IS SPONSORED BY THE FUND FOR THE TRANSLATION OF JEWISH LITERATURE

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of the late M. H. Blinken and the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal in supporting the translation of this volume
.

Serie, editor: Ruth R. Wisse

Tevye the Dairyman
and
The Railroad Stories
by Sholem Aleichem
Translated and with an Introduction by Hillel Halkin

The I. L. Peretz Reader
Edited and with an Introduction by Ruth R. Wisse

The Dybbuk and Other Writings
by S. Ansky

Edited and with an Introduction by David G. Roskies
Translations by Golda Werman

Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler:
Fishke the Lame
and
Benjamin the Third
by S. Y. Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim)
Edited by Dan Miron and Ken Frieden
Introduction by Dan Miron
Translations by Ted Gorelick and Hillel Halkin

Translation copyright © 1987 by Schocken Books Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Schocken Books Inc., New York. Distributed by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Yiddish as
Tevye der Milkhiker
and
Ayznban geshikhtes: Ksovim fun a komivoyazher
. Translation first published by Schocken Books Inc. in 1987. Translated with the permission of the family of Sholem Aleichem.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sholem Aleichem, 1859-1916.
Tevye the dairyman and The railroad stories.
(Library of Yiddish Classics)
Translation of Tevye der milkhiker and Ayznban geshikhtes: Ksovim fun a komivoyazher.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79524-3
I. Halkin, Hillel, 1939-   II. Sholem Aleichem, 1859-1916.
Ayznban geshikhtes: Ksovim fun a komivoyazher. English. 1987. III.
Title. IV. Title: Railroad stories. V. Series.
PJ5129.R2T4518 1987 839’.0933 86-24835

v3.1

Introduction by Hillel Halkin

Glossary and Notes

INTRODUCTION

  1  

A
little over a century ago, in 1883, an aspiring writer of comic talents named Sholem Rabinovich, who was then serving as a “crown rabbi,” a state-appointed clerical functionary in a small Jewish community in the Ukraine, published a satirical account of local politics in the St. Petersburg
Yiddishe Folksblat
and playfully signed it “Sholem Aleichem”—that is to say, “Hello There!” It was not his first alias. He already had, and would continue to assemble, a precocious collection of pseudonyms, including such curiosities as “Solomon Bikherfresser” (Solomon Bookeater), “Baron Pipernoter” (Baron Ogre), “Terakhs an Eynikl” (Terach’s Grandson), and “Der Yiddisher Gazlen” (The Robber Jew). Compared with these titles, however, which had at best a slapstick humor, the ancient Hebrew salutation first employed in the
Folksblat
(its Arabic cognate of
salaam aleykum
can be heard today throughout the Middle East) was a prescient choice. Meaning literally “peace be upon you,” the phrase is used in Yiddish not as an everyday greeting but as a more emphatic one that is reserved for either old acquaintances long unmet or new ones just introduced; thus, besides encoding in the form of a pun Rabinovich’s own name of “Sholem,” it pithily anticipated the career of an author who, over the next three decades, was to come and go in the Yiddish press from one newspaper and magazine to another, delighting an ever-growing audience with his unpredictable appearances before vanishing again until the next time. Gradually he used the new pen name more and more. It did not replace its rivals all at once, but by 1894, the year in which the first chapter of
what is possibly the greatest of all Jewish novels,
Tevye the Dairyman
, appeared in the pages of the Warsaw yearbook
Der Hoyzfraynt
, it had become an exclusive trademark recognized by Yiddish readers everywhere. Eventually his own friends and intimates took to calling him by it too. Whereas Sholem Aleichem had once been Sholem Rabinovich, Sholem Rabinovich was now Sholem Aleichem, the private man subsumed in the public identity of the world’s most famous Yiddish writer.

Yet if comedy seems to imply a sufficient degree of well-being to make laughter possible, the debut of Sholem Aleichem as a comic Jewish writer did not come at an auspicious time. Indeed, coinciding as it did with the drastic deterioration in the Jewish situation in Russia that began in 1881 with the assassination of Alexander II and the bloody pogroms that followed, it could hardly have come at a worse one. Today, it is true, when modern Jewish history is read backwards in the monstrous light of the Holocaust, it is difficult to be as shocked as contemporaries were by the plight of Russian Jewry in the last decades of the Czarist Empire, during which the number of Jews murdered by Christian mob violence did not exceed several hundred. But in the context of its own time and place, the era of 1881–1917 in Russia was an exceedingly black period, the most savage experienced by Jews anywhere since the terrible massacres of Khmelnitsky’s Cossacks in the Ukraine in 1648–1649. Moreover, not only were the pogroms that took place under Alexander III and his successor, Nicholas II, actually incited and approved by the Russian government, they were part of an official policy of anti-Semitism calculated to render life so intolerable for the country’s Jewish inhabitants that, in the notorious words of Alexander Ill’s adviser Constantine Pobyedonostzev, a third of them would be forced to emigrate, a third to convert, and a third to perish from hunger. One has to go back to the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion of 1492 to find a previous instance of a European government setting out on a deliberate course of first terrorizing and then eliminating its Jewish population.

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