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October 16, 1987 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-16

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PURELY COMMENTARY

Multiple Tevyes Expand Sholem Aleichem Academia

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Editor Emeritus

holem Aleichem is a phenomenon
in world literature that keeps
growing in stature. From the mo-
ment it became the pen name of Sholem
Rabinowitz, with every tale depicted the
Yiddish author commenced to sym-
bolize every aspect of life, with em-
phasis on the struggles and agonies as
well as the spiritual armor of his people.
It kept developing into much more
than a single Tevye who dominated the
stage in many lands. There was more
than one Tevye, and from 1894, when
the first emerged under the byline
Sholem Aleichem, until 1914, each new
Tevye represented new challenges, new
experiences in Jewish life and the Jew
in a world atmosphere. With each Tevye
under newly-developing conditions
there were the daughters, the family,
the wife Golde.
To the vast library of Sholem
Aleichem Yiddish originals,
translations, commentaries and
biographical works is added an

S

Sholem Aleichem
exceptionally enriching addition with
the qualities of previous works and
newly researched data. In Sholem

Aleichem: Tevye the Diaryman and the
Railroad Stories, translated by Hillel

Halkin, the many Tevyes, the great
variety, are introduced and exclusively
studied. This volume is one of the
classical works still published under
the insignia of Schocken, before the
firms's merger with Random House.
Its great value is in the introduction
by the translator, Hillel Halkin, who
has an admired record as translator of
S.Y. Agnon, A.B. Yehoshua and Amos
Oz, as well as Sholem Aleichem.
Halkin, who now resides in Israel,
lends glory to the new work as a master
of Yiddish who masters Sholem
Aleichem in English. He shares with
the late Maurice Samuel the distinction
of brilliance in mastering languages.
Halkin's introduction has reference to
translations that will merit being
included in this review.
In Halkin's essay there is the real,
a new Tevye. Would that it had been
written and read as widely as were the
comments on Fiddler on the Roof
wherein Tevye heads the cast of
characters. Halkin thus defines the true
Tevye as he differs from the dramatized
stage character:

Readers of Tevye the
Dairyman who are familiar with
the play or movie Fiddler on the
Roof will notice that, in more
ways than one, there is scant
resemblance between Sholem
Aleichem's novel and the
charming musical based on it.
(Indeed, this is true even of the
musical's name, which does not
come from the work of Sholem
Aleichem at all but from the art
of Marc Chagall with its
recurrent motif of a sad-gay
Jewish fiddler playing upon the
rooftops of a Russian village.)
To begin with, there is the
tone: unlike Fiddlerwhich,
whether sad or gay, keeps
within the range of the safely
sentimental, Tevye has a giddy
energy, a recklessness of
language and emotion, a dizzy
oscillation of wildly funny and
wrenchingly painful scenes that
come one on top of another
without letup .. .
Quite apart from the

Continued on Page 46

William Safire Defines Roots Of 'Holocaust'

W

illiam Safire, New York Times
Op-Ed Page columnist who
writes a weekly essay "On
Language" in the NYTimes Sunday
Magazine, is an expert on words and
their meaning. He is an expert on
language and he fascinates his readers,
as he achieves it by inspiring the
writing of this column.
Safire provided an important
analysis of the origin of the word
"Holocaust" in his essay of September
20th. Calling attention to the meeting
of Jews with Pope John Paul II at the
Vatican, he points out that Rabbi Marc
H. Tannenbaum of the American
Jewish Committee referred to the presi-
dent of the Commission for Religious
Relations With the Jews as Cardinal
John Willebrands. Thereupon Safire
wrote:

"Shouldn't this read 'His
Eminence, John Cardinal
Willebrands?" asked the rabbi,
referring to the ancient, formal
style stemming from the time
the nobility put the Christian
name before the title, as in
"William, Duke of Norfolk."
"We don't do that anymore,"
said Cardinal Willebrands
cheerfully, and into the historic
communique went a couple of
references to cardinals using the
title before the first name.
The statement read: "On
Tuesday morning, the Jewish
delegation met with Cardinal
Agostino Casaroli." That was
how the text appeared in the
New York Times, but the accom-
panying news story clung grim-
ly to the old ways: "This morn-
ing the Jews met with Agostino
Cardinal Casaroli." In some

2

FRIDAY, OCT. 16, 1987

matters, the Times thinks in
terms of centuries.
The Associated Press Style-
book goes with the new form,
and most newspapers are adop-
ting it. "There has been no for-
mal decreee to change the place-
ment of Cardinal from its tradi-
tional use after the first name,"
says a spokesman for the Na-
tional Conference of Catholic
Bishops in Washington. "It has
become an informal option?'
Mebbeso, but priests who
want to get in tune with the
latest Vatican usage will pro-
bably take this communique as
their keynote. Personally, I hate
to see the archaic usage go — we
have few enough reminders of
our linguistic heritage — but the
adoption of the modern form
will simplify matters for those
outside the church who
wondered why so many church
leaders had the same middle
name.

An appreciation of Safire's treat-
ment of word origins, this is important
thus far. Safire went into discussing the
term " demonic" as applied to Jews, and
proceeded to define "Shoah" and
"Holocaust." The "demonic" ter-
minology, the rejection of the Nazi ef-
fects on the religious tendencies of our
time, the definitions of the Holocaus-
tian elements, all combine to provide
many gems in language studies. The
following from Safire will instruct and
inspire fascinatingly:"

"It was also noted," read the
communique, "that Nazi
ideology was not only anti-
Semitic but also profoundly
demonic and anti-Christian:'

Demonic is an adjective that has
special resonance for
theologians, who take demons
seriously; a synonym is satanic.
The Jewish drafters were aware
of millenarian cosmology, which
holds that the Christ and An-
tichrist will do battle at some
future Armageddon; for cen-
turies, many priests identified
the Jews with the Antichrist,
and icons often pictured Jews as

demonlike. In this statement, the
use of demonic to describe
Nazism breaks the libelous link
between Jews and demons, plac-
ing Christians and Jews on the
same side against the satanic
Hitler.
Another significant usage:
"The agenda for the meeting in-
cluded the Shoah (Holocaust)."
Shoah is a Hebrew word for

Continued on Page 46

Salute To Max M. Fisher

A

salutary function, planned
jointly by the Jewish Welfare
Federation and the Jewish Com-
munity Center, will add a never-ending
mark of appreciation for the services of
the admired Max M. Fisher. The occa-
sion will be the Oct. 21 dedication of a
sculpture of Fisher for permanent
display in the Center. The formal
dedication is acclaimed in the sponsors'
joint announcement which declares:
"In creating a bronze bust of Max
Fisher, sculptor Jerome Soble has
sought to convey 'the dignity and
strength of this man who has done so
much for the Jewish people.' The
sculpture will be permanently
displayed in the lobby area of the
Jewish Community Center."
The entire community will surely
acclaim this honor and dedication.
It is additionally appropriate to
repeat a quote from Fisher with which
the sponsors introduce their invitation
to the planned event. Fisher is quoted:
"We are all trustees of our Jewish
heritage . . . with an obligation to im-
prove it, cherish it, and guard its
future."

Max M. Fisher
The Fisher credo is inspiring and
the honor to be accorded him commen-
dable. Many additional good wishes to
you, Max!

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