Shalom Aleichem (1859-1916; "Peace be upon you") was the pseudonym of the Russian Yiddish writer Shalom Rabinowitz. The most popular Jewish writer of all times, his stories depict with wry humor, the hardships, poverty and oppression endured by the Jews in the Russian pale of Settlement, as well as their proud resilience. The successful Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964) was based on Shalom Aleichem's sketches in Tevye's Daughters (1894).

Chlavne, a short, dark, heavyset man, had always loved a drink. Fortunately, he was brought up in a decent and temperate home, or he would surely have grown up a drunkard. I do not guarantee that it was only his upbringing that saved him from a drunkard's fate. It is possible that in spite of it he might have been able to out-drink a squad of cannoneers, if only he had the means. But his wife Gittel managed all his finances and did not let him have a let him have a groshen to spend. Wherever money was involved Gittel took care of it. The work itself, the labor that earned their bread was done by Chlavne (he was, alas, a shoemaker), but when the work was finished it was Gittel who delivered it and collected the money. And naturally Chlavne was not pleased with this state of affairs.

"What do you think I am? A thief — or what?"

That is what Chlavne said to his wife Gittel, and he received a clear unequivocal answer on the spot.

"Heaven forbid! Who said you were a thief? All you are is a soak. Do you dare tell me you aren't?"

To deny it outright was not easy. And yet to go ahead and confess that he loved to take a bitter drop was not so agreeable either. So he took refuge in a pun, as he frequently did, because Chlavne the shoemaker was fond not only of a glass of brandy, but also of a quip, a pun, a pithy saying, for he was a true Kasrielevite. So he scratched his beard, looked up at the ceiling and said:

"Listen to the woman!" All she can say is soak. Soak! If I have a bottle in my hand, do I ever soak anybody with it? All I do is drink it."

"Oh, go to the devil!" his wife sputtered.

"Together with you, beloved, I'll go through the fires of hell."

"Here, go with this!" cried Gittel, and from the other side of the room she heaved a boot at him. This, too, Chlavne caught with a laugh, and he replied with quip, as always.

And what did he do when Gittel came home with some money and handed him a few Groshen to buy some thread and wax and brushes? He became soft as butter and as sweet as honey. And his respect for women in general and Gittel in particular rose immediately. He stroked his high, white forehead (all shoemakers have high, white foreheads) and mused thoughtfully, philosophically:

"I can't understand what a wise man like King Solomon had against women. Do you know what King Solomon said about women? Or don't you?"

"Who cares about what King Solomon said? You go to the market for thread and wax and brushes. And see that you don't lose your way in some tavern."

At this far-fetched idea, Chlavne burst out laughing.

"Next you'll be telling me not to wear my heavy mittens in July or eat matzah on Yom Kippur! Which way is the marketplace and which way are the taverns? And besides, who would you think of going to have a drink, on a workday, in the middle of the week?"

But even while he was talking he was counting the money Gittel had given him by transferring it, coin by coin, from one hand to the other hand. Looking philosophically up at the ceiling with one eye closed, he was figuring out exactly how much he would need for thread, how much for wax and how much for brushes. And with a deep, deep sigh he quietly went out of the house and straight to the tavern.

From: Sholom Aleichem, The Old Country (trans. from Yiddish by Julius and Frances Butwin) NY: Crown Publishers, 1946 p. 51ff

Philip Goodman, Purim Anthology , Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1949, pages 168-70

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