_The Mendele Review_: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to _MENDELE_)
Contents of Vol. 04.009
8 June 2000
                         shvues numer

                        [Shavuot Issue]

1) On Original and Translated Texts (ed.)
2) Velikie Luki and Rzhev [correction of error in TMR 04.008]
3) Pinye Plotkin
4) Uncle Pinya and Auntie Raissa (Sholem-Aleichem)

Date: 8 June 2000
From:  Leonard Prager 
Subject: On Original and Translated Texts (ed.)

The first priority of _The Mendele Review_ is to foster the reading and
study of Yiddish-language texts.  My eye was caught recently by the
title of a talk at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (of the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum):  "The Limits and Possibilities
of Writing in English about the Holocaust."  There is, of course, a vast
body of writing in Yiddish directly or indirectly connected to the Shoa,
and for some the Yiddish language itself is _yidish koydesh_, a memorial
to the millions who lived in Yiddish and who have perished.  The
scheduled speaker, Alan Rosen(1), was interested in examining "the ways
in which inherent characteristics of different languages affect writings
about the Holocaust."  While the Shoa is a special case, we might ask
ourselves:  What are the "inherent characteristics" of Yiddish in
general and how do they affect texts written in Yiddish, both Shoa and
non-Shoa texts?  Why do we prefer to read Yiddish texts in the original
rather than, say, in skilled translations in languages we may actually
know better than Yiddish?

Our advocacy of the original Yiddish-language text implies a belief in
the uniqueness and irreplaceability of the pristine work.  It implies
that there are qualities inherent in the Yiddish language which color
the reader's experience of Yiddish works.  Precisely what these inherent
qualities are is not easy to say, but we all feel them to be real.  The
kind of probing suggested by the title of Rosen's talk could perhaps
help us articulate our intuitions, analyze our impressions, understand
better our brief for Yiddish.

Just this week I learned of a case in which the donors of an English
translation of a yisker-bukh ['memorial book'] for the compendious and
ever-growing JewishGen website insisted that the Yiddish original be
given alongside the translation.  In this instance, the request honored
the wishes of the author of the yisker-bukh, but generally the
monumental JewishGen yisker-bukh enterprise consists solely of
translating texts into English.  It is assumed that few North American
Jews command enough Yiddish to read an entire book in that language and
that original Yiddish works will be available to a progressively smaller
number of readers and, ultimately, to specialists only.  We would like
to prevent this happening as far as it is possible to do so.

We also learned this past week (see _Mendele_ vol. 10.003) of Russian
colleagues who wish to create a kind of Onkelos Project of their own.
They aim to translate Yiddish texts into Russian (by all means a valid
objective) as distinct from our notion (see _Mendele_ 9.071) of
providing Yiddish originals for texts already translated (for the most
part quite well) into English.  A surprizing part of the Russian plan is
the speed with which it proposes to train Yiddish translators -- a
course or two, a half-year or so of study.  I would have thought that
years, perhaps even a lifetime, of living in Yiddish would be a basic --
though hardly the sole -- requirement for the successful translator from

Only unreconstructed snobs oppose translation.  Some degree of
translation is a necessary complement to Yiddish-language materials in
Yiddish publications of every kind.  Translation has many uses;
translation from and translation into a particlar language is a splendid
exercise for students.  When done well, translation communicates
something at least of the flavor of the original.  Alongside its
emphasis on Yiddish-language texts, _The Mendele Review_ will encourage
high-level translations from Yiddish into English, especially -- as in
this holiday issue -- of works hitherto untranslated into English.

We thank Louis Fridhandler, a Sholem-Aleichem scholar well known to the
Mendele community, for his skilful translation of the little-known
political satire "Der Feter Pinye mit der Mume Reyze" and promise a
similar treat in the next issue of _TMR_.  The primary focus of _The
Mendele Review_ will continue to be the Yiddish text, but translations
of a high order are welcome.

1) A visiting scholar at Baltimore Hebrew University and a lecturer in
English and Holocaust literature at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan,
Israel.  Editor of _Celebrating Elie Wiesel:  Stories, Essays,
Reflections_ (1998) and author of _Dislocating the End: Catastrophe and
the Invention of Genre_, due to be published this year.

Date: 8 June 2000
From: Hugh Denman  and Vulf Plotkin

Subject: Velikie Luki and Rzhev [correction of error in TMR 04.008]

Hugh Denman writes:  'Velikie Luki & Rzhev are fairly major towns in
Russia 458 km and 216 km west of Moscow respectively and staging posts
on the road to the Latvian frontier and to Riga.  If there is a comma
between Velikie and Luki it is a misprint, which is fairly evident if
you think of the literal meaning "Great (River-) Bends"'.  Vulf Plotkin
writes:  'Di erter in "Biz vanen ikh leb" zaynen tsvey (nit dray!)
shtet:  Rzhev un Velikiye Luki (di kome tsvishn di tsvey khalokim fun
eyn nomen iz poshet a feler).  Beyde lign afn ayznban fun Moskve tsu
Rige.  [The misprint is not in the original Plotkin text but in the
copied text in TMR 04.008 -- L.P.]

Date:  8 June 2000
From: ed.
Subject: Pinye Plotkin

Readers who have asked about Pinye Plotkin (see _TMR_ 04.008) should
see Iosif Vaisman's notice in _Mendele_ 9.071.

Date:  8 June 2000
From: Louis Fridhandler 
Subject: Uncle Pinya and Auntie Raissa (Sholem-Aleichem)

                  Uncle Pinya and Auntie Raissa

                       by Sholem Aleichem

Published in Yiddish [Der Feter Pinye mit der Mume Reyze] as a
separate booklet, No. 2 in the series, _Bikher Far Ale_ ['Books for
Everyone'], Warsaw, 1905.  Translated from Yiddish by Louis Fridhandler

Translator's introduction:  A few items of historical information may be
useful.  The Russian censor in Warsaw approved this story on March 11,
1905 [Old Style] not noticing(1), apparently, that Uncle Pinya and
Auntie Raissa(2) represented Japan and Russia respectively.  It was a
political satire in the form of an allegory mocking the witless,
blundering arrogance of Russia's military, especially its naval arm,
during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905.  When they finally realized
what it meant, government officials confiscated available copies
[according to a note in _Fargesene Bletlekh_, ed.  Y. Mitlman and Kh.
Nadel, Kiev, Melukhe Farlag, 1939, p. 336].

The character of Yankl-Dovid (clearly alluding to Yankee Doodle), a
well-to-do, ingratiating upstart, reflects the part that President
Theodore Roosevelt played as peacemaker.(3) Theodore Roosevelt won the
Nobel Peace Prize for arranging the eventual peace treaty.  At yet
another level, Yankl-Dovid may also refer to Jacob (Yankl) Schiff, an
American Jewish financier who arranged a loan to aid Japan's war effort.

Yankl-Dovid is the standard romanization of the name, but if pronounced
Yankl-Dovid the sound is closer to Yankee Doodle and is probably closer
to Sholem-Aleichem's own pronunciation.

Auntie Reyze's great-great granny, the guzzler, may be an allusion to
the hedonistic Catherine the Great.

It may jar current perceptions to note that, in 1904-05, the United
States sided with Japan.  However, at that time, Russia's expansionist
ambitions in the Far East raised deep American anxieties.  Japan was,
therefore, a potential ally.

Russian officialdom, though arrogantly confident of their great power,
were nevertheless aware of their crimes, and so feared retaliation.
Simon Dubnow in his _History of the Jews in Russia and Poland_, KTAV,
1975, Volume III, p. 95 (English translation) notes that the Russian
regime expected Jews to seek revenge for the Kishinev pogrom of April,
1903.  Furthermore, Jews were accused by Russians of helping Japan
because they were said to be "kinsmen by race" of the Japanese.  Sholem
Aleichem begins the satirical allegory by denying this kinship.

                    INTRODUCTION TO THE STORY:

Come and I'll tell you a story of my uncle and my auntie.  My auntie
(not my uncle) is my real blood relative; but an auntie is an auntie so
my uncle has to be an uncle.

The main thing is this.  I want you to learn a lesson:  how rotten it is
when people fight; how nasty when a man beats up a wife, or a wife a
husband; but O, how pleasant, how seemly it is when people dwell nobly
in harmony, as God has commanded.

                         THE STORY ITSELF:

Strong and tall with chubby face.  Big, thick, clumsy hands with dirty
fingernails.  Mannish voice.  A Tartar's heart.  A stingy, lazy piece of
goods.  Not so cruel as angry at the world.  A common creature.  There
you have her:  Auntie Raissa.

Another noble quality:  she loved to stuff herself with food, and
worshiped (may she forgive me, and this will go no further than between
us, probably)....  I'd come right out with it, but this....  This does
not befit a woman.  In short, she adored her dr inks, and really often;
and always plain, old booze; and only from a tea glass.

Some said it was a sickness.  Others figured it came down to her from
her great-great granny who (may her paradise be bright) was a virtuous
woman, but what a guzzler!

And yet, Auntie Raissa feared God.  She was pious.  She believed in
witchery, ghosts and werewolves, gnomes and dreams.  At every yawn she
spit three times.  With every sneeze she yanked her left ear.  She
hobnobbed with all the devout ladies in town.  Aro und her neck she
dangled charms and amulets from the rabbi for protection:  a person
truly holier than thou.

Quite the opposite was Uncle Pinya:  Small, dark, nimble, spirited and
charming, with little, oddly interesting eyes and sturdy legs; a foxy
fellow, fired up, and stubbornly determined.  And that little uncle of
mine had a marvelous head on his shoulders, clever hands.  And a mouth
like a flame-thrower!

Now see if you can picture this:  this wise, crafty little uncle was
frightened to death of that fat and foolish auntie, suffered hellish
torments in her presence, feared to part his lips lest he voice a
thoughtless word.

Why?  Why was he so afraid?  Was it only a sign of proper respect?  Or
was it because, on the quiet, she flung a swat now and then, and he
caught it?  Who can know what happens between man and wife when no one
else is looking?  Everyone knew that he held her in awe.  Whenever she
sent one stern glance in his direction, he quickly went feeble, quiet as
a kitten.  Was it, perhaps, because their match was arranged for the
sake of her money, or in pursuit of vanity?  Was it only because of her

Even while writing the nuptial agreement, it was rumored that the match
was not between equals.  Then, when he finally stood beside her under
the wedding canopy, his friends lamented and commiserated:  "Shlim-mazl!
He's hardly bigger than a puppy-dog by half a head, and still he
hitches on to such a hefty chunk!  If she ever lays a hand on him,
good-bye Pinya!"

Her husky voice would call to him, "Pincus!"  On top of that she'd stamp
her foot.  And he was paralyzed.  But then, when she would step out for
a while, he chattered away, let himself go like a coloratura.  He
frisked about like a colt, hop-hop-hop; and (may he pardon me for
pointing out his faults) he strutted and boasted, telling tall stories,
carving out lies.  To tell the truth, Auntie Raissa could claim no
perfection either in such matters; and, I think (maybe), she was caught
red-handed now and then . The only difference was that whenever she
invented a story, out came a clumsy whopper; but when he crafted a lie,
it came out nicely shaped, bright and cheery.

He was affable and friendly (concerned for everyone's health and
comfort, knew just how to get along), but she was just the opposite:
rough with people, jerked around the servants by their braids, rained
blows without pity for any creature, human, dog, or cat.  To her it made
no difference.  This, my Uncle Pinya couldn't bear, but he had to keep
his mouth shut.  What else could he do?  You must understand that being
afraid is a very serious matter, especially being afraid of wives, and
especially of a wif e like Auntie Raissa.

Everything in this world must end sooner or later.  That time came for
Uncle Pinya and Auntie Raissa.  The story unfolded like this:

Uncle Pinya had a dear, old friend; Yankl-Dovid by name.  This
Yankl-Dovid was a very important man of business, cunning and crafty, a
rascal boasting great new wealth, and (may he forgive me) a sassy
smart-aleck.  Everybody's darling!  One fine day our Y ankl-Dovid met
with Uncle Pinya, talking this and that.  "How's business?  How's your
health?  How are you and Auntie Raissa getting along?"

"Oh Oh Oh!" burst out from Uncle Pinya.

"What Oh Oh Oh?" asked Yankl-Dovid.  "What's that mean, this 'Oh Oh

Uncle Pinya looked embarrassed, casting eyes in all directions.

Yankl-Dovid pressed on, "Why do you spin like a Chanuka dreydl?"

"Sh- Sh-!..." said Uncle Pinya, still looking around.

"What's all that shushing for?" demanded Yankl-Dovid.  "Are you afraid
of your wife?  Is that it?  Come on, admit it!"

"Sh-, Sh-!  Not so loud!" said the stricken Uncle Pinya.

"You ox with a man's face!" shouted Yankl-Dovid.  "If you're that
frightened of that clod of clay, you deserve to be ground under foot!"

"Sh-Sh-Sh, what are you talking about?  Just look at the size of her.
Have you seen that hand, that foot?  Have you heard that woman's voice?"

"Half-wit!  Blithering son of a blockhead!  After all, aren't you a man?
Show your strength, you fool!  If you beat her good and proper, I
guarantee she'll turn as soft as dough, sweet as honey."

"B-b-beating?"  Uncle Pinya almost shuddered in terror, shivering like a
puny lamb.

"Smite her, you scraggly simpleton.  Whacks from swinging logs!  And
right in the face!  And don't miss a day!  All kinds of thumps, and fat

In short, Yankl-Dovid kept fanning the flames of evil passion until my
Uncle Pinya owned up to the bitter pill stuck in his gullet, and poured
his heart out as though to someone near and dear, and almost burst out

"Yankl-Dovid, brother, it's no good.  You hear?  I can't stand that
frump any more."

"Smack 'er, you ox!  You donkey!"


"Like with blocks of wood!"

                              * * *

When a fiend is fashioned by human design, he is far, far worse (they
say) than one that's born of nature.  Without any warning (it happened
one night in a flash), Pinya grew bigger.  Seething with anger, steeled
with new courage, he fell upon Auntie, pinching, punching, thumping her
from every side.

At first, she couldn't understand, and figured Uncle Pinya had taken
leave of his senses.  "Pincus!  May God be with you!  What are you

"You can see exactly what!  I'm hitting!"

"You?  Me?"

"I!  I!"

Auntie Raissa was stunned by those first hefty blows, and staggered for
days as though groggy from smoke.  She couldn't believe it.  She went
off to her folks, sought friendly advice, then came home.  She fixed her
eye on my uncle, and ordered up an explan ation.  "Just tell me this, y'
puny chipmunk, you so and so!  How dare you lift a hand to me, and why!
Just tell me why!"

At the sound of her mannish voice, Uncle Pinya went limp and lost the
use of hands and feet.  Then he started to wriggle like a fish on a
hook.  Lucky for him, Yankl-Dovid showed up at that moment.  Auntie
Raissa complained to Yankl-Dovid, charging Uncle Pinya with insulting a
virtuous woman, beating her black and blue.  "Mr.  Yankl-Dovid is like
one of the family," she said.  "I'm not embarrassed to tell him
everything.  You hear, Yankl-Dovid?  This so and so tore me apart, broke
my thickest bones...!"  And Auntie Raissa rolled up her sleeve to show
her black-and-blue arm, as swollen as a pillow.

That elegant fellow, Yankl-Dovid, nodded his head (or so it appeared),
thoughtfully smacked his lips, all the while seeming to hum through his
nose:  "Bravo, Pinya, Bravo!"

"No!" protested Auntie Raissa, tears a-flowing.  "How dare he raise his
hand to me?  And for what?  No!  No!  Let him tell me.  For what?  For
what?  FOR WHAT?"  And so while repeating it (each time higher and
louder:  For what?  For what?), she drew nearer, ever closer to Uncle
Pinya.  She hoisted her arm, about to deal out Pinya's proper share of
blows..., when a miracle happened.

Uncle Pinya sprung at her face like a cat.  Slaps and punches rained on
poor Auntie Raissa.  It was pitiful!

"There!  Now, do you know for what?"  That (along with a faint smile)
was Uncle Pinya's hot reply.

That worthy fellow, Yankl-Dovid, stood by with a face showing tender
compassion.  Then he seemed to nod his head as he smacked his lips, and
hummed through his nose:  "Bravo, Pinya, bravo!"

Auntie Raissa flew into an awful rage.  She staked out a spot in the
middle of the house, and with a blue-flecked, ruddy face she announced:
"Hear this well, you fatherless whelp!  When you beat me and mocked me
in private and nobody saw, I didn't utter a peep; but now that even
strangers know everything, I dare you!  Hit me.  Come on!  Try!"

Auntie Raissa rolled up her sleeves, and moved very close to Uncle Pinya.
Then she began to catch his blows:  top and bottom, this side, that side
until the windows shook and rang.  Pummeled and torn limb from limb,
dripping blood, Auntie Raissa kept crawli ng back to him saying, "I'd
like to see you try that again.  Come on, again!"  And he obliged her
again and again.

And that worthy gentleman, Yankl-Dovid, stood by, pretending
astonishment, nodding his head, smacking his lips, and softly chanting
through his nose:  "That's the way, Pinya, bravo!"

                               * * *

Surely, you all remember that little ditty:

Kitty-katty, pretty kitten,
See the pony prancing.
When a daddy beats a mommy,
Children run a-dancing.

                               * * *

May we all be kept safe from that which befell that household.  Everyone
did whatever they wanted.  My uncle himself egged on the children:  the
older to disobey mama, the younger to thumb their noses at her.  The
servants fought like cats; they looted and snatched whatever they saw as
though the fate of the world depended on it.

"Aw, the hell with all of this!"

So said Auntie Raissa, and took to her bottle.  In short, it was ugly,
becoming so ghastly that the couple nearly divorced to save them both
from utter ruin.  Then Yankl-Dovid, Uncle Pinya's friend, butted in to
offer himself as peacemaker.  He said, "Now, my fine friends, is the
right time for you to make up, become comrades, and build a new life."

Long did Yankl-Dovid labor and argue; first with one and then the other.
"Haven't you had enough?  Enough brawling!" he said, "Enough being
snickered at by decent folks!  The whole family could be wrecked!"  But
that, he discovered, did as much good as t he snows of yesteryear.  The
family would not allow outside help, even though Auntie Raissa was
battered and torn and bloody and walked around with puffy eyes and
swollen cheeks.  On top of that (as though that wasn't enough), she
added to her troubles by hanging on to her swollen pride like a stubborn
bulldog.  Unbelievable!  People tried to give her advice.  "Think of
what may be?  Is there no limit?  You'll get buried alive!"

"O, yeah?  Just wait and see!" she answered.  "Stay a while, and see who
buries whom!"

"At least get a divorce, and let that be the end of it!"

"Divorces?  Get one from him?  Plagues and boils, a miserable death is
all he can give!  But you'll see.  He'll hit me and hit me until he gets
tired.  Wait and see!"

Her family encouraged her to be firm, so she stopped listening to
friends, and defied all advice.  All the while she kept taking it:
hefty punches, heavy swats, high and low, fore and aft.  To make a long
story short, people could no longer bear to look a t this pitiful sight.
They stepped into the fray and brought them to a referee.  Both were
made to sign a paper promising that:

1) No more beatings by either one; no more quarrels, no malicious

2) She may no longer tipple whiskey save on the Sabbath or on holidays.

3) She must, like other wives, be neat and clean with no loud talking;
no more meddling in the children's affairs.

4) She may no longer batter servants nor torment the cat.

5) And he must treat her with honor, with kindness and courtesy.  No
insults, no finger-pointing.

6) He must ensure that she learn Hebrew, pray and read a Yiddish holy
book, seek out every obligation of the pure in heart, ponder the moral
path; learn to be respectful, to get along.

7) Then will the children surely honor her, and the servants
defer to her respectfully.

After the paper was properly signed and filed, the couple reached home
safely in peace and serenity.  They dwelt together as doves of peace
(that's what people say), as tranquil as sheep, like a just-married
bride and groom, in riches and honor.

                               * * *

All's well that ends well.  O, may the One above grant that all be as
well, now and forever, for us and the House of Israel, and for all
peoples of this earth.



1. The Israeli historian Aharon Ariel adds this comment:  "Another
possibility is that the censor who allowed publication of the story
understood its political message but chose to assume the guise of one
who did not.  Government censors of Hebrew and Yiddish were generally
converts who were fully conversant with strategems for sending political
and social messages in purportedly literary works.  They sometimes found
it possible to allow a work to pass if its subject was in some way
disguised -- as in the case of Bialik's poem on the Kishinev pogrom, "Ir
hariga" ['City of Slaughter'], which was passed by the censor under the
dissembling title, "Masa Nemirov" ['The Nemirov March'], a fairly
transparent title pointing to a massacre by Chmelnitsky two and a half
centuries earlier.

2. The name _Pinye_ is first of all a shortened form of the
Yiddish/Hebrew name _Pinkhes_/_Pinkhos.  The author gives the hero of
the story a "friendly" name.  _Pinye_ is also a rearrangement of the
consonants in the Yiddish name for Japan -- _yapan_.  _Pinye_ sugggests
the register of familiarity - the diminution points, too, to the real or
attributed shortness of Japanese men as compared to most Westerners.
The female name _Reyze_ ('Rosa', a dialectal variant of _Royze_) echoes
the Russian name for Russia -- _Rossia_, which is pronounced /rosiya/.
_Reyze_ is not diminutized to _Reyzl_, _Reyzele_, or _Reyzke_ as it
so often is.  Part of the allegorical intent of the author may be to
preserve the sense of a large and imposing woman who becomes ridiculous
when battered by a small man.  Louis Fridhandler has reminded me that in
one of his Menakhem-Mendl letters, Sholem-Aleichem punningly refers to
Russia as _roshe_ ('evil one').  This particular pun may not work with
_Reyze_, but it is an additional instance of Sholem-Aleichem's word-play
on the name of the country of his birth. [L.P.]

3. Aharon Ariel writes:  "President Theodore Roosevelt wished to curb
Russian expansion in the East.  He understood that Russian resources far
outweighed those of Japan, whose success in the Russo-Japanese War was
based largely on the element of surpise.  He intervened before the
befuddled Russian general staff could redeploy fresh troops to the East
to reverse the situation.  Russia nursed a grudge against Roosevelt,
whose intervention led to a peace treaty reflecting Japanese success at
its peak.

4. SCHIFF, JACOB HENRY (1847-1920), U.S. financier and philanthropist.
Born in Frankfort, Germany, he was the descendant of a distinguished
rabbinical family (see Schiff, Meir b. Jacob).  He received a thorough
secular and religious education at the local school of the Israelitische
Religionsgesellschaft, then followed his father, Moses, who was
associated with the Rothschild banking firm, into that occupation.  At
the age of 18 Schiff emigrated to the United States, entered a brokerage
firm in New York, and became a partner in Budge, Schiff and Co.  In 1875
he married the daughter of Solomon Loeb, head of the banking firm of
Kuhn, Loeb and Co., and entered that firm.  Schiff's remarkable
financial abilities were recognized when he was named head of Kuhn, Loeb
in 1885.  Schiff's firm soon became one of the two most powerful private
investment banking houses in the United States, participating actively
in fostering the rapid industrialization of the U.S. economy during the
late 19th and early 20th century.

"Schiff was prominently involved in floating loans to the government at
home and to foreign nations, the most spectacular being a bond issue of
$200,000,000 for Japan at the time of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05.
Deeply angered by the anti-Semitic policies of the czarist regime in
Russia, he was delighted to support the Japanese war effort.  He
consistently refused to participate in loans on behalf of Russia, and
used his influence to prevent other firms from underwriting Russian
loans, while providing financial support for Russian Jewish self-defense
groups."  [from the _Encyclopaedia Judaica_ (Jerusalem, 1971, vol. 14,
cols. 960-1)]

Aharon Ariel adds:  "Jacob Henry Schiff not only hated anti-Semitic
Russia but headed a group of Jewish bankers in the United States, Great
Britain and Germany, who guaranteed war loans to Japan in unprecedented
amounts.  He received a high medal of honor from the Japanese emperor,
the first westerner to be granted such a distinction; his name became a
household word in Japan.  The Japanese came to believe antisemitic
propaganda, including _The Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ which
claimed the Jews controlled the United States and Britain and caused the
downfall of the czar.  However, the Japanese concluded that if the Jews
were indeed so powerful it was politic to assure their support.  This
helps to explain the policy of giving asylum in Japan and in lands
conquered by Japan to Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany."

End of _The Mendele Review_ 04.009

Leonard Prager, editor

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