Study Guide

Tevye the Dairyman Chava

By Sholem Aleichem


  • Okay. Get a hanky or a tissue out or something, because this story is crazy sad and kind of inexplicably unfair.
  • So, yeah, everything seems to be trucking along okay in Tevye's neck of the woods.
  • Tzeitl and Motl are doing fine, popping out baby after baby and being poor but happy.
  • Hodl sends letters about how she's making money to keep Perchik in illegal prison contraband, and she's hoping at some point he'll be able to get out.
  • Meanwhile, Golde is getting on Tevye's case as always about how they're going to marry off the rest of the girls—starting with pretty daughter number three, Chava.
  • The reason it's hard is that there's no dudes around, except for this one guy, Chvedka, and he's totally ineligible because, big problem: he's not Jewish—he's a Gentile.
  • Um, guys? You can kind of see where this is going, right?
  • So, one day, Tevye sees Chava and Chvedka chitchatting, and as soon as Chvedka sees him, he hightails it out of there. Do we really need to translate that little display of guilt?
  • Tevye is all up in Chava's face about why she's hanging out with this Gentile dude, and she gives as good as she gets, spouting off all that Biblical stuff about all people being children of God and equals and whatever.
  • Tevye isn't buying it, but his best comeback seems to be along the lines of "No, you shut up!" Which, not his most eloquent.
  • Anyway, a little later, the village priest comes for a chat with Tevye. Tevye likes the guy all right, but all their chats turn into arguments about religion.
  • But this time, the priest fills him on the fact that Chava has a readymade groom waiting for her. Tevye is super-angry, but the priest tries to reassure him that Chvedka is a really good dude, and just be cool, man, you know?
  • But if there's anything Tevye can't do under these circumstances, it's be cool. He flips out, and the priest lets him know that actually he's got Chava under his protection now. Meaning, she's run away from home.
  • Tevye rushes home and realizes that it's true—Chava is actually gone.
  • He and Golde talk it out, and she begs him to go to the priest and fall down on his knees in front him to plead to talk to Chava again.
  • Tevye is furious. He's got too much pride to beg a priest for anything.
  • But he does not have too much pride to run down to the priest's house, accuse him of being a word that rhymes with glass-mole, and demand to see Chava at once.
  • Does it work? Not so much.
  • So Tevye goes home, decides that this is the will of God, and makes his family sit shiva for Chava.
  • Sitting shiva is what you do when someone dies. It's a way of saying goodbye to someone who has left your life forever. Which, wow, super-cruel.
  • And then, to add some salt to that horrible festering wound, Tevye demands that his family neither think about nor mention Chava ever again. It's like he wants to erase her from the family.
  • He does a pretty good job of it, too. One day, after making deliveries in Yehupetz, Tevye sees Chava in the street.
  • She tries to get his attention, follows his wagon, and calls to him to stop.
  • He doesn't even look in her direction, even though he says that it took a superhuman amount of strength to control himself.
  • Cold as ice, right? Well, the whole time he's questioning his decision and arguing with himself about whether he should go and at least listen to what she has to say.
  • Instead, he just rides on without looking back. He doesn't even tell anyone that he saw her.
  • But now he knows where she lives. Sometimes, he goes the train station and imagines buying a ticket to visit her—but he always goes home.
  • Gee, is an invisible ninja cutting onions nearby? We warned you this one was killer.