Di gebrider Lurye

[The Brothers Luria]


Act I. A room in the house of the rabbi, Reb Shraga, a kind, generous man, who constantly gives away anything he thinks is superfluous--which is just about everything he ever gets, much to the chagrin of his wife, Sarah. He is preparing a party to celebrate just having completed a reading of the Talmud when Gedalye Luria enters. He complains that his brother Tuvye, to whom he hasn’t spoken in years, is building a mill right outside his window. Tuvye is sent for, and enters with a sack of flour, which the rabbi insists is superfluous and orders to be donated to charity. The two brothers immediately start quarreling, and when Tuvye reveals that he knows about all of Gedalye’s movements because Gedalye’s daughter Rivke tells Tuvye’s son Yankl. They send for the children. Unlike their fathers, the first words out of each child’s mouth are charitable ones, and they fail to comprehend their parents’ feud. They are sent off, and the fathers’ argument descends further into more name-calling and, ultimately, a fistfight as the curtain falls.

Act II. Yankl speaks to one of Rivke’s servants, who tells him that Rivke can’t see him because she’s promised her father not to do so. They go. Rivke tells her father that though she loves him, she is afraid of him. Shraga and Sarah enter. He says to Rivke, “How are you, child? Young people should be like young trees, they should bloom and grow.” She responds, pointedly, “And old people should be like old trees, they should protect us and give us good fruit.” Alter and his son Rakhmiel arrive; Gedalye has selected the wealthy but uneducated Rakhmiel as a husband for Rivke; with such a match, he can ruin Tuvye. Knowing how resistant she will be and what a short temper he has, Gedalye asks Shraga to help persuade her. Rakhmiel leads the men in a song, which is interrupted by a shofar blast and flour being thrown in through the window. After this disturbance, Shraga and Rivke are left alone, and she admits to him that she is in love with Yankl and hopes that the feud will end some day, so they can marry. When Gedalye returns and learns she won’t accept his choice of a husband for her, he becomes incensed. When she insists that “I can’t obey you by loving someone my heart tells me not to love,” Gedalye cries, “Your heart! I’ll tear out your treyf (non-kosher) heart and stomp on it, I’ll tear out your eyes that look at what they shouldn’t, you impudent slut!” Shraga tries to calm him, but Gedalye pushes him violently out of the room. His behavior deteriorates further; first he hits Rivke, then breaks her hand. When her mother, hearing her screams, calls for a doctor, Rivke asks, “What are you afraid of? It’s no great tragedy. Better to lose a hand than one’s soul and one’s entire life, isn’t that right, Daddy dear?” After a pause, he responds, “Oy, Rivkele, my only daughter,” and embraces her.

Act III. A street. Gedalye’s fancy house next to Tuvye’s simpler one. Workers in Tuvye’s place are singing, and when Gedalye tells them to stop, they say Tuvye is paying them to sing. Gedalye says he’ll pay them twice as much, so they stop. He goes when he sees Tuvye coming. He is hoping to see his lawyer, who has promised to come up with a law that will help him win 300 rubles from Gedalye. Sarah and Shraga pass through on the way to visiting Rivke. Shraga again urges Tuvye to forgive his brother, as he already has. Yankl enters, and again calls for an end to the feud: “Maybe some day, the fire from the burning hatred between you will be extinguished. You’re burning your own children in that fire.” Tuvye says that though he loves Rivke, the daughter of his arch-enemy could never be his daughter in-law. He gets so incensed about it that he breaks his walking stick, but Yankl is equally insistent. They decide to go their separate ways so they don’t come to blows. Rakhmiel enters on his way to Gedalye’s to find out how things stand. Yankl tells him to go home, threatens him with force, and chases him off. Shraga returns, goes to Tuvye’s window, and again pleads in vain with him. Gedalye, Sarah, and a doctor come from Gedalye’s house. Rivke’s hand will heal, but she has a potentially fatal “nervous fever.” The doctor says there is nothing he can do: “It is impossible to cure someone who no longer wants to live.” He tries to go, but Shraga detains him and tells him the story of the feud. The doctor tells him that she can recover if the family situation settles down. When Shraga goes on to tell the doctor how the feud keeps the lovers apart, the doctor chides Gedalye, “Herr Luria, be assured that your daughter’s life is in your hands. So be well, and do not forget that your child doesn’t have long to live.” He, Shraga, and Sarah leave; Gedalye is shocked into making peace with Tuvye. He knocks on his brother’s door, and Tuvye receives him icily until he says why he’s come. Tuvye then readily invites him in, but Gedalye collapses on the threshold.

Act IV. Again at the rabbi’s house, again preparing for a party: peace between the two sides of the Luria family, and the pending engagement of their children. Kalonymus the Cantor arrives. Tuvye and Gedalye meet with Shraga to go over their contract, which Gedalye says should be drawn up according to Tuvye’s wishes. They are as follows: Gedalye will pay Tuvye half of their grandfather’s inheritance, with interest for 20 years; the contract will declare that their grandfather made a mistake in making his whole will over to Gedalye; Gedalye will pay all of Tuvye’s legal costs involving the dispute: 4475 roubles and 35 kopecks. And on the Sabbath, before the Torah reading, Gedalye will publicly apologize to Tuvye. The fathers leave Shraga to write up the contract. Rivke and then Yankl arrive, they kiss in Shraga’s presence. Then Rakhmiel and his father enter, and are quite upset about the change in the arrangements. Yankl and Rivke ask that Rakhmiel be compensated generously for the embarrassment. Then Shraga reads the contract aloud. Both Rivke and Yankl are astonished at the terms. Tuvye signs, then Gedalye, but when it comes to Rivke, she tears it up, saying, “I would be the unhappiest woman in the world if I knew that my happiness was bought for such a terrible price--that you should want to make my father, the great Gedalye Luria, so small and lowly!” Yankl tearfully assures her that he knew nothing of the terms his father is demanding. With everyone crying and pleading to Tuvye to relent, he finally break down and embraces his brother. Shraga calls the cantor in to lead everyone in a song.