Rothschild Fiddle Jewish Controversy
Rothschild’s Fiddle Anti-Semitic Views in Russia Culture and Liturature The setting of “Rothschild’s Fiddle” is in a small poverse village where two key characters Yakov Ivanov, a Russian coffin maker, and Rothschild, an equally poor Jewish musician live. Yakov lives in a one-room hut, which contains all the furnishings as well as his coffins. Yakov barely notices his wife of fifty years, Martha. Yakov has something interesting about himself that is unexpected; he is a gifted violinist. He played in a local orchestral group that plays for weddings.
Yakov appears cynical towards the conductor by describing how he would always take half the earnings for himself after performances. The coffin maker needs the occasional money, he dislikes Jewish musicians in general; especially the flutist Rothschild, who turns even the smallest song into a masterpiece. Yakov abuses Rothschild and at one point almost physically hits him. Because of this Yakov is no longer allowed to play with the orchestra except on rare occasions when he is “desperately” needed. After this point Rothschild becomes very unhappy even more so than usual.
You also start to notice that on top of his egocentrical nature he is very selfish. All he begins to notice is loss in money he has taken and is so engrossed in this dilemma that when his wife tells him she is about to die he begins contemplate it even after her death. He began to measure her for her coffin before she even died, and made the log in his book “For 1 coffin for Martha Ivanov—2 rubles, 40 kopeks. ” Yakov began to remember that he had never said one kind word to her throughout the 50 years of marriage.
You can see at this point how the main character, Yakov, approached death only to make the realization that he had wasted his life. This has been noted by many people in many different tragedies, illnesses. However, despite the ability of humans to learn from the experiences of others, this insight is not one that people often act upon until something prompts them to do so. Chekhov himself, fought against tuberculosis for ten years of his life before writing Rothschild’s Fiddle, was very aware of how precious life is.
Yakov, feeling uneasy as he walks home from the cemetery, reflects on his lifelong neglect of his wife in spite of her uncomplaining labor and help. At this point, a nervously bowing and scraping Rothschild approaches with a message from the Jewish Orchestra leader, inviting Yakov to play for a wedding. The coffin maker once again abuses and threatens the cowering flute player. As Rothschild runs away the children watching this happening chase after him screaming “Jew, Jew! For the most part, among the educated and liberal classes of late Imperial Russia, it was considered inelegant to support views that overtly anti-Semitic; Although that did not stop leading lights such as Pushkin, Aksakov, and Chekhov. Yakov’s anti Semitism in “Rothschild’s Fiddle” is but a particular example of Chekhov’s theme of breaking free to establish relationships outside of one’s comfort zone. Could Chekhov have been showing his own feelings through this story? Yakov finally succeeds in reaching out to others and does so in the form of his music.
First, to his archenemy Rothschild through his death song and the gift of his violin, and then through Rothschild who brings that melody to others. Russian anti-Semitism naturally also had a religious dimension: Jews killed Christ; they used Christian blood for their matzos; and they awaited their Messiah who was in fact the anti-Christ. The Talmud was a prescription for the worst excesses of capitalism. These beliefs encouraged popular hostility toward Jews as untrustworthy, clannish, too shrewd in money matters, cheats, shirking hard labor, unclean with peculiar odor, and odd in appearance.
For many, Judaism was equivalent to Satanism. A frequent charge was that Jews profited inordinately from the liquor trade and actively corrupted the poor peasantry into drinking excess. The facts however, do not support this view. There was less drunkenness and alcohol-related crime in those areas inhabited by Jews and their taverns than elsewhere in the Russian empire. It seems as though it was convenient for the government officials and others to have the Jews as scapegoats for failures of state social and economic policies. Similar beliefs and issues were prevalent in World War II.
However Rothschild’s Fiddle takes place many years before World War II, it shows how far back anti-semitism went. After Yakov’s encounter with Rothschild he walks down by the river for the first time in many years. The same river his wife had told him of before she died. The one they went to and took their child. Suddenly he comes to the willow tree and recalls the dead child. Yakov now falls into regretful reflection of his lost opportunities. He regrets his harsh treatment of his wife and the Jew. “If it were not for envy and anger man would get great profit from one another. The following morning, Yakov becomes ill and returns to the doctor. He is not given much information and understands that he is not long for the world. As he walks home, he thinks that after his death he will “no longer have to eat and drink and pay taxes, neither would he offend people anymore. ” He concludes that life is a loss, and death is a profit. At home he begins to play his violin with tears streaming down his face. Rothschild once again approaches him timidly about the conductor’s request. This time Yaakov greets him with kindness.
Yakov tells him that he is ill, and still continues to play the violin. Later that day, when the village priest asks the dying man if there is any particular sin of which he wishes to repent, Yakov asks that his violin be given to Rothschild. Time passes, and the townsfolk begin to wonder what happened to Yakov, as well as why Rothschild now plays his violin. An even greater mystery is the source of the song he plays, which is so entrancingly sorrowful that wealthy merchants plead in having him come to their homes and play it over and over again.
The theme of Yaakov’s losses is also important. “Losses” is the most frequently used word in the story according to Masterplots II. Through this repetition it assumes symbolic meaning, referring to far more than Yakov’s hypothetical financial setbacks. To have poisoned his life, and he has lost the capacity for love and simple pleasures. In fact the death of his wife is the sole real loss that Yakov suffers, and it is only with this that he begins to reflect on his life.
The final irony is that it is the Jew Rothschild rather than Yakov himself who prifts and recoups from the coffin maker’s “losses. ” Works Cited Adams, Michael. “Rothschild’s Fiddle. ” Masterplots II: Short Stories Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood, NJ: Salem Press, 1986. 1994-97. Print Weitzman, Ronald. “Fleischmann, Shostakovich, and Chekhov’s ‘Rothschild’s Fiddle’. ” Tempo. New Series, No. 206, Power, Politics, Religion…. And Music (Sep. , 1998), pp. 7-11. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved Sep. 11, 2011 Pereira, N. G. O. Negative Images of Jews in Recent Russian Literature. ” Canadian Slavonic Papers. Edmonton: Mar-Jun 2006. Vol. 48, Iss. 1/2; pg. 47, 19 pgs. Retrieved Sep 11, 2011. http://proquest. umi. com/pqdweb? index=0&did=1128292401&SrchMode=1&sid=6&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1315778519&clientId=19896 McKee, Patrick L. , Theim, John. “Real Life: Ten Stories of Aging. ” University of Press Colorado. 1994. Print. “Hingley, Ronald Francis. ” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Web. 11 Sep, 2011.