Jacob P. Adler,
who plays Teibele, the daughter of David and Chanale
who plays Moses, a Chasid and son-in-law of David Meisheles
David Levenson, who
The scene is laid in Wilna, Western
Russia, in the house of a very rich merchant, one David
It is the Festival of Purim. David’s wife
and trusted servant Shamai are setting the table for the
Suda (Purim Dinner). A teacher named Jaffe comes to give
a lesson to the youngest daughter Teibele. He was once a
Jeshiba-Bachur [yeshiva student] (Talmudic Student); now
he is an Epikoros, and attends the Rabbinical Seminary
at Wilna. The old mother informs him that it is the
Feast of Purim, whereupon her daughter requests that he
be invited to the Suda. Her mother consents, on the
condition that he refrain from behaving like an
unorthodox Epikoros at the table; for she was afraid of
the old man, Shamai, who has no liking for the “Educated
Epikorsim,” passes humorous remarks. Chanele is awaiting
her husband who is soon to arrive. Meanwhile she sends
Shamai for her two daughters, their husbands and
children. They soon arrive.
The older of the sons-in-law belongs to
the sect “Mithagdim,” a cold man, well versed in
Talmudic Law, but a calculating egotist. The other is a
“Chasid,” of hot temper, unlettered, but with fine
impulses, and very enthusiastic. At the table a quarrel
soon ensues between the two couples, but they are
suddenly checked by the words of Shamai, “Reb David is
The old man is good-humored, and is
pleased to see Jaffe, the Epikoros. He asks him to put
on his had and drinks with him “L’Chayem” [sp] to each
The old man proceeds to give rich Purim
gifts to his two older daughters, who accept them with
demonstrations of deep appreciation. To the youngest
daughter he gives a diamond brooch valued at 800 rubles.
She thanks him with quiet dignity, but adds that she
sees no use in such finery. “Men who are fond of
diamonds,” says she, “are like savages who are attracted
by glittering pieces of glass.” The old man becomes
furious, and throws her gift aside impulsively; but when
the others start to insult Teibele, he takes her part,
saying, “People favored by God and nature have no need
After the Suda, the old man suddenly
announces his intention of retiring from business and
departing for Jerusalem immediately after Passover to
spend his last days in the study of the Law and the
service of God. His wife is astonished at this sudden
announcement, and is hurt that he did not take counsel
with her, but Reb David declares he need not take
counsel with anyone, but at his command she must be
ready to depart with him. His fortune of 310,000 rubles
he turns over to his children, expressing the hope that
they will live together in peace and harmony and
continue to be filial to him. He is anxious to hear the
opinion of his children concerning this resolution. All
thank him, but Teibele predicts that he will regret the
step. Her brutal frankness excites the old man, who
orders her immediately out of the house.
Jaffe, the teacher, tells David the story
of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and compares Teibele to
Cordelia. He expresses the hope that David’s may not be
the fate of Shakespeare’s unfortunate King.
The old man laughs at him with contempt,
promises to take his trusted servant Shamai to Palestine
with him, and bids all to make merry.
The same house.—One year after.
The older son-in-law, Jesel Charef, and
his wife, Etelle, are masters of the house. David
Meiseles, his wife and Shamai have returned from the
Holy Land. He was disappointed with the life of the Jews
there. His independent nature revolted against the
institution of the Chalukah. The older daughter orders
her mother harshly to rock the baby to sleep, and to
inspect the linen and the old clothes to see if they
need mending. The old mother, with pathetic resignation,
rocks the child, weeps and dozes away. Soon David
Meisheles comes from the Beth Hamidrash (Synagogue). He
is very hungry. No one is thoughtful enough to give him
food. His wife declares that everything is under lock
Teibele enters and informs her old father
that she intends to go to St. Petersburg to study
medicine. He objects to this, for he does not like the
idea of her becoming too independent and unlike other
Jewish daughters. When she asks for money from Josele,
her brother-in-law, he consents to give her twenty-five
rubles a month, on condition that she should agree
legally to give up her share in the fortune. David
Meisheles does not interfere with this arrangement,
because, in his opinion, the money is now her own, and
she can do with it what she pleases. Moses, the younger
son-in-law, comes home drunk from the Synagogue. The
Chasid is very much dissatisfied with his
brother-in-law, the Mithnagid, because he appropriated
the entire fortune to himself, and expresses his protest
by frequently getting drunk. He insults the old man with
vulgar remarks, and Shamai take him out of the room.
Thereupon Josele turns Teibele out of
doors, and the old mother, weeping bitterly, wishes to
know the reason for her daughter’s sudden ejectment.
Josele, in his anger, drives her into the kitchen. Then
David bursts out in rage, and denounces his mean
treatment. He shows up the cruelty of his son-in-law,
reminding him of the fact that he did not keep the
agreement to send him the monthly allowance to
Jerusalem, and now humiliates him in his own house.
Josele replies, and declares that as master he can do
what he chooses.
David’s old energy is once more aroused.
He orders that he be addressed standing, as a sign of
respect, and demands that the keys to his safe and
property be returned to him. Josele is frightened and
obeys. Then David calms down and declares that though
the Russian laws allow him to reclaim his donated
possession, his conscience would not permit him to
retract his words.
His drunken son-in-law forces himself
again into the room and creates a scandalous
disturbance. The old man, overwhelmed by such a scene in
his house, where once was a sanctuary, falls into a
The Same house.—Five years later.
Josie declares to his wife that neither
Teibele, who has completed her course in medicine at St.
Petersburg, nor Moses, the Chasid, can claim any share
in the property, as the same had been legally
transferred to him by his brother. They go out, leaving
Shamai rocking the cradle. He dreams of food and falls
asleep. Teibele arrives and informs him that she is
already a doctor; that Jaffe, also, has graduated from
the medical school, and that he could have risen to the
position of Professor in the University, if he had
chosen to become a Christian. Shamai tells her how sad
is the lot of her father; he has become blind. The
mother was soon to bring the old man from the Synagogue.
They arrive. The old woman leaves the room to beg some
food for her husband. In the meantime, Shamai prepares
him for the meeting with his daughter. She falls into
his arms, the father and daughter weeping bitterly.
Josele and Ettele enter and express
no joy over the arrival of the guest. Teibele
indignantly asks why food is not given her father.
She breaks open the closet and runs to call Jaffe.
Josele sneeringly expresses his surprise that such a
learned man as David should make such a fuss about
food. He ironically adds that if God wills it no man
can die of hunger. Does he not provide for the dogs?
They can go without food for three days.
David thinks himself alone in the room.
His sad condition provokes an outburst of deepest
despondency, and leads him to reason on the evils of the
world. He considers himself happy that his blindness
protects him from seeing the false faces of men. His
happiness would have been complete, if he were deaf, and
thus spared from hearing their foul speech. A dog can
live without food for three days, but Man, the Thinker,
the Philosopher, must eat every seven hours!
The Chasid enters with many Chasidim.
They are drunk, sing, and rush to the kitchen to devour
all the food in sight. Moses came to assert his
authority as master of the house. David Meisheles is
ousted from his chair. When he calls for the faithful
Shamai, he is ridiculed; when he asks to be taken to the
door, he is led to the wall. Teibele and Jaffe enter and
ask David to authorize them to protect his interests.
They offer to go to the Procuror and the Governor. The
old man will hear of nothing. He only calls for his
faithful servant, Shamai. Jaffe and Teibele,
nevertheless, go to the Procuror. David can no longer
endure it, and leaves the house with Shamai to beg.
Rather than live the life of shame in his own house, he
prefers to die in the streets.
He is bitterly reminded of Jaffe’s early
allusion to King Lear, and in despairing mockery calls
out: “Give alms to the new beggar! Alms to the Jewish
Shamai leading, they leave the house.
A few months later.
It is the wedding day of Teibele and
Jaffe. The joy of the occasion is clouded by the absence
of their father, of whose whereabouts they know nothing.
Josele and his wife come to the house uninvited. They
complain that Josele’s brother is about to appropriate
for himself all the property by virtue of the transfer,
and ask Jaffe’s aid. Shamai, without telling David,
leads him to his children. David does not know where he
is. He hears weeping, and asks what the cause is. They
reveal the whole truth to him. David forgives all, begs
his children to live in peace, and declares that money,
and even education, is of little worth. The greatest
thing in the world is love; without it there can be no
the wife of David
Yosele Charef, one of David's
who plays Gitele
who plays Shamai, servant to