5: Encyclopedia article, “Dogs,” by Anna Shternshis, 2010.
Throughout the novella, Zanvl is accompanied by his dog Morva. His canine companion is an unusual choice for an Eastern European Jew, since dogs were identified with evil and amoral behavior in Jewish holy texts, and were sometimes sicced upon Jews by local nobility. At the end of the novella, Zanvl’s choice to strangle a dog represents his ultimate social and moral decline.
Suggested Activity: Have students read the article on “Dogs” from the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Ask them to reflect on why Eastern European Jews had such a complicated relationship with dogs, and to compare this situation with the way dogs are talked about in contemporary American culture. Then ask them to find instances in which Morva and other dogs appear throughout the novella (such as chapters 3, 8, 10, 17, and 22). How does Zanvl treat Morva and the other dogs over the course of the book? How does his changing behavior towards these dogs reflect larger changes in his character?
In the final scene of the book, Zanvl strangles a dog. What is the emotional impact of this scene? How does Shloyme react and how does his reaction influence your interpretation of this moment?
Source: Anna Shternshis, “Dogs,” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Accessed March 3, 2020, online.