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Reading Response: Faith as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a classic drama, which holds the moral that all traditions at one point or the other will change. Tevye, the dairyman, feels like his daughters is losing their Jewish Heritage. Tevye prays to God that his daughters will not lose their Jewish heritage. Judy David Rounds, president of Sierra Nevada Performing Arts proclaimed:

Tevye is in traditions mode, and his daughters start saying, “I don’t want to marry who you asked me to marry, I want to marry outside the Jewish faith.” Part of the story is Tevye having to come to this realization that he can no longer be rooted in tradition, it is going to change around him, and he will have to give a little bit. (as cited in Raenell, 2014, para. 4)

Rounds was correct in the fact that Tevye must face the music and accept the fact that the all traditions changes over time.

The drama takes place in a village in 1905 during the beginning of a revolution as the tsar starts to evict Jews (Raenell, 2014, para.1). The Tsar abhorred the Jews and evicted the Jews from the homes simply because he had the power to do so. The Rabbi did not like the Tsar for his not-so-nice orders. The Setting was in a small village of Anatevka which is rooted in the Jewish way of life. There are several characters that are worth mentioning in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ The Characters are Tevye, Perchik, Tzeitel, Motel, Lazar Wolf, Yente, Constable, and Tevye’s Daughters.

There is Tevye, who is the dairyman. Tevye likes his life to remain the same. Tevye wants his daughters to be rich and not have a life of poverty. This is demonstrated in the song “If I were a rich man.” Tevye believes without tradition, their life and customs will be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof. He feels as though he is losing his daughters to secular ideologies such as making your own matches. However, Tevye needs to change his ways and accept change.

There is Perchik, who is the student. He is not a Jew yet wants to marry Tevye’s daughter Hodel. He was called to serve in the Ukrainian Revolution. Ultimately, Perchik got captured and sent to prison. Hodel was heartbroken to hear the news that Perchik was sent to prison.

Tzeitel is Tevye Daughter, who pledged to marry Motel Kamzoil. However, Tzeitel does not have permission from her father to marry Motel Kamzoil. Tzeitel gets the vibes from her father that He wants her to be rich and merry. Tzeitel is very happy when her father changes his mind and allowed her to marry Motel Kamzoil.

Motel Kamzoil is nothing but a poor tailor. Motel Kamzoil feels like he is entitled “to some happiness.” Motel Kamzoil is an honest worker but does not make a lot of money doing the work he does. As a result, he lives in poverty. Motel is also scared to ask the father for permission to marry Tzeitel.

Lazar Wolf is a rich butcher. Lazar was so frustrated with the fact that Motel was going to marry Tzeitel. Lazar Wolf was also frustrated with the fact that their agreement was broken. Lazar Wolf was not happy, not happy at all. Lazar Wolf in such a mood that on their wedding day, he proclaimed, “That should have been me.” To put it bluntly, Lazar Wolf would have objected to the wedding if he could.

Tevye’s daughters are Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke. The Daughters are dreaming of marrying the perfect match. Tzeitel fall in love with Motel, the poor tailor. Hodel fell in love with Perchik which defied the Jewish customs of that day. Both Tzeitel and Hodel defiled the Jewish Customs and made their own matches.

Yente is the most important character because she is the matchmaker who makes love matches for each person. Matchmaker song describes this detail, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch, look through your book and make me a perfect match” (Stein, 1964, pg. 17). Tevye’s daughters sang those beautiful lyrics because they desire to be married to the perfect man even if it defies traditions.

The Constable is gruff old Russian Authority who is out to get the Jews evicted. The Constable directs an “unofficial demonstration” (Stein, 1964, pg. 53) during Tzeitel and Motel’s weddings, and then forces all the Jewish villagers to leave Anatevka. Constable proclaims, “We have received orders that sometime soon this district is to have a little unofficial demonstration” (Stein, 1964, pg. 53). Not to mention the fact that once the demonstration is over, you, Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan, will have to leave the beautiful town of Anatevka. This order ensures that all the Jewish villagers living in Anatevka must leave because the tsar does not want them to live in a plentiful town of Anatevka. Even though Tevye heard this pain-staking news, he gave thanks to God and remained faithful to God in his Jewish way of life.

The themes of ‘A Fiddler on the Roof’ are traditions, diaspora, and persecution, which are rather interesting. Traditions are valuable in every culture and ethnicity. However, Traditions can change. Tradition is the main theme of the play with subthemes in the mix. Diaspora is the subtheme in the Fiddler on the Roof.

Traditions are very important to the chosen Jewish race. It keeps the town of Anatevka going. Tevye explained:

Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything–how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God…because of our tradition, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do. (Stein, 1964, pg. 2)

This phrase by Tevye indicates that without tradition, their town won’t be the same. The reason people have traditions is because people do not like change. Tradition is highlighted because over the course of the diaspora traditions change. Sometimes, traditions must change. Perchik could change his ideals and be more open to the Jewish customs. However, Hodel loves Perchik for who is. Although, Perchik was called to serve in the Ukrainian revolution. He set his mind on seeing Hodel again. Meanwhile, The Ukrainian authorities do not like the Jews and want to evict them from the area do to their ‘Religious beliefs.’

Diaspora is defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people way from an established or ancestral homeland” (Webster, 2020, 2c). This definition is applicable to Fiddler on the Roof because Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan had to be evicted from their established homeland of Anatevka. Displacement and hardships can change the trajectory of a person’s life like it changed Tevye’s life. In Scene two, Avram, Tevye, Mordcha, and Mendel are having a conversation on a newspaper article.

Avram remarked, “Tevye, you forgot my order for the Sabbath.”

“This is bigger news than the plague in Odessa.” Tevye exclaimed.

Avram regretfully blubbered, “Talking about news, terrible news in the outside world–ter-rible!”

“What is it?” Mordcha sympathized.

Mendel requested, “What does it say?”

“In a village called Rajanka, all the Jews were evicted, forced to leave their homes,” Avram blurted out. (They all look at each other in amazement).

Mendel promptly petitioned, “For what reason?”

“It does not say. Maybe the Tsar wanted their land. Maybe a plague…” Avram sympathetically explained.

Mordcha promptly popped, “May the Tsar have his own personal plague.”

All of them in agreement stated, “Amen!”

(Stein, 1964, pg. 24–25).

This dialogue from Scene 2 of the ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ shows that the Jews, from the quaint town of Rajanka, are getting displaced due to the Tsar’s orders. Even though the Jews might feel persecuted with this order, Mordcha, Tevye, Mendel, Avram, and the rest of the Jewish clan can always share the Gospel and their traditions to other towns in the area.

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a relative to the historical account of Daniel. Daniel was a historic figure in the Old Testament and has a book name after himself. Daniel was evicted from his own town of Jerusalem and was forced to move to Babylon due to King Nebuchadnezzar’s edicts. While he was exiled to Babylon, He remained faithful to God and shared his testimony to King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 6 showcases his extraordinary spirit in which he trusted God with all his heart, mind, and strength while he was thrown in the lion’s den. He was thrown in the lion’s den because Nebuchadnezzar’s law that states no-one can pray to the one true living God. He prayed 3 times a day with his window opened facing Jerusalem. He was around 82 years of age. Due to Daniel’s lack of obedience to the edict, he was thrown in the Lion’s Den. While he was in Lion’s Den, Daniel remained faithful to God to get him out of this situation. An Angel appeared to Daniel and said, “Do not be afraid, the Lord is with you!” What an amazing passage of scripture that has similarities to ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

Just like Daniel, Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan can trust God with all their heart, mind, and strength. With God, Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan can persevere despite the terrible news of the eviction. Diaspora may be sad, but it can help reach non-Jewish people with the Jewish customs and traditions. Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan remained faithful to God. This is evident in the Song of “Sabbath Prayer”. The “Sabbath Prayer” sang out:

May the Lord protect and defend you; May He always shield you from shame, may you come to be in Yisroel a shining name, May you be like Ruth and like Esther, may you be deserving of praise. Strengthen them, O Lord, and keep them from the stranger’s ways. May God bless you and grant you long lives. (Stein, 1964, pg. 39)

This prayer is an encouragement. It encourages Jews to take heart and remember that the Lord will always defend us and protect us. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ reminds me that Jews and Christians alike are living a foreign land trying to follow God’s plan for their life. It is hard to navigate life when life throws you a curveball. In the play, Tevye was thrown a curveball when Motel wanted to marry Tzeitel. It just shows you that Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan were living in a foreign land where people oppress them and persecuted them to the point of diaspora. When the Jewish clan including Tevye are dispersed throughout the land of Ukraine, God is still with them and watching over them. In the Old Testament, God has a blossoming relationship with the Jews which is demonstrated in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

Another subtheme to Fiddler on the Roof is persecution. Persecution is derived from persecute. Persecute is defined as a verb that enables people “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict, specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief” (Webster, 2020, Persecute). Due to the religious beliefs of Tevye and the rest of the Jewish clan, they were persecuted and eventually banished from the tradition-filled town of Anatevka. The Tsar reigned down his terror when he issued an edict that called for all the Jewish inhabitants of Anatevka to leave their town at once. Even though this edict caused havoc on the Jewish clan, they can always remember that the Lord is there to bless them and protect them. Maybe the Edict enabled the Jewish clan to flourish in another town without having to live with the tsar orders day and night. Tevye remained faithful to God during this persecution event.

In Conclusion, diaspora, traditions, and persecution are two important elements in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ The genre is comical drama. It has some humor and some drama but overall, it is an excellent drama to read. I enjoyed this story. There are several life lessons that can be taken from this drama of Fiddler on the Roof. First, always stay true to God because God can bless you in any shape or form in accordance to your needs. Second, never have your traditions set in stone because they might change over time. The main theme of the Fiddler on the Roof is Traditions sometimes must change. So do not have traditions set in stone because traditions can change in an instant.

References

Raenell, K. August 10, 2014. Jewish traditions, revelations in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ Reno Gazette Journal. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.rgj.com/story/life/arts/2014/08/10/jewish-traditions-revelations-fiddler-roof/13807311/

Stein, J. (1964). Fiddler on the Roof. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Webster, Merriam. 2020. Diaspora. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diaspora

Webster, Merriam. 2020. Persecute. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/persecuting

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