Reb Tevye’s Tradition, Family, and Religion Over Time
Most modern Jews, young and old, have imitated Tevye singing about the traditions of his shtetl in his booming baritone, but across generations, political parties, and continents there are numerous interpretations of the word “tradition.” That singing, dancing Tevye was originally a poor milkman from a Yiddish novella, and both of these Tevyes have their adherence to tradition tested in several ways. The different worlds in which these two pieces were released affect the depictions and interpretations of what many see as the same story, but one common theme is what ties together the book, the movie, and everyone who appreciates their beauty: religion.
One major difference in these two tales is the manner in which they are presented, and the effect the presentation has on the audience. In Tevye the Dairyman, the true narrator, Sholem Aleichem, tells each short story as Tevye told it to him. Although the events in this story are based in fact, Tevye the Dairyman is a work of historical fiction. Tevye has befriended Aleichem and is telling him about his life, his family, his triumphs and his failures at different points in his life. At the time of its publications from 1894-1916, stories were often passed from parent to child, from generation to generation, l’dor v’dor. Using Aleichem as a mediator between Tevye and the audience creates a middle-man between the newly modernized reader of the early 20th century and the traditional world of the shtetl in the late 19th century. The use of a secondhand narrator leaves plenty of room for doubt throughout the story-is Tevye trustworthy? Is Aleichem trustworthy? Is it possible that in the re-telling of this story there has been some confusion? In the movie Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Norman Jewison in 1971, there are several instances where Tevye speaks directly to the camera. As a viewer, I felt that Tevye was speaking what he believed to be the...
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