Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fiddler on the Roof and Assimilation

From Vos Iz Neias:
Playwright Joseph Stein, who turned a Yiddish short story into the classic Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and later wrote the screenplay for its successful movie adaptation, has died at age 98.
For anyone that grew up Jewish in the 1960s , that musical was part of the musical experience. I think that I knew most of the songs almost by heart: Tradition", "If I Were a Rich Man", "Sunrise Sunset", etc.

Looking back, I am not sure that the message of the musical was so positive. The religious people in the film are portrayed as being backward and greedy. Tevye agrees to marry his daughter off to an older man because he is rich. Whereas the younger generation, exposed to authors like Heine, are portrayed as being more intelligent and sensitive.

I think that American Jews perceived Tevye's loyalty to God and tradition as being primitive. How many of those that watched the play sided with the daughter that decided to intermarry? How many other saw the religious Tevye's opposition to intermarriage as justified, while seeing their irreligious parents opposition to intermarriage as being a vile form of ethnocentrism? How much did "Fiddler on the Roof" contribute to assimilation?

I don't have an answer.

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