Fiddler on the Temple

by Jana

We’re watching “Fiddler on the Roof” around the dinner table at our house right now. I grew up listening to the soundtrack to this film, and it’s nearly impossible for me to watch without singing along with Tevye, as he intones, “Tradition! Tradition!”

The power of this musical is that Tevye is an incredibly compassionate spouse and father who wants the best for his daughters, his family, and his community. However, as his daughters each make their own decisions to marry non-traditionally and as the family is forced out of their homeland, Tevye has to come to terms with a world where his “traditions” no longer hold.

I see myself in Tevye, in Tzeitel, in Chavah. I look into my children’s eyes and wonder what paths their lives will take that will be like those of Tevye’s daughters. The words of “Sunrise, Sunset” have always moved me (I used to love to play this on the piano and sing along). I find myself thinking of how my own babies are becoming teens and will soon be adults. I feel bittersweet joy in their transition to a new season of their lives.

Do you see parallels between your life choices and those of the characters in “Fiddler on the Roof?” Can you imagine a “Fiddler on the Temple” whose job is to remind us all to cling to the traditions of our fathers? If so, what do you think a Mormon version of this musical would be like?


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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  1. Caroline says:

    I don’t know the play well enough to comment – I think I saw it when I was a child, but I remember little other than “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match”

    I will say, though, that tradition just doesn’t have the same meaning for me as it does for others. If a tradition doesn’t empower, promote equality and inclusivity, and affirm the full selfhood of each person, I’m not inclined to go along with it. That’s one reason why I kept my birth name when I married, though I understand that others wouldn’t see that choice in the same way I do.

    The real rub, of course, is what happens when patriarchal or non-egalitarian tradition is touted as revelation from God. That’s when it becomes harrowing for us Mormon feminists. What kind of compromises do we make? Do we go along with the patriarchal tradition during the three hour block, but then promote radical egalitarianism in our own homes? That’s what I have pretty much settled on, since there’s really nothing – other than point it out and gripe – that I can do about the patriarchal structure in church. But my own home? That’s a different story.

  2. amyb says:

    There’s always tension between ritual and progress/change. Rituals create the space for strong community and family ties, but if they become overvalued they become oppressive. It’s always a balance.

    There are plenty of Tevye’s in the church insisting on white shirts and ties, and a whole new generation like his daughters that teach the “elders” that traditions need to change to fit the changing needs of the membership.

  3. beth says:

    There is also great danger when revelation from God is touted as patriarchal or non-egalitarian tradition. I see a lot of both directions. I think a lot of people on both sides are going to be very disappointed when it is all over.

  4. Kiri Close says:

    The title of this post is hilarious!!!
    I can vividly picture Tevye on the Boston Temple spire in lieu of Moroni (lol!).

    Then again, what’s the difference?

    …match me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch…

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