Friday, September 30, 2011

Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition & Overture

Lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick
Music by: Jerry Bock
Music Adaptation by: John Williams
Productions: Broadway (1964); West End (1967); Film (1971);
and many others, including productions in Hebrew and in Yiddish.

This video clip is from the 1971 film, Fiddler on the Roof  with “Tradition” and the “Overture” of Isaac Stern playing the cadenza, representing the proverbial fiddler on the roof. The film, directed by Norman Jewison, is based on the stage musical (1964) which itself is based on the stories (Tevye and Tevye and his Daughters) published by Yiddish-writer, Sholom Aleichem in 1894. Aleichem has been called the Russian Mark Twain for his use of irony and humour.

Although the film is set in pre-revolutionary czarist Russia of 1905, its significance is universal. Fiddler on the Roof touches upon all the universal values and virtues that are important for all humanity, including the fight for freedom, equality, individual dignity and imagination. Such ideas become particularly poignant when under the yoke of oppression of a powerful and immoral State that fails to protect all of its inhabitants.

And, yet, like the fiddler playing on the roof, life marches forward with joy and tradition, despite the very precariousness of it. Tradition in many ways strongly binds the Jewish people, its ancient ways often (notably today) might seem imposing and restrictive, yet such is its strength. In times of national stress, people look to tradition as a guide, a marker, a rock of survival. Tradition remains faithful, ever-present. It defines the story of the Jewish People throughout the ages, and even the most secular and progressive apprehend and respond to that reality, albeit with some reluctance.

By Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock

Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa's free to read the holy books?

The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!

At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they've picked a bride for me. I hope she's pretty.

The son, the son! Tradition!
The son, the son! Tradition!

And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix,
Preparing her to marry whoever Papa picks?

The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!
The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!


  1. I'm a progressive traditionalist ! That, In American English, would probably mean a Log Cabin Republican who belives in G-d !

    (Please note that this is totally different from a traditionalist progressive, which would mean a Democrat who belives in G-d, and TOTALLY different from a traditional progressive, which would mean a Democrat who is a free thinker or a heathen !...I hope I got that right !)

  2. Rudolph:

    Equal rights for all is something that I applaud, since it is fundamental for a well-functioning liberal democracy. As for my other views, they are clear in my writing. The chief point is that one should come to their views in a thoughtful way and be ready to change them in the face of new evidence.

  3. Since I do not think I can realistically change the basic construction of the "log cabin", I might, nevertheless, however, be capable of being persuaded/swayed to change at least the "republican" side of it !

    Actually, quite seriously speaking, until 2001, I realize I used to see myself as a total "independent", neither "right", nor "left", but at that age, being younger, I think I was also mostly focused on balancing my own internal independent view about myself and with as little as much "outside politically biased intervention" as possible. After 2001, I really started thinking more about society too, and the relationships of people in society, which was also natural, I guess, since I was 21 years old. I believe that the horrible criminal terrorist attack of September 2001 also, in a way coincided with my own maturation process, catching me exactly in that transition stage between focus on me and focus on others. I don't know exactly why I swayed a little right instead of left at that time. Thinking about it now, I am actually thinking that maybe it was a fear response in regards to security issues, and then afterwards I was kind of either sort of (cvasi- posttraumatically) "stuck" in that mode, or maybe, more likely, too lazy to consider reflecting more on the matter.

    But now I feel myself more mature, safer also in many ways, and I will confess that I have been quite disappointed by the goings-on in the Log Cabin Republican "quarters" since 2006. So I am actually on the verge of "switching political sides", moving again center-left rather than staying center-right.

    OTOH, I am now in Norway, which is probably overall as left as can democratically be, so I am still thinking about things...but I already KNOW that if I had been an American I would have voted Obama for SURE in 2008.

  4. Rudolph: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, including the maturing of your political views. One final note to consider: it's true that you can't change the basic construction of a log cabin, but there are other structures, besides log cabins, in which to reside.


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