Where the world comes to study the Bible

Fiddler on the Roof

Tevye, the Jewish dairy farmer in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, lives with his wife and five daughters in czarist Russia. Change is taking place all around him and the new patterns are nowhere more obvious to Tevye than in the relationship between the sexes. First, one of his daughters announces that she and a young tailor have pledged themselves to each other, even though Tevye had already promised her to the village butcher, a widower. Initially Tevye will not hear of his daughter’s plans, but he finally has an argument with himself and decides to give in to the young lovers’ wishes. A second daughter also chooses the man she wants to marry: an idealist revolutionary. Tevye is rather fond of him, and, after another argument with himself, he again concedes to the changing times.

A while later, Tevye’s third daughter wishes to marry. She has fallen in love with a young Gentile. This violates Tevye’s deepest religious convictions: it is unthinkable that one of his daughters would marry outside the faith. Once again, he has an argument with himself. He knows that his daughter is deeply in love, and he does not want her to be unhappy. Still, he cannot deny his convictions. “How can I turn my back on my faith, my people?” he asks himself. “If I try and bend that far, I’ll break!” Tevye pauses and begins a response: “On the other hand...” He pauses again, and then he shouts: “No! There is no other hand!”

Uncommon Decency, Richard J. Mouw, pp.123-124