I know it might be a little ironic to write about “Fiddler On the Roof” in a blog analyzing Christianity in movies. But what may be more ironic to you if you don’t know me personally is that “Fiddler On the Roof” happens to be my favorite movie. I saw this in seventh grade, two years after I started playing the cello, and it was not only the greatest musical movie I’d ever seen, but it is also still my favorite movie of all time. And even to a Christian, “Fiddler On the Roof” conveys a ton of spiritual themes that I (and hopefully more people) will be able to see.
Tevye (Topol) is a Jewish milkman living in Anatevka, a small, poor Jewish village somewhere in Russia, and he is the father of five daughters with his wife Golde (Norma Crane). And if you’re a preteen like I was watching this movie, you’re probably wondering: Where the heck is the fiddler on the roof? Well, Tevye narrates at the very beginning that the fiddler is a metaphor for the life of a Jew in Anatevka:
TEVYE: Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof: trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune… without breaking his neck! It isn’t easy.
And Anatevka is full of people whose lives aren’t easy, Tevye included. And how does Tevye deal with the stresses in his life? He talks to God… aloud. As he walks down the road with his horse to deliver milk, he looks to the sky and talks to God.
TEVYE: Oh dear Lord, you’ve made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor—but it’s no great honor either! …So what would be so terrible if I had a small fortune?
Yes, this is the musical number “If I Were a Rich Man”, where Tevye asks God, “Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan / If I were a wealthy man?” Well, it would definitely help, but apparently God’s plan is much different than Tevye imagined—and money’s got nothing to do with it. By the end of the film, the three eldest of Tevye’s daughters are married off: one to a tailor, one to a college graduate who wants to revolutionize Russia (yep, I think the right word is revolutionize), and one to a non-Jew. This last marriage brings the most stress to the family—Chava, the middle child, wants to marry Fyedka (Raymond Lovelock), but Tevye won’t let her. Marrying outside the faith would ultimately be a disgrace. But Chava elopes, and the family’s lives are shaken.
The most compelling scene in the film (and one of the most compelling scenes that I’ve ever seen in a movie, for that matter) is when Tevye finds out Chava has left. Golde runs to him as he is walking down the path, and she tells him that she and Fyedka have married, and Tevye almost pushes her away, telling her, “Chava is dead to us! We’ll forget her.” And after one of the most beautiful musical numbers ever, Chava suddenly appears. She has been looking for her father, and begs him to accept Fyedka and her. Then Tevye has the last of many moments where he thinks to himself about his situation, measuring the pros and cons.
TEVYE: Accept them? How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? …On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter? …On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith? My people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break. …On the other hand… No. This is no other hand!
And essentially right then and there, Tevye disowns Chava and leaves her, as she stands in the middle of the path, weeping.
Jesus says in Luke 14:26-27 that being a Christian isn’t as easy as it sounds—in fact, it can be as difficult as playing a fiddle on a rooftop. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” The thing about following Christianity is that it has to be authentic—if you call yourself a Christian but don’t follow Christ in your heart, you’re not a real Christian. True faith comes from believing, trusting, and following God in everything you do. And if you aren’t willing to give up the things that you have to follow Christ, your faith won’t be authentic.
For Tevye, he has to leave Chava behind in order to follow what he believes. One of the questions that I struggled with for years was, did Tevye do the right thing? Was it really the best thing to, in a way, disown your daughter because she married a non-Jew? According to Luke 14:26 and 2 Corinthians 6:14, the answer is yes. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” Now, I know it’s a little different because Tevye is Jewish, but if I were in his situation, I may have to do what he did. A Christian marrying a non-Christian wouldn’t work out—that Christian would more than likely fall away from the faith. So I suppose the same would apply to a Jew marrying a non-Jew.
Please understand, I’m not trying to offend any other faiths. Heck, “Fiddler On the Roof” is my favorite movie! Why would I want to? But I think we can all agree that true faith requires you to lay down the things that you hold dear to you and surrendering. And my prayer for you, the reader, is that whatever you believe (and I strongly encourage you to walk with Christ), you will have the faith enough to leave behind the things you hold dear to you.