“Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. It's a tradition, and because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do” says Tevye (Topol), the Jewish village milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia. He believed that they were still God’s chosen people, as God said in Exodus 19:5b (KJV), “…ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.” A “tradition” purist, he, prejudiced against the foreign Russians as they intermingle with them in Anatevka, wishes to marry out his three older daughters.
“But would it be heresy on my part to suggest that "Fiddler" isn't much as a musical, and that director Norman Jewison has made as good a film as can be made from a story that is quite simply boring?” asks critic Roger Ebert. As much as I respect him, I disagree with him here. The story is not about marrying out his three daughters, but instead about Tevye’s controversial decisions in those marriages that alter the Jewish life in their village. In the end, the Russians drive out these Jews in a pogrom; it is not a key point of the plot, but an indirect effect of the generations-long Jew discrimination. The truth that it teaches doesn’t lie in the history, but perhaps in the way Tevye impacted Anatevka’s history.
Faithful to the Jewish traditions, Fiddler is an accurate portrayal of Jews that can both entertain and educate without stark preaching. Perhaps the greatest openly-Jewish/Christian movie made by mainstream Hollywood, it deals with the various differences in the peoples and the ignorance of Tevye of the outside world. But Fiddler doesn’t preach; it presents the message throughout the entire film’s two hours and fifty-nine minutes. The “teachable” moments don’t come in one cheap, blink-and-you-miss-it line, but instead through Jewison’s smooth storytelling and direction that sinks the message comfortably in.
This gradual separation from tradition comes in the form of his daughters’ husbands. First, instead of accepting the village matchmaker’s choice of husbands, they love and know their selected mates, an alien concept to Tevye. Second, these desired husbands’ ideas and positions push the borders of tradition one at a time, with the eldest marrying a tailor in the village, the second a Revolutionist and the third, a goy. Tevye, quickly though a bit reluctantly accepts the tailor, he is skeptical but consents to the Revolutionist, but he altogether rejects the goy. He feels the change happening. He can’t avoid it, yet, at the same time, he still can’t fully accept it. Based on the hit, still on-going Broadway musical, Fiddler won three Academy Awards for sound, the clever use of cinematography and John William’s adaption of the score. The witty dialogue, catchy songs and the wise-guy Tevye brings the Jews back into an accepted light.