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“Fiddler on the Roof” Fifty Years Later: A Fresh Take on Tradition

Half a century since its original film adaptation, Fiddler on the Roof came to our local stage last week. I was seeing it for the first time but was familiar enough with it to anticipate at least the most celebrated of its catchphrases, “Tradition!” What I did not anticipate was how the play’s handling of that topic within an early-twentieth-century Ukrainian-Jewish context would cast such a revealing light upon the Christian meaning of the term. Without tradition, Fiddler’s protagonist Tevye tells us right at the start, the lives of his fellow Ashkenazi Jews would be as precarious as someone playing violin on a housetop. Making ends meet in the humble fictional village of Anatevka, he relates, is not easy, so “how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one…

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