Hatikvah For Secular Jews

A Thoughtful look at the Jewish World a Century later…

Background Facts. The book of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was written by Joseph Stein in 1905, about a Jewish Family in Tsarist Russia. Later it was made into a stage musical with music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. It was based on an earlier writing in Yiddish with more descriptive names like ‘’Tevye and His daughters’ or ‘Tevye the Milkman’, and was included with other stories by Shalem Aleichem published in 1894.

The original Broadway Production opened in 1964, and became enormously popular (and lucrative for the producers) with a record number of 3,000 performances, and as the ‘longest running musical’, it lasted for 10 years. Since then it has been produced as a film giving it an international audience, and it has become a popular choice for community drama groups and school productions.

The story summarised. The Jewish Family are part of a typical small Jewish Village [‘shtetl’] in Russia, and consists of the father, Tevye, his wife, and his often dominating Jewish wife, Golde, and their 5 teenage (or older marriageable) daughters. Other characters are the local ‘matchmaker’ and various suitors, for the daughters.

Though the story is amusing and the songs - now inseparable from it, are so enjoyable – there are very valuable background truths, which are important to recognise. The best-known title of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is actually taken from an idiom of the time, which is sadly revealing, since it depicts the very long dilemma of thousands of Jewish people over the best part of 2000 years. It could be likened to someone trying the almost impossible feat of playing a musical instrument while balancing on a rocking chair!

The ‘Balancing Act’ required between the extremes of life for this Jewish Family.

 Jewish Tradition made demands on every person.
The father tackles the core problems in his life, by starting with the constraints of keeping to ‘Tradition’. In this case it was Jewish Tradition, which had developed slightly differently in various parts of the world, but was based on the Rabbi’s Teachings of the ‘Torah’ bringing centuries of adopted customs with it. These affected relationships within families, and neighbours, customs of dress and handling of food, celebrations, and the roles of various people within a community, such as a rabbi and a ‘match-maker’ to help arrange marriages. Every part of life, especially birth, marriage, weekly routines and death were based on ‘Tradition’.

2.  The Politics of the Nation being lived in, caused tensions for Jewish people.
In Russia, as in Spain, and some other nations, the domination of the Ruling Class through Kings or Tsars often demanded cruel restrictions on religions or ethnic groups who were seen as inferior and despised. Jews were often singled out for severe persecution or subservience - as in Muslim nations. This required a balance by Jewish communities to acquiesce to local laws and regulations, yet hold on to the desire to practice traditional activities of Judaism.

3.  Poverty, riches and hard work.
The restrictions on opportunities beyond ones ‘station in life’, limited education and just plain efforts to make money was the result (to a degree) on the above conditions and gave rise to frustration and weariness of life - and longings for an easier life as Tevye mused in his solo, “If I were a rich man…”

So the story portrays:

Tradition versus ~ changing cultural conditions.
Religion versus ~ heart beliefs and real love.
Wealth versus ~ enervating poverty.
Cruel dictatorship versus ~ longings for freedom.
Restrictive national rulings versus ~ revolution.
Threats of banishment versus ~ stability and security.
Acceptance and resignation versus ~ some hope.
‘Hatikvah’ (hope in Hebrew) without any good expectations!

The exquisite value of the story.
For many non-Jews it gives insights into some of the most precious Jewish cultural traditions

The special and beautiful custom of the ‘Erev Shabbat’ - special family celebration on the evening before the sacred day of ‘Shabbat’ is the background to the very first scene, where it is referred to 3 times. This custom of setting aside the Friday evening meal-time was a special occasion, with extra table decorations and dishes of carefully prepared food, is precious. The candles were added for the mother to light before she prayed the Prayer for that night, giving thanks to the Almighty for the coming Day and the Light that the candles represented. The father then takes up the Prayer with similar wording.

“Baruch ata ADONAI Elohaynu Malik Ha Olam…”in Hebrew. [The English is: “Blessed art Thou O LORD, Our God, King of the Universe…”] In many families, the father would offer a prayer for each member of the Family while resting his hands on each one. It was also a good time to invite guests to share in the homely environment. This is one of Judaism’s most priceless traditions!

Another value is that this portrays one of the things that has helped the Jewish race to have an affinity with each other, wherever they were in the world, and to survive as a distinct racial group for centuries! The dispersion and scattering of the Jewish race from the land of Israel, between 66CE/AD and 135 was a devastating and cruel time in their very ancient history. Sadly it had been foretold in prophetic writings such as those by the Biblical Prophet Daniel, (while he himself was part of the first exile of Jewish people from Judah 500 years BCE). It is called simply ‘The Diaspora’ and is even depicted in a particular Museum in Israel, dedicated to tracing the history of sufferings and triumphs over those 2000 years.

Two other factors make the family’s life difficult
The obvious one is the poverty and hardship that is a constant influence in life in general and the question of the eldest daughter being made to marry a rich man in the Village rather than the hardworking tailor, that she loves. This was a break with tradition – which up till now has governed every decision and transaction.

b) The other tragic reality of the times in the 19th Century was the terrible ‘Pogroms’ (and in the light of the horrific ‘Holocaust’ in Germany in the twentieth Century the Russian Pogroms are sometimes overlooked). These were conducted against innocent and sometimes unsuspecting Jewish Communities. At least in this story a sympathetic, but helpless policeman warns the Villagers of a so-called ‘demonstration’ where the Tsar's forces riding on horses and with long whips would suddenly enter a Village and flail everyone and everything, leaving a trail of dead, wounded people and destroyed homes and goods behind them. [See Wikipedia, ‘History of the Jews in Russia’]. The story of ‘Fiddler on the Roof” ends sadly with an uncertain future. This story doesn’t portray the full horrors and the fears that these ‘Pogroms’ would inflict. In one instance up to 250,000 Jews were killed in a specific pogrom, and 300,000 children were orphaned.

A whole new century which would be the
beginning of the endtime fulfillments of wonderful
Biblical prophecies for the Jewish Nation.

1. First a time of preparation for great changes for the Jewish Nation, based on prophecies in the Tanakh
In a very real sense the story depicted in the story of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ could be summarised in an often-true saying ~ The darkest hour is before the dawn”.

This particular story also portrays the strong, cold winds of change that would affect the whole Jewish nation in the Twentieth Century. The Story, being set in Russia at the time of the soon to be overthrown Tsar Nicholas ll, alludes to these significant changes through the young suitor to the second daughter. The effects of the ‘Enlightenment’ (that had influenced many people in the 18th century, as dominated people looked for freedom and equality and more opportunities for all) led to a worse system in Russia and China and elsewhere, ultimately called “Communism”. A theory, originally promoted earlier by the Jewish Karl Marx!

This was the time of a great upheaval in Russia, with the emergence of a ‘revolutionary underground resistance force’ that one of the young man suitors is part of – but at great cost, since it involved him leaving his newly betrothed fiancé and going away - where sadly he was arrested and banished to Siberia, by the soon to fall Tsarist System in the 1917 “Russian Revolution”. Not knowing this, but showing admirable loyalty and hope for a better future the second daughter follows him, but it simply demonstrates the changing times through which many Jewish Exiles went. Some found refuge in the so-called ‘Christian Western nations’. Great winds of change were bringing new hope for Jews, though it would be some 50 years before the State of Israel was “born in a day”.

Sadly this was not before many millions of Jews were lost to the nation over that Twentieth Century, in the on-going Pogroms and the ‘Holocaust’, the cost of which no one can under-estimate, for the sheer tragedy they represented! These are mysteries that must go beyond human comprehension - to a simple determined acceptance of the Sovereignty of Israel’s God. Within the massive numbers are hidden the noble acceptance of thousands of individual Jews who faced death with a firm belief in their God. They will not lose their reward, for as Abraham, the father of the Hebrew race, said, “Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do right?” The one who obeyed His God to the point of being willing to sacrifice his own, miraculously conceived and precious son of Promise, Isaac, knew the Almighty always does right.

2. With the privilege of knowing the events of the past 60 years, we have GREAT HOPE!

The basis of hope – though not always recognised – is in the later Books of the Tanakh
The God of Israel had foretold ‘restoration of blessings’ though His prophets, some 2,500 years before 1948! These Scriptures are far less well known by most Jewish people who focus more on the first 5 Books of Holy Scripture, called the ‘Torah’. Yet even that far back in history Moshe, Israel’s 1st prophet ended his prophetic prayer in Deuteronomy 33, with the Benediction: “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a People saved by the LORD? He is your shield and your Helper, and your glorious sword.” But the overwhelming number of prophetic promises of wonderful blessings ~ including restoration of the Jewish people to their own land “in the last Days” ~ is great! Maybe you could read just a few in Ezekiel 36 and 37?

The reality of restoration has been happening gradually over the last 60 years especially!
Ever since the granting of part of the ‘Promised Land’ to the Jews in 1947, and the establishment of the Nation of Israel, the return of thousands of Jews who were in an experience like the family of Tevye ~ has bought the ‘end’ of the worst parts of the story of ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’.

God has promised much better times are ahead ~ for all Jews!

You may like to look for other articles,
offering a study on this great Hope for Israel.

Here is one.