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A Feminist on the Roof – Meshuge, Neyn?

By Samara Finkle


Feminism: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests (Merriam-Webster)

When you think about Fiddler on the Roof, you think of TRADITION, right?!

The story of Fiddler on the Roof is based originally on the Tevye the Dairyman vignettes by Sholem Aleichem. The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, was the first musical theatre production in history to surpass 3,000 performances. It won the 1965 Tony Award® for Best Musical in addition to eight other Tony Awards that year and has been performed in every metropolitan city in the world from Paris to Beijing.

I imagine the thought of it being a feminist show does not cross your mind.  In honor of Women’s History Month, I spoke with some of the women from the critically acclaimed Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish directed by Academy and Tony Award® winner Joel Grey to show you how this show truly is a feminist one.

The Fiddler, the titular character – What if your Fiddler is female? What does that mean?

As a female-presenting Fiddler in our Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof, as opposed to the traditionally cast male Fiddler, a connection formed between myself and Tevye’s daughters. I felt this surge of feminine strength during the rebuttals when Tevye would look to me as he had an internal fight between his love for his daughters and his commitment to tradition. I think by having a female fiddler on the roof in our show, the delicate balance of tradition was made even more complicated, and it was such a special relationship to explore. – Lauren Jeanne Thomas

Yente – Yente is the matchmaker. How can she be a feminist if she is the one setting up the couples to live a traditional lifestyle?

Yente is a true feminist in that she is a working woman, a career gal in an era when that was unheard of.  She is widowed and childless and made the most of it.  She knew she had to survive without a man’s help and she created her own matchmaking business. – Jackie Hoffman

Golde- Golde is Tevye’s wife, and Tevye is all about “Tradition.” Is Golde a feminist?

Golde is a no-nonsense strong-willed woman who constantly speaks her mind while running a household with a husband, 5 daughters and a dairy business that they all must help with in order to survive.  I think [without necessarily knowing it] she has provided an early feminist example to her girls to follow their truths and hearts and stand up for what they believe in. They have all watched and learned as she and Tevye worked together over the years and how Golde has very much had a say in family decisions. – Jennifer Babiak

Tsaytl- Tsaytl had a role to fulfill as the eldest daughter. What can we learn from her not following that path?

I played Tsaytl, the oldest of 5 daughters. Tsaytl is a pioneer woman! The first in her family to “break” the tradition by choosing to marry for love instead of the match that has been arranged for her by her parents. Tsaytl is a thinker. A proud thinker. She inspires her younger sisters to follow their hearts and minds. Tsaytl looks at her marriage as a team effort, equal parts. She doesn’t settle. She is driven, confident, and determined. The ultimate feminist.  – Rachel Zatcoff

Hodl- Hodl values things decidedly against tradition. What can she teach about the importance of following your own convictions?

I played Hodl, the second eldest of the five daughters.  She is incredibly smart, strong-minded and strong willed. She’s also a dreamer and whether she’s aware of it or not, wants more than what women of marriageable age in Anatevka are typically offered.  In Matchmaker, instead of wanting someone “rich”, she dreams of being with someone who’s “smart” and values intellect.  When Pertshik enters her life, he opens her up to new ways about thinking about the world and literally turns her world, and the way she views it, upside down.  After being taught that women should not touch a man before marriage, she makes the choice to dance with him not just alone but in front of the entire shtetl at Tsaytl’s wedding.  This not only challenges the status quo but breaks new barriers and leads the way for her sisters and their willingness to take risks in the future.  While he encourages her to challenge what she knows, she teaches him how to think more with his heart.  She’s also incredibly brave to leave the only home she’s ever known by herself, at a time when women never did that, to join her love in a settlement in Siberia after he was put in prison for fighting for his cause which has also become hers.  In the last conversation, she knows at her core that she will probably never see her family again and while she’s promising her father that she’ll be married under a canopy in the traditional way, she’s forging a new path for her own life on her own terms.  As difficult as her new life may be and heartbroken that she has to leave her family, she’s joining her love, following her heart, and making her future. – Stephanie Lynne Mason

We often look at shows being developed today as the feminist ones and just as often forget that there are shows that were created years ago with a feminist theme.  Fiddler may have been a show that has been around for a long time, but it is clearly a feminist show.

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