FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
SUBJECTS — Drama/Musicals; Religions/Judaism; World/Russia; U.S./Diversity; Dance/Performance;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Parenting;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring.
AGE: 7+; MPAA Rating — G;
Musical; Three Hours; 1971; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
At the turn of the 20th century, Anatevka is a small village in Russia populated by both Jews and Christians. One of the Jewish villagers, Tevye, has personal conversations with God but otherwise lives according to the traditions of his people. In the movie each of his daughters asks him to bend tradition to permit her to marry the man she loves. The film also recounts a pogrom and the expulsion of the Jews from Anatevka, as Tevye and his family begin their long trip to America.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1971 Academy Awards: Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Sound; 1972 Golden Globe Awards: Best Actor – Musical Comedy (Topol), Best Film — Musical/Comedy; 1971 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Topol), Best Art Direction/Set Direction; Best Director (Jewison), Best Supporting Actor (Frey).
Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Neva Small, Paul Michael Glaser, Ray Lovelock.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“Fiddler on the Roof” describes the experiences of many Eastern European Jewish immigrants to the United States. It deals with issues of love, parenting, tolerance and tradition in ways which appeal to everyone. It is also a beautiful musical, possessing a compelling story line, enchanting music, excellent cinematography, and stunning choreography. This movie includes popular songs such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” “Miracle of Miracles,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man.”
MODERATE. Tevye’s decision to reject Chava might make some children nervous about possible rejection by their own parents and send the wrong message about parenting. When showing this movie to young children parents should remark on the fact that Tevye’s decision to reject Chava for marrying a Christian was wrong because it placed tradition, prejudice, and religion before a parent’s love for a child. When showing this movie to older children ask the Quick Discussion Question and make sure that children understand the answer.
There are many stereotypes of Jewish characters but they are all lovingly portrayed. There is one scene in which Tevye, Lazar Wolf and the other male villagers get roaring drunk and have a good time.
For younger children this musical is all about the music and the dancing. For children 10 – 12, just point out how Tevye departed from tradition in allowing his first two daughters to marry the men they loved. For older children ask and help them to answer the Quick Discussion Question. Other good discussion questions for parents to review with their children are #s 5 and 8.
Many Jews lived in poor farming villages in European Russia in the late 1800s and at the turn of the 20th century. They were subject to periodic government-sponsored pogroms and dispossessions. Millions emigrated to the United States in the period 1890 – 1920.
At the end of the 19th century and in the first two decades of the 20th century, Russia was alive with revolutionary resistance to the Czarist government. There were many revolutionary groups, both Communist and capitalist, authoritarian and democratic. The character Perchik was a member of one of these groups.
In Russia, anyone thought to be undesirable by the regime in power, especially criminals and revolutionaries, were sent to Siberia. This was a wild frozen land with little civilization. Many people sent to Siberia never returned.
2. Why would Tevye continue to follow traditions when he didn’t know the reason for them?
The justification for most traditions are buried in the past. People follow them for several reasons. First, they believe that the traditional approach has worked in the past and don’t want to risk changing it. Second, tradition is often enshrined in religious belief and following the tradition is an affirmation of that belief. Third, traditions of a community are an affirmation of membership in that community.
3. Tevye talks about the importance of tradition but does he follow it most of the time?
No. Tevye puts love for his daughters ahead of tradition with the marriages of Tzeitel to Motel and Hodel to Perchik.
4. What was the significance of the fact that Perchik was sent to Siberia and Hodel went to accompany him?
It was far away. Life was very hard there. People often didn’t come back.
5. Remember the Rabbi’s blessing for the Czar: “May God bless and keep the Czar … far away from us.” Why did he say this?
The Jews of Anitevka saw the Russian government as oppressive and wanted as little to do with the government as possible.
6. What did the parents mean when, in the Sabbath prayer, they asked God to protect their children: to “Strengthen them, oh Lord! And keep them from the strangers’ ways”? Who were the “strangers” that the parents were referring to? Did something happen later in the story that related to this?
The strangers were the Christians, including the Christians who lived in their little village of Anatevka. The parents meant that they wanted their children to keep to the Jewish religion and traditions. In the story Chava rejects these so that she can marry Fyedka.
7. When everyone was drinking in the tavern, did you notice that Tevye was not sure whether he should dance with the Russians? Why was that?
There was a lot of hostility towards the Jews by the Russians. Tevye was afraid of being rejected.
8. What did America mean to the villagers?
America was the hope for a better life and more opportunity. They believed that in America hard work would be rewarded and the family would be free from the prejudices and pogroms of Russian society.
9. Do you think that when Tevye agreed to marry Tzeitel to Lazar Wolf, Tevye’s judgment was clouded because he had been drinking alcohol? We all know that alcohol makes people lose their coordination. What does drinking alcohol do to someone’s judgment?
Yes. People who are drunk have poor judgment.
10. Why did the Czar’s government incite the pogrom?
Pogroms were often secretly started by government officials when the government wanted to divert the public’s attention from other problems such as a poor economy, a new tax, etc. The Czar and his advisers wanted to divert the people’s anger at their dire circumstances away from the government, where it belonged, and let them vent their anger at the Jews.
11. Why did the villagers beat the Jews and destroy their homes?
The Jews were considered to be “aliens” and Russian society was very anti-semitic. The Jews were convenient targets on which the villagers could vent their frustrations.
1. See the Quick Discussion Question and ask what this decision tells us about good parenting.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. Is respect for tradition an important value? How does it relate to other values such as “caring”?
There is no one correct answer to this question but it is great to stimulate debate. Here are some ways to get the debate going. Ask the class if they ever had a situation in which tradition affected their own lives. Ask if Tevye did the right thing in honoring tradition by treating Chava as having died when she married a Christian. Suggest this answer and see what the class says: “Tradition is fine unless following tradition contravenes any of the other ethical values of society such as Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. In other words, tradition comes last.”
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. See the Quick Discussion Question.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
- Show children or have them show you the location of European Russia, Poland, Siberia, and the United States. Discuss what it meant for the characters in this film to travel from Russia to the U.S.
BRIDGES TO READING
Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: Sworn Enemies, by Carol Matas is a historical novel concerning relations between Jews and Christians in Russia during the rule of the Czars; The Night Journey by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman; and A Russian Farewell by Leonard Everett Fisher.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 9, 2009.