Fiddler on the Roof
Notes and Glossary
- The title Fiddler on the Roof comes from a
surrealistic painting by the Russian Jewish painter Marc
Chagall. The fiddler is a metaphor of survival in an
uncertain world, through tradition and joyful living. Chagall
(1887–1985) was born Moishe Shagall (משה שאַגאַל)
in Belarus, and used the Russian name Марк Заха́рович Шага́л (Mark Zakhárovich
Shagál). He later emigrated to Paris. He designed the
stained glass for many church windows, including the rose window
in Rheims Cathedral.
- The plot of Fiddler on the Roof is based on
Sholom Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the Dairyman (טבֿיה דער
מילכיקער), written in Yiddish. Sholem Aleichem (Yiddish:
שלום־עליכם, Russian and Ukrainian: Шолом-Алейхем) (1859–1916) was the pen name
of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, a leading Yiddish
author and playwright. He wrote under a pen name, because at the
time Yiddish was not considered a literary language: Russian
Jews would write in Hebrew or Russian. The name Sholem
Aleichem, a Yiddish variant of the Hebrew expression shalom aleichem, meaning peace
be with you or, simply, hello. In the stories, Tevye has
seven daughters, although the seventh is unnamed. When the Russians
expel the Jews from their homes, Tevye goes not to America, but to
- The 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof
was filmed outside Zagreb, Croatia; at that time part of
- Shtetl (שטעטל; plural stetlech:
שטעטלעך) is a Yiddish word meaning “small
village”, related to the South German word Städtle, with
the same meaning, although the German word Städtchen is
- Anatevka (Анатевка; אַנאַטעװקאַ), the fictional
shtetl in the story, is called Boyberik (בױבעריק) in
Sholem Aleichem’s stories, and is based on the actual village of
(Боярка; בױאַרקאַ), located about 20 km SW of
Ukraine. Today, Boyarka has a population of about 35,000.
- Kiev (Russian: Киев; Ukrainian:
[Київ]; Yiddish [קיִעװ])
is now the capital of the independent republic of Ukraine, but it was
long considered the birthplace of the Russian nation. Kiev was
destroyed, or partly destroyed, many times, including in 1240 by the
Mongols, and in World War II. It was incorporated into Lithuania in 1362,
into Poland in 1569, and the Russian Empire in 1667. Before World War II it had a Jewish
population of about 175,000.
- Siberia is a vaguely-defined region of
Russia, usually considered to be all of Russia east of the Ural
Mountains. The Trans-Siberian Railway was constructed from 1891 to 1916,
and most of the population lives near the railway, in the south part of
the region. It supports agriculture, and that is probably how Hodel
worked to be near Perchik in his exile.
- The year 1905, the year in which the end of the story of Fiddler
on the Roof was set, was an important year in Russian
history. Japan had begun the Russo-Japanese war the previous
year, the Japanese destroying two Russian fleets and winning
most of the land battles. In January 1905, a large crowd marched
to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to present a petition to
the tsar (царь). As the crowd reached the palace grounds, Cossacks
opened fire, killing hundreds; the incident is known as Bloody
Sunday. This led to a general strike, and the beginning of the
so-called Revolution of 1905. The tsar promised a legislature
(the Duma [дума]), but divisions and rivalries among the
reformers allowed the tsar to regain effective control of the
country by 1908.
- The film version of Fiddler was a surprise hit in Japan, which
had undergone a tremendous cultural change, and loss of traditions.
- Jews had lived in Germany during most of
the Middle Ages, but at the time of the crusades (12th and 13th
centuries), many Germans thought, Why go all the way to
Palestine to fight infidels, when there are infidels (i.e.,
Jews) living in our midst? In the 13th century, the Poles and
Lithuanians were driving the Tartars out of their lands, and
conquered much of what had been western Russia. They invited the
Jews to settle there. (Hence, their language, Yiddish, is a
descendent of Middle High German. In German, it is called Jüdisch
Deutsch, “Jewish German.”) But in 1772, 1793, and 1795,
Poland was partitioned among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. In 1791, after several attempts to
remove all Jews from Russian territory, or convert them to
Russian Orthodox Christianity, Tsarina Catherine the Great, by a ukase
(Russian ука́з, meaning “edict, decree, imposition”), created the
Pale of Settlement, the region where Jews would be allowed
to reside. Basically, the Pale included the land taken from
Poland in the partitions, with certain further restrictions. (From the
Russian term, the word ukase has entered the English language
with the meaning of “any proclamation or decree; an order or
regulation of a final or arbitrary nature.”
- Tevye (טבֿיה: the Yiddish form of
טוֹבִיָּה = Tobiah, meaning
“the goodness of God”; the name occurs in the Biblical books of Ezra
and Nehemiah; there is a Tobiah [or Tobias] in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical
book of Tobit:
there Tobias is the father of Tobit), a poor milkman with six daughters. A
firm supporter of the traditions of his faith, he finds many of
his convictions tested by the actions of his three oldest
- Golde (גאָלדע), Tevye’s sharp-tongued wife.
- Tzeitel (צײטעל; a variation of
“princess”), their oldest daughter, about nineteen.
She loves childhood friend Motel and marries him, even though he
is poor, begging her father not to force her to marry Lazar
- Hodel (האָדעל; a diminutive of Hode,
which is a Yiddish variant of Hadassah [הדסה],
meaning myrtle; it was Esther’s original
name), their daughter, about seventeen.
Intelligent and spirited, she falls in love with Perchik and
later joins him in Siberia (Сиби́рь = Sibir').
- Chava (חַוָּה; the same as
Eve; the name means
“And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.”
2:20), their daughter, about fifteen. A shy
book lover, who falls in love with Fyedka.
- Shprintze (שפּרינצע;
the name may be a variant of Sperantia, which in modern Spanish
is Esperanza, meaning
“hope”), their daughter, about twelve
- Teibl (טײבל; probably a diminutive of Toiba,
a Yiddish name meaning
“dove”; in German it is Taube), another daughter (does
not appear in Broadway or film versions)
- Bielke (בּיעלקע or Белка;
probably a diminutive of a word meaning
“white”, from a Slavic word [The Russian word is белый, byelyi], their youngest daughter,
- Motel Kamzoil (מאָטל קאַמזױל), a poor but hardworking
tailor who loves, and later marries, Tzeitel. (Motel is a
diminutive form of Mordecai.)
- Perchik (פערטשיק), a scholar and Bolshevik
revolutionary who comes to Anatevka and falls in love with
Hodel. He leaves for Kiev and is exiled to Siberia.
(Perchik is probably a Russian or Ukrainian surname:
- Fyedka (Федька; a diminutive of Fyodor
old spelling Ѳеодор), the
Russian version of Theodore, from Greek Θεοδωρος [Theodoros],
“gift of God”), a young Christian man. He shares
Chava’s passion for reading and is outraged by the Russians’
treatment of the Jews.
- Lazar Wolf (לייזאַר װאָלף), the wealthy village butcher.
Widower of Fruma-Sarah. Attempts to arrange a marriage for
himself to Tzeitel. (Lazar is the Yiddish version of Lazarus,
from Hebrew Eleazar or El'azar [אֶלְעָזָר],
“my God has helped”.)
- Yente (יענטא), the gossipy village matchmaker who
matches Tzeitel and Lazar. Yente is a Yiddish word meaning
“busybody”: the character name is appropriate! (The word is
ultimately related to the word “gentle”. In Sholem Aleichem’s
stories, the matchmaker was a man named Ephraim, who was a man of few
- Shandel: variant of Shaindel (שֵׁײנדֶל), diminutive of
Shayna (שֵׁײנָא), Yiddish for “beautiful”.
- Mendel: (מֶנְדְל) Now taken as diminutive for Hebrew Menachem (מְנַחֵם), meaning “comforter”.
- Fruma-Sarah (פרומאַ שרה), Lazar Wolf’s dead wife, who
rises from the grave in Tevye’s “nightmare” (Fruma is
Yiddish for “pious”.)
- Grandma Tzeitel (צײטעל באָבע), Golde’s dead
grandmother, also featured in the “nightmare”
- Mordcha (מאָרדחאַ), the innkeeper.
- Avram (אַבְרָם; Abram in English, meaning “exalted
father”) In Genesis
17:5, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (אַבְרָהָם),
meaning “father of many”, or “father of a multitude”; Abraham is
considered by both Jews and Arabs to be the ancestor of both.
- Ruchel (רוכעל) is a Yiddish
variant of Hebrew Rachel (רָחֵל), meaning “ewe”; in Genesis,
she was Jacob’s favorite wife, but died in childbirth, giving birth to
her second son, Benjamin.
- Nahum (נַחוּם, meaning
“comforter”), the beggar. Nahum is the name of one of the 12 minor
prophets in the Old Testament; he prophesies the doom of Nineveh.
- Rabbi, the wise village rabbi.
- Constable, a Christian man; the head of the local
- Yussel the hatter. Yussel [יוססעל]
is a Yiddish variant of Joseph, from Hebrew
יוֹסֵף = Yosseph, meaning “He
[that is, the Lord] shall add [another son]” (Genesis
30:22-24); In the Bible, Joseph was
the 11th son of Jacob, but his first by Rachel, his favorite wife.
Rachel did indeed bear another son, Benjamin, but died giving birth to
him. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, so his jealous older brothers
sold him into slavery, and he was taken to Egypt, and became the Vizier
of Egypt, and averted the famine, bringing the rest of the family. The story of Joseph and his brothers is found in Genesis
and 45. The
musical version is told in Joseph
and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In the New Testament,
there is Joseph, the spouse of Mary.
1:18-25), and Joseph of Arimathea (See John
19:38, and parallel passages in the other Gospels), a member of the
Sanhedrin and secretly a disciple of Jesus, who gave is tomb to bury the
body of Jesus.
Act I, Prologue (“Tradition”
- In 1960 the creators of Fidder (Joseph Stein [book], Sheldon Harnick
[lyrics], Jerry Bock [music], thought about making a show
based on Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories. They put together a show,
and eventually ended up with Jerome Robbins as director. Robbins kept
asking them, What is the show about? Both Robbins and others who were
watching were not sure what the point of the show was. They finally came
up with the answer: Tradition! To explain that, they wrote the opening
number, Tradition, which sets the scene of Tevye’s world; the
rest of the show is about how it unravels.
- A prayer shawl is the tallit (Hebrew: טָלֵית) (talit in Modern
Hebrew; tālēt in Sephardic Hebrew and Ladino; tallis in Ashkenazic Hebrew and
Yiddish; plural tallitot), a fringed garment traditionally worn by Jews. The tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as
tzitzit attached to its four corners. The cloth part is known as the
beged (literally, garment) and is usually made from wool or linen, although silk is sometimes used for a
- A kopek (copeck or kopeck: Russian, копе́йка, kopeyka; Ukrainian,
old Russian spelling, копѣйка) is a
Russian coin worth 1/100th of a ruble; Russia was the first
country in the world to use decimal divisions of its monetary
unit, in 1704. Because it has such a small value, one rarely
sees a one kopek coin today. (Before World War I, one US cent was worth
about 2 kopeks; now, it is worth about 67 kopeks. Although it is
difficult to compare the value of money over time, the 1905 kopek would
be worth about 13 cents in today’s money.)
- Reb is short for Rebbe (Yiddish: רעבבע [?]),
meaning Rabbi (Hebrew: רבי), meaning a man learned in Jewish
law, both the Scriptures and the oral law, which was codified as
the Talmud. The title rabbi is not the equivalent of a
protestant minister or Catholic priest, but it is used as a sign
of respect for a man learned in the Holy Books, as Tevye
Act I, Scene 1 : The kitchen of Tevye’s house (“Matchmaker,
- Shah! (שאַ) means “Sh!”, “Hush!”, “Quiet!”
- The evil eye (עַיִן הָרַע) ʿáyin hā-ráʿ
is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glance, often with the
subject being unaware of the glance. The idea is found in some
translations of the Old Testament, and in rabbinic writings. Some rabbis
have interpreted it as an attitude bad will: wishing evil upon others,
and rejoicing at their misfortunes.
Act I, Scene 2 : Exterior of Tevye’s house (“If I were a rich man”
- Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed. Tevye is
thinking of Jeremiah
יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י
תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃ “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” (This is
one of the rare quotes that Tevye quotes from the “Good Book”
that is actually taken from the Bible.)
- A small fortune: The first two of the Tevye stories are entitiled:
“Tevye Strikes It Rich” and “Tevye Blows a Small Fortune.”
- I am a stranger in
a strange land. Mendel is correct: this quotation is by Moses,
“And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.”
- I am slow of speech
and slow of tongue. This is Moses again:
“And Moses said unto the Lord, O my
Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”
4:10) In response, the Lord
appoints Aaron, the older brother of Moses, to speak to Pharaoh.
Act I, Scene 3 : Interior of Tevye’s house (“Sabbath Prayer”
- The story of Ruth (Hebrew: רוּת) is told in the
Biblical book of the same name. Because of a famine, Naomi
(נָעֳמִי) leaves her home in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in the
land of Israel, in the days of the Judges, and settles in the
land of Moab. Her two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah (עָרְפָּה)
and Ruth. After Naomi’s husband dies, and her two sons die, she
returns to her homeland. Orpah remains in the land of Moab, but
Ruth returns with Naomi. Ruth’s words to Naomi are famous:
וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רוּת֙ אַל־תִּפְגְּעִי־בִ֔י לְעָזְבֵ֖ךְ לָשׁ֣וּב
מֵאַחֲרָ֑יִךְ כִּ֠י אֶל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֵּלְכִ֜י אֵלֵ֗ךְ וּבַאֲשֶׁ֤ר
תָּלִ֙ינִי֙ אָלִ֔ין עַמֵּ֣ךְ עַמִּ֔י וֵאלֹהַ֖יִךְ
אֱלֹהָֽי׃בַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּמ֙וּתִי֙ אָמ֔וּת וְשָׁ֖ם אֶקָּבֵ֑ר
כֹּה֩ יַעֲשֶׂ֨ה יְהוָ֥ה לִי֙ וְכֹ֣ה יֹסִ֔יף כִּ֣י הַמָּ֔וֶת
יַפְרִ֖יד בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֵֽךְ׃
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee: for whither thou
goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy
people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou
diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord
do so to me,
and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. (Ruth
The story tells how Ruth marries Boaz [בועז], and becomes an
ancestress of King David.
- Oprah Winfrey was given the name Orpah at birth, but so
many people pronounced it Oprah that she adopted that form.
- The story of Esther is told in
the Biblical book of the same name. Vashti [Hebrew: ושתי, Koine
Greek: Αστιν Astin], Queen of Persia, offends the King, so he
looks for a new queen. After auditioning many candidates, the
King chooses Esther, a Jewish woman. (According to the Bible, Esther
2:7, the woman Esther [Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר] was originally
named Hadassah [Hebrew: הדסה], meaning myrtle.). She is
continually guided by her uncle Mordecai [מָרְדֳּכַ].
But the King’s chief minister, Haman [המן], hates
Mordecai, so he plans to annihilate all the Jews in the Persian
Empire. Mordecai discovers the plot, and asks Queen Esther to
intervene with the King. At the risk of her life, Esther tells
the King of Haman’s plot. Haman had set up a tall gallows on
which to hang Mordecai, but instead, Haman himself is hanged on
it! These events are commemorated in the feast of Purim
Act I, Scene 4 : The inn (“To Life”
- Vodka (водка) is a
distilled alcoholic beverage. The name is from a Slavic word
usually understood to mean “little water.” In the European Union
it must contain a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), and
in the United States, 40% ABV. Vodka is distilled to as much as
95% ethanol, and then diluted. (Whisky, by contrast, is usually
distilled to its final strength.) In the Vodka Belt (Northern
and Eastern Europe), vodka is usually drunk neat, but in the
United States, it is more commonly used in cocktails.
- Schnapps is a distilled alcoholic beverage. In the
United States, schnapps is a liqueur, containing 15% to 50% ABV.
The German Schnaps, one of several kinds of fruit
brandy, containing at least 32% ABV. It is interesting that the
Jews seem to prefer to drink schnapps, and the Russians
- L’chaim [לחַיִּים] is Hebrew for “to life!”
- Mazel tov [מזל טוב] literally means “good luck!”; the
phrase is used to express congratulations.
- The Russian za vasha Zdarovia (за ваше
здоровье!) means “To your health!”, a toast.
- Na zdrovia: The famous Russian phrase “Na
zda-ró-vye!” (Russian: Hа здоровье!) is actually not a drinking
toast at all. It is used as a reply to “Thank you!” when someone
thanks someone for a meal or a drink. (From RusslandJournal)
So it could be understood as being the equivalent of “You’re
Act I, Scene 5 : The street outside the inn
- A pogrom (погро́м;
פאָגראָם in Yiddish)
is a riot against a minority population, particularly against
Jews and particularly in the Russian Empire. From 1881-1884 progroms
broke out in Ukraine and Poland, which were then part of the Russian
Empire. There were over 2000 events, particularly in Kiev, Warsaw,
and Odessa. Not many were killed however. But from 1903 to 1906, a much
bloodier wave of pogroms
broke out in the Jewish Pale of Settlement
(mostly today’s Belarus and Ukraine). The government authorities
often looked the other way, or, in some cases, actively
participated in, or instigated, the violence. At this time, many Jews
took up arms to defend themselves. It is estimated that over 2000 Jews
were killed at that time. Many Jews then
determined their only safe course was to emigrate, mostly to
America. By 1907, the United States was becoming overwhelmed
with immigrants and pressured the Russian authorities to take
action against the pogroms.
Act I, Scene 6 : Outside Tevye’s house (“Miracle of Miracles”
- Jacob (יַעֲקֹב) was the third of the Israelite
patriarchs, being the grandson of Abraham (אַבְרָהָם) and son of
Isaac (יִצְחָק). After tricking his older twin brother Esau
(עֵשָׂו) out of the patriarchal blessing, Jacob fled his home in
the land of Canaan to the home of his uncle Laban (לָבָן),
where he fell in love with his younger daughter Rachel
(רחל). Jacob agreed to serve Laban for seven years. But on his
wedding night, Laban gave him his older daughter Leah
(לֵאָה). Jacob then must serve Laban another seven years for
Rachel. Leah bore Jacob six sons and at least one daughter, and
Rachel bore two sons. After twenty years with Laban, Jacob
returned to the land of Canaan. On the way, his name was changed
to Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל).
- Perchik and Hodel had a song “If I Were a Woman”, which the
original Perchik (Bert Convy) was sad to see cut. (Altman, p. 54)
- Moscow (Москва) was not the capital of Russia at the time; it was St
Petersburg. The capital was moved back to Moscow in 1918, after the
Bolsheviks got control of the country, because the Germans were getting
too close to St Petersburg.
- Daniel (דָּנִיֵּאל) is the main character in the
Biblical book of the same name.
Chapter 3 tells how Daniel’s three companions Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the burning, fiery
5 tells how Daniel read the handwriting on the wall. The
story of Daniel in the lion’s den is in
- The book of Joshua tells how Joshua led the men of Israel to
capture Jericho (יְרִיחוֹ). The men marched around the
city in silence, and at the signaled time, the trumpeters blew
their horns and the people gave a great shout, and the walls of
Jericho fell down.
- Moses (מֹשֶׁה) softened Pharaoh’s heart: The
Bible has nine references to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart: Exodus
7:3, 7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:19,
10:20, 10:27, 11:10,
14:4. The only instance of Pharaoh’s heart softening is
after the death of the firstborn in Exodus
And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord
smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the
firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn
of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn
of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his
servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in
Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up,
and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the
children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said.
Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be
gone; and bless me also.
- The parting of the Red Sea (Hebrew Yam Suph:
ים סוף), allowing the Jews to escape Egypt, is told in Exodus chapter 14.
- David (דָּוִיד or דוד) and Goliath (גָּלְיָת):
I Samuel chapter 17.
Act I, Scene 7 : Tevye’s bedroom (“The Dream”
- A blessing on your head is an English version of
Yiddish A gezunt af dein Kop!, literally, health
upon your head, a typical Yiddish blessing.
- Mordecai (Hebrew: מָרְדֳּכַי,
in the Biblical book of Esther, is
Esther’s uncle and guardian.
Act I, Scene 8 : The village street and the interior of Motel’s tailor shop
- Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) was one of the most
important German poets of the 19th century. He was born into a
Jewish family in Düsseldorf, but was baptized a Christian in
1825, and took the name Christian Johann Heinrich Heine. Because
of his radical views, he spent his last 25 years in exile in
Paris. Starting in 1933, many of his books were burned by the
Nazis. But his legacy was great enough that many of his poems
were still published, even in Nazi Germany, although the
attribution was changed to “anonymous”. In Israel, his legacy is
controversial, because of his conversion to Christianity.
Act I, Scene 9 : Part of the yard of Tevye’s house (“Sunrise,
- canopy: The Hebrew word is chuppah (חוּפָּה), the canopy
under which a Jewish couple stands during their wedding
ceremony. By extension, chuppah can refer to the wedding
ceremony, as distinct from the celebration. Although a Jewish
wedding is considered valid with or without it, the chuppah
is considered an integral part of the ceremony.
Act I, Scene 10 : The entire yard of Tevye’s house (“Bottle Dance”
- The bottle dance is not a traditional Jewish dance, but a
creation of Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the original production.
Act II, Scene 1 : Exterior of Tevye’s house (“Now I Have Everything”
and “Do You Love Me?”
- The term socioeconomic appeared for the first time
around 1885. It is surprising that Perchik would use such a word
in a remote part of the Russian Empire, even though he may have
learned it in Kiev.
- The song Now I Have Everything was originally written for
Motel, at the moment he receives permission from Tevye to marry Tzeitel.
But the original actor who played Motel (Austin Pendleton) was not a
trained singer. Bert Convy, the original Perchik, was. He had a song,
“As Much as That”, which sounded like communist propaganda, and so
he coveted the song “Now I have everything” , and got it! (Altman,
- In the duet Do You Love Me, Golde suggests that Tevye has indigestion.
William S. Gilbert made the same observation, that love and indigestion
can be confused in the 1881 Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience:
Angela. Ah, Patience, if you have never loved, you have never known true happiness!
Patience. But the truly happy always seem to have so much on their minds. The truly happy never seem quite well.
Jane. There is a transcendentality of delirium – an acute accentuation of supremest ecstasy – which the earthy might easily mistake for
indigestion. But it is not indigestion – it is æsthetic transfiguration!
Act II, Scene 2 : The village street (“The Rumor”
- The song The Rumor (or, “I just heard”) is not really
necessary to the plot of the story, and did not appear on cast
recordings until the invention of CDs. But it was written to cover a
scene change behind the curtain, just as was a song from Annie
Get Your Gun: “There’s no business like show business”! (Altman, p. 55)
- In most rural areas, most people needed to go to the post office
to pick up their mail. In 1896 the United States began experimenting
with rural free delivery (RFD), which became permanent in 1902.
Act II, Scene 3 : The exterior of the railway station (“Far From the
Home I Love”
- In the book of Genesis, Joseph (וֹסֵף) is the eleventh
son of Jacob, and his first son by Rachel, his favorite wife.
Therefore Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, which his older
half-brothers resented. They sold him into slavery in Egypt. But
Joseph became the chief minister of Egypt, and was able to
rescue his whole family during the seven-year famine. The story
of Joseph and his brothers is found in Genesis
Act II, Scene 5 : Motel’s tailor shop
- There was a song “Dear Sweet Sewing Machine” at this point that
expressed the joy of Motel and Tzeitel at the arrival of their baby and
their new sewing machine. But it was the first number to be cut, mainly
because the audiences in the previews did not like it, and that at this
point in the narrative the story of Motel and Tzeitel was essentially
over. (Altman, pp.
- Each shall seek his own kind. This is actually not a
quote from the Bible (the “Good Book”), but is one of Tevye’s
Act II, Scene 6 : A road
- The song Chavaleh was originally an extended ballet, that was
shortened. (Altman, p. 55)
Act II, Scene 7 : Tevye’s barn (“Anatevka”
Petersburg (Санкт-Петербу́рг: Sankt-Peterburg [a German
name]) is the second largest city in Russia, and was the
Imperial capital of Tsarist Russia from 1713 to 1918 (with a gap
from 1728 to 1732). It was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.
In 1914, with the anti-German feeling generated by World War I,
it was renamed Petrograd (Петрогра́д).
After the death in Lenin in 1924, it was renamed Leningrad (Ленингра́д). Then, after the fall of
communism, it was finally renamed St Petersburg in 1991.
Informally, the city is usually called Peterburg, and,
sometimes, simply Peter. It is considered the most Westernized
city in Russia, and is the northernmost city in the world with a
population of over one million.
- Get thee out was the title of a song that was cut from the
- The principal of eye for eye, tooth for tooth is given
three times in the Old Testament: Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20;
and Deuteronomy 19:21. It is quoted also in the New Testament,
in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard
that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but
whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take
away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever
shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him
that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn
not thou away.” (Matthew
5:38-42). Tevye says that if this commandment is followed
literally it would make the world blind and toothless.
In this Tevye is anticipating the words of Gandhi by several
generations! (In fact, rabbis taught that the command could not
be literally enforced. Instead, one who injured another’s eye or
tooth owed him the value of the eye or tooth.)
- The Messiah (מָשִׁיחַ) in Jewish
tradition is a descendent of David who will appear in the future
to unify the tribes of Israel, gather all Jews to the land of
Israel, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and usher in the
Messianic Age of global universal peace, and follow with the
annunciation of the World to Come.
- Originally, the song “Anatevka” was jubilant. At this point there
were also two other songs, “When Messiah Comes” and “Get Thee Out”;
they brought the scene to a standstill. (Altman, p. 54)
Act II, Scene 8 : Outside Tevye’s house
- Next year in Jerusalem is a wish and a song at the end
of the Passover celebration, after the meal, sung in (perhaps
only symbolic) longing to return to the city where the Passover
was celebrated before the exile under the Babylonian king
Nebuchadnezzar. In Israel, the statement is
“Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem.”
- That Motel is a person translates into Yiddish אַז מאָטעל איז אַ מענטש which is transliterated as “Az Motel iz a
Mentsh.” Perhaps it is better rendered into English as “That
Motel is a Mensch.” The Yiddish word Mensch or Mench
(מענטש) means “human being”, and is cognate with the
German word Mensch. (In the 1980s one might have said,
“That Motel is a real man.”)
- Warsaw (in Polish, Warszawa;
in Yiddish, װאַרשע = Varshe; in Russian, Варшава
= Varshava) is the capital and largest city of Poland. In 1795, in the
third partition of Poland, it became part of Prussia. But in 1807,
Napoleon created the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, which included much of
present-day Poland. In 1815, when Napoleon was defeated, it became part
of the Russian Empire. (So Motel and Tzeitel would not be escaping
persecution by moving there!) In 1919, Poland was again independent,
with Warsaw its capital. But the city was mostly destroyed in World War
II, and was rebuilt according to communist plans.
- Cracow (in Polish, Kraków; in German, Krakau) is the second-largest city
in Poland (after Warsaw), and was the capital of Poland from
1038 to 1596. It has the second-oldest university in central
Europe (after Prague). In 1795, in the third partition of
Poland, Krakow became part of Austria. Napoleon added it to the Grand
Duchy of Warsaw in 1809. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of
Vienna made it an independent republic. But in 1846, there was an
uprising, and the Austrians marched in and annexed it. It was transferred from
Austria to the new republic of Poland in the peace settlement of
1919. Because Krakow suffered very little damage in World War II
(unlike Warsaw), it retains much of its charm.
There are some additional glossaries of terms and curiosities
on the Roof. Please visit:
- Last updated: 07/28/2016 and 06/06/2020.
- For additions, suggestions, corrections,
or comments on this glossary, please email
me: tf_mcq <at> yahoo.com.
- Return to McQ’s theater page.