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Tevye, Sholem Aleichem (1914)

Telling his fellow Jews not to worry

by
Jeremy Dauber
September 17, 2013

It’s more than just “the basis for Fiddler on the Roof.” A lot more. Tevye—Sholem Aleichem’s masterwork, written over two decades as the world transformed around him—is a lot of things. It’s a meditation on tradition and change: How much can Tevye bend, in the face of his daughters’ new ways and worlds, without breaking? It’s a tragicomic gloss on Jewish life and fate: When Tevye changes the subject to something cheerful, like an Odessa cholera epidemic, we see Sholem Aleichem’s deserved reputation for eliciting “laughter through tears.” But most of all it’s a rollicking good read in an unforgettable voice that sums up, more than any other work I’ve read, what it means to talk Jewish in the modern age.

Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University, and the author of In the Demon’s Bedroom: Yiddish Literature and the Early Modern and Antonio’s Devils: Writers of the Jewish Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature.

Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University, and the author of In the Demon’s Bedroom: Yiddish Literature and the Early Modern and Antonio’s Devils: Writers of the Jewish Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature.

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