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Tevye the Dairyman

Tevye the Dairyman

by Sholem Aleichem

Tradition and Customs Theme

In Tevye, a big red line (drawn by Tevye of course) separates Tradition with a capital T, which can never be disobeyed or disrespected; and things that are open to interpretation or even change: custom. See? It doesn't even get a capital letter. On the small-time custom side? Marriage practices, old-school values about money being the only indicator of success. On the Tradition side? Anything that takes you out of the Jewish culture and over to the side of the oppressive majority population.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. Why does Tevye not show Golde his feelings? Why does he persist in treating her with that "a woman remains a woman" style of disdain, despite the fact that he clearly relies on her judgment quite a bit?
  2. Do we see the way any other family or household handles questions of tradition? How does Podhotsur, or Lazer-Wolf, for example, compare to Tevye in terms of concern for the old ways?
  3. Who is the most traditional character? Who seems the most radical?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Sholem Aleichem suggests that Tevye's reliance on Biblical quotations provides a sense of permanence and tradition in the face of constant and unpredictable change.

In Tevye, some of the village's traditions exist only in Tevye's mind.

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