Study Guide

Tevye the Dairyman Wisdom and Knowledge

By Sholem Aleichem

Wisdom and Knowledge

No one likes a know-it-all—except Tevye. One of the reasons that Tevye is obsessed with his knowledge of and ability to recall the many samples of midrash that he treats everyone he knows to is that he wants always to look like the smartest, wisest guy in the room. Because he's not the most anything else—not the most successful, not the richest, not the most well-connected—he settles for the superlative "most knowledgeable." The only problem is that Tevye the Dairyman hints that maybe, just maybe, being fixated with appearing wise isn't really the same thing as internalizing and learning from all the midrash that you can quote. Plus, it's really annoying to watch a movie with someone who's just quoting the whole thing.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. How would the stories be different if Tevye were telling them not as they happen, but from the distant future looking back on events? Would he tell them in the same order? Reflect more on the events?
  2. Who is the wisest character? Least wise? (And are they maybe the same person?)
  3. What do we know about Sholem Aleichem as a character in the stories? Does his identity change how Tevye talks to him and how he tells his stories? Why does Tevye constantly tell him not to write them down or publish them?

Chew on This

Tevye willfully misreads situations in which he should have known better (like, say, with Menachem-Mendl, or with Ahronchik's family) because he'd rather be lucky than wise.

Tevye is insecure about his level of knowledge or understanding, and so feels most comfortable in the company of those who cannot talk back to him—God, Sholem Aleichem, or his horse.