Tradition: Taking It With You Into Your Future

It’s so easy to let the changes of modern day life eat away at tradition. Change happens, it seems, whether we like it or not. More often than not, however, we allow it to happen.

I had reason last night to consider this. My family went to see Fiddler on the Roof with Harvey Fierstein. I’ve seen the musical twice before, but this time I was struck by the symbolism the director gave to the fiddler. He became the embodiment of tradition.

Each time Tevye had to decide if he should break from tradition, he faced the fiddler. He would show up playing his instrument, and Tevye would either shoo him away or not. If he sent him away, his decision represented a break from tradition. When he refuses to accept his daughter’s decision to marry out of her faith, he allows the fiddler to stay. Also, at the end of the musical as the family leaves for America–for a new life in a new land, he motions for the fiddler to come along. I’d never realized before that this symbolized his desire to bring the old traditions with him into his new life and into the future.

As I look at my life, I see how many traditions I’ve left behind. While I didn’t grow up with many Jewish traditions, I took quite a few on as an adult. Yet, as my children got older and busier and as my other family members became less interested in religion, like Tevye, I allowed myself to be swayed away from tradition. Unlike Tevye, though, I have not put my foot down and said, “Enough. That far I won’t go. That much I won’t accept.” At some point I allowed the fiddler not only to leave my rooftop but my daily life as well.

I’ve written some articles in my Jewish Issues Examiner column criticizing those who have been unaccepting of the Women of the Wall in Israel, an organization of women who choose to wear tallitot and read Torah at the Western Wall on Rosh Chodesh. While I still wholeheartedly support this group of women and their freedom to worship at theKotel, I can understand to some extend the desire of the Orthodox Jews who harrass them to uphold tradition. They must fear that if they allow the Women of the Wall to worship at the Kotel–if they allow the fiddler to be sent away, the foundation of their lives and their religion might begin to disappear. They must fear that the traditions upon which so much of Judaism and Jewish life are based will start to crumble. And, of course, they need only look around to see that the rest of the Jewish world lives a life distant from the traditional life they lead. Thus, they have reason to believe that letting one tradition go will lead to all traditions disappearing. From their perspective, before long, this will cause the fiddler to fade into the distance.

I can understand. My life is much, much less Jewish without the small traditions I had, the ones I myself choose to uphold in my life since I did not come from any type of observantly Jewish home…and I didn’t uphold anywhere near the number of traditions of Orthodox Jews or those in the fictional Anatevka. I strain t hear the fiddler.

As I walk into the future, I’m not going to a new land or a new way of life. However, like Tevye I will invite the fiddler to come along.  Not only that, I think I’ll draw him close so he walks by my side and I can hear his music loud and clear.

2 thoughts on “Tradition: Taking It With You Into Your Future”

  1. It seems to me, if you’re truly interested in human potential, you should have no business with the Fiddler. He represents the survival instinct of primitive human societies, motivated, driven, and even enforced by brutal, primal, and harsh realities that, today, are anachronisms (or ought to be, if human potential is a goal). The Fiddler says, “there is safety in numbers, even if most of us are now deceased”.

    Tevye is unable to resist the Fiddler when it comes to his daughter’s marriage. The safety of conformity offered by tradition proves to be more important, even, than his desire to see his daughter happy. Sad, unfortunate, not at all noble or laudable. But we are humans and we come from the muck, and tradition is what fills in the gaps after our potential for independence and personal growth is spent.

    1. I think there is a place for the fiddler–tradition–along with the movement towards fulfilled human potential. I don’t agree with not accepting the daughter’s decision to marry outside the faith, although in the end he does, but I can see from his perspective that this is just too much of a break from tradition. I think we can find ways to mold tradition to help us fulfill our human potential…to renew it. That’s why I love Jewish renewal.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and for reading my blog. I really appreciate you doing both.

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