For: strong promotion of false religion, and glorification of soviet communism
Fiddler on the Roof is a quaint, creative musical, and one of the most heavily religious movies of all time. The religion, however, is not only not Christianity, it’s hostile to Christianity, and the movie’s heroes are not merely non-Christian, they’re avowedly anti-Christ. Portraying a destructive religion in such a strongly positive light that it’s impossible to like the movie without compromising essential Christian beliefs, Fiddler on the Roof is nothing more than unbelief disguised as faith, and legalism disguised as tradition.
Note: In this review, unless otherwise clearly specified, the words “Jew” and “Jewish” refer strictly to the religion. In Fiddler on the Roof, the characters who practice Judaism are also “Jewish” by ethnicity, but this review is addressing religious differences, not ethnic differences. We affirm the equality of ethnic Jews and gentiles before God, and we deny that the mere ancestry of the characters in Fiddler on the Roof gives any advantage or disadvantage to their religion and worldview.
Strong Promotion of False Religion
Fiddler on the Roof’s protagonists make it abundantly clear that they do not have Christ, and the scriptures make it abundantly clear that those who do not have God the Son - Christ - do not have God the Father, either.1 This means that any religious expression on the part of the Jewish characters is not a positive element, but an offensive negative element, just as serious and just as wrong as any other false religion.
The main character, Tevye, claims that the Jews’ “traditions” are what teach them their identities and the divine will, and that without the traditions (which are distinguished from, not identified with, scripture) their lives would be completely unstable. The fiddler on the roof is, himself, a recurring metaphor for these traditions which are extra- or even unbiblical. For example, “kosher” is said to be an important standard,2 the Sabbaths in Fiddler on the Roof are filled with rabbinic traditions with no biblical foundation, and the men make a point of always keeping their heads covered (which is actually forbidden in scripture3). The rabbi is featured prominently and with much reverence. The synagogue and its many Jewish icons and images are highlighted several times, particularly to emphasize Tevye’s attachment to the “traditions”.
The movie is also filled, from beginning to end, with a steady stream of prayers to “God” from professing Jews. Again, despite their (usual) sincerity, these characters’ prayers are negative elements, biblically. Jesus Christ stated in very clear terms that “No one comes to the Father except through me,”4 which means that in Fiddler on the Roof, just like in real life, anyone who is not coming to God through Christ isn’t coming to the true God at all, even in prayer.
Getting into more serious content, all of the professing Christians in Fiddler on the Roof are portrayed negatively (except for the one who elevates feeling above faith, and marries a practicing Jew). As the movie progresses, the village church, crosses, clergy and images of Christ are given an increasingly harsh, cold and disturbing aura. Also, the wrongdoings of the professing Christians are portrayed as a result of their religion, not a violation of it. For instance, a Russian official demands local involvement with a government attack on Jews on the grounds that they are “Christ killers”, and insinuates that honoring Christ requires harming Jews.5 Fiddler on the Roof is a story in which it’s entirely possible that none of the characters possess saving faith, but the only characters who have even a chance are among the villains, not the protagonists.6
There are several open, conscious, clear rejections of Christ in Fiddler on the Roof, by Tevye and the other positively-portrayed characters. These characters are all aware of the claims of Jesus Christ, and deny him willfully, not ignorantly.
One of Tevye’s daughters wants to marry a Christian, and Tevye, shocked, gravely exclaims, “Don’t you know what that means, marrying outside the faith?” When the girl marries her lover anyway, Tevye publicly disowns her, casts her out of the family, and says multiple times that she is “dead” to them, firmly believing that to accept her after her marriage to a Christian would be to “deny everything I believe in,” to “turn my back on my faith.”
One of Tevye’s sons-in-law specifically states, in lament, that the Messiah has not yet come, and the rabbi replies that they are all still waiting for him.7
As an aside, contrary to both New and Old Testaments, Tevye’s wife Golde interprets an omen as the spirit of a deceased person coming “all the way from the other world” to tell them something, and she changes her plans based on that necromantic assumption.8
Glorification of Soviet Communism
Perchik, a major character and future son-in-law of Tevye, is a positively-portrayed radical Marxist. His most mild fan is Tevye, who likes him, says he’s “a good man,” and only thinks his communistic schemes are “a little crazy”.
Perchik and other communists are seen holding a workers’ rally in Kiev, waving big red flags. His enthusiastic speech includes statements that “there is no authority above the will of the people,” and that workers and students “are the people! We are Russia!” Perchick “urges” the fellow workers to join their revolutionary movement (the Bolshevik movement, which resulted in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or U.S.S.R.).
Prior to the rally in Kiev, Perchick describes the upcoming recruitment as “work to do: the greatest work a man can do.” His positively-portrayed fiancee Hodel, to whom Perchick is a “hero”, says that the reason she is willing to join him in prison is that she wants “to help him in his work.”
Perchick claims that the rich are criminals. He also prophesies a revolution one day, when “their wealth will be ours.” He repeats the Marxist conviction that “money is the world’s curse.” He claims that “everything is political,” and that, “like everything else, the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base.” Claiming to be a Bible teacher, Perchick twists biblical accounts to teach children communist principles, like, “You can never trust an employer.”
An arrested communist is compared to Joseph, Abraham and Moses. The communist is specifically described as having done “nothing wrong.”
1 1 John 2:23
2 “Kosher” refers to a set of religious regulations related only tangentially to the ceremonial laws given by God for the Old Testament period. The kosher standard was developed by independent rabbis, and its only appearances in scripture are as a negative example, as in the case of the Pharisees who embraced kosher law but abandoned biblical law.
3 1 Corinthians 11:4, 7
4 John 14:6
5 These kinds of destructive actions and attitudes are sometimes exhibited by professing Christians, but are clearly unbiblical and are therefore at odds with, not inspired by, true Christian faith, unlike Fiddler on the Roof’s representation.
6 1 John 5:12 - “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” There are such things as professing Christians who are not true believers, but professing Christ is a necessary prerequisite, and in Fiddler on the Roof, only the villains get even that far.
7 1 John 2:21-23 – “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father…”
1 John 4:2-3 – “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
1 John 5:6, 9-12 – “This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ… And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth… If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son… Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
8 See Deuteronomy 18:10-12, for instance.