Podcast: Ruth Wisse on Tevye the Dairyman

The renowned expert on Yiddish literature stops by to talk everything Tevye, Fiddler, Sholem Aleichem, and more.

Aug. 15 2019
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at Tikvah. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

This Week’s Guest: Ruth Wisse


Probably no character in Jewish fiction is better known than Tevye the Dairyman. And Fiddler on the Roof, Broadway’s adaptation of the Tevye stories by the towering Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, is itself one of the best known and most widely performed musicals of all time; in turn, the Hollywood film made from Fiddler is American cinema’s quintessential portrayal of life in an East European shtetl.

But long before he sang his way into the hearts of theatergoers and film audiences around the globe, Tevye, at turns comedic, tragic, and wise, was the character into whom Sholem Aleichem poured the most of himself; and it was also Tevye through whom the great author commented on the core issues facing the Jews of his own day—and ours.

Ruth Wisse, professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard, and now a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund, has been teaching the tales of Tevye the Dairyman for decades. Now the Tikvah Fund has released a free online course that brings her lifetime of learning to digital devices everywhere. To mark the occasion, this week we are rebroadcasting a conversation between Wisse and the Tikvah Fund’s Eric Cohen that takes a close look at the second story in the Tevye series, “Tevye Blows a Small Fortune.” Through this single story, they explore what the personality and the values of a supposedly simple country Jew have to teach us about rootedness, about tradition, and about faith.

If you enjoy this podcast, you’ll surely enjoy Ruth Wisse’s free online course on Tevye the Dairyman. To enroll, just follow this link: Tevye.TikvahFund.org.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.




Every Thursday, the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic will bring to your car/earbuds/home stereo/Alexa the latest in our efforts to advance Jewish thought. For more on the new podcast, check out our inaugural post here.

A final note: If you would like to share your thoughts on the podcast, ideas for future guests and topics, or any other form of feedback, just send us an email at [email protected]. We’re grateful for your support, and we look forward to a new year of great conversations on Jewish essays and ideas.

More about: Arts & Culture, Fiddler on the Roof, Ruth Wisse, Sholem Aleichem, Tevye, Yiddish, Yiddish literature