Teyva (1939)

This is an excerpt from the 1939 Yiddish film Teyva and comes to YouTube from the National Center for Jewish Film based at Brandeis University. Starring and directed by the famed Yiddish actor Maurice Schwartz, Teyva is an adaption of the Sholem Aleichem story “Lekh-lekho” (“Get Thee Out”), which also became the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. In this clip, we see Teyve dramatically prepared to go into mourning for his daughter Chava, who has converted to Christianity in order to marry her beloved Fyedka. As scholar Anita Norich has observed, this is one of the most famous moments in all of Yiddish film. In deciding to begin his mourning after Havdalah—the ceremony which closes the Sabbath and starts the week—and thereby truncate the ritual from one week to one hour, the character of Tevye in this film underscores his ambivalence towards his daughter’s actions. For a Jewish audience in the 1930s facing growing concerns of assimilation and intermarriage, this depiction of uncertainty rather than outright rejection, argues Norich, is meant to comfort audiences who may be dealing with similar issues. Likewise, Schwartz’s decision to end the movie with Chava’s reconciliation with her father and return to Judaism (rather than the ambiguous conclusion in Sholem Aleichem’s original) is likely an acknowledgement of the era’s rising anti-Semitism and an attempt to reassure viewers in a world where Jewish life itself was under attack. Indeed, the outbreak of the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of Poland occurred while the film was being shot on Long Island.