Tevya (film)

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Directed by Maurice Schwartz
Produced by Henry Ziskin
Written by Maurice Schwartz
Starring Maurice Schwartz
Miriam Riselle
Rebecca Weintraub
Paula Lubelski
Distributed by Maymon Films Inc.
Release date
  • December 21, 1939 (1939-12-21)
Running time
93 min
Country United States
Language Yiddish
Budget $70,000[1]

Tevya is a 1939 American Yiddish film, based on author Sholem Aleichem's stock character Tevye the Dairyman, also the subject of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. It was the first non-English language picture selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.



The script was adapted by Marcy Klauber and Schwartz from the Sholem Aleichem play based on his own book. Schwartz also directed the film. The movie was based on two prior works by Schwartz from two decades before: the 1919 silent movie called Khavah (or Broken Barriers) and the 1919 stage production of Tevye.[2][3]

The production was filmed at Biograph Studios in New York City and on a farm in Jericho, Long Island, New York. Midway through the shooting of the film, on August 23, 1939, Hitler seized Danzig and a Nazi invasion of Poland was imminent. These and other events in Europe impacted on the actors, many of whom had family in Poland. The filming was completed nevertheless.[4]

The story focuses primarily on the plotlines from Sholem Aleichem's stories "Chava" and "Lekh-Lekho (Get Thee Out)" but provides a definite ending rather than Sholom Aleichem's ambiguous ending. In this version of Tevya, as the Jews are expelled from their shtetl, Chava who had previously converted to Christianity to marry, leaves her husband, returns to her family and to Judaism. It is felt that the anti-Semitism of the time influenced Schwartz to provide this ending.[4]


Long thought to be a lost film, a print was discovered in 1978. The same story was the basis of the 1964 stage musical Fiddler on the Roof and its 1971 film version, though the fate of Chava in the ending was changed for the change in attitudes by that time.[4]

In 1991, Tevya was the first non-English language film to be named "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard Koszarski, Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff, Rutgers University Press, 2008. p. 385.
  2. ^ Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds by J Hobermann. New York, 1991, ISBN 9781584658702. p.53-54.
  3. ^ Laughter Through Tears: The Yiddish Cinema by Judith N Goldberg. 1983. ISBN 9780838630747. p.97-98.
  4. ^ a b c Frieden, Ken, "A Century in the Life of Sholem Aleichem's Tevye" (1993). Syracuse University. Paper 46.

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