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It’s Sholem Aleichem’s birthday on March 2! Explore the way his original monologue of a small-shtetl melamed (including a sharp materialist critique of religion, capital, and tradition) evolved into Gwen Stefani swinging from a vine!


1. Listen to the man himself, Sholem Aleichem—on a wax cylinder recording—recite his monologue, “If I Were Rothschild.”

“And, perhaps, even—if I were Rothschild—I would do away with money altogether. For let us not deceive ourselves, what is money anyway? It is nothing but a delusion—a made up thing…Money, I tell you, is nothing but a temptation, a piece of lust, one of the greatest of lusts…” Who is this guy? Sounds more like Jesus or the Buddha than Topol!

2. The original Broadway, Tony-award winning Tevye, Zero Mostel, performing “If I Were a Rich Man.”

In 1964, Fiddler on the Roof premiered on Broadway, where it went on to set records for longest-running musical and transformed our melamed’s monologue into a musical theater classic. In this now-classic reformulation, our melamed’s lament becomes something unexpected — a sentimental ode to all consumerist Quixotes.

3. “Wenn ich einmal reich wär’” Shmuel Rodensky in Anatevka

Fiddler was a worldwide sensation. A German-language version, Anatevka, premiered in Hamburg in February 1968. The Litvak-Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky (1904–1989) became most associated with “Tewje” on the German stage.

4. Chaim Topol in Fiddler on the Roof

Director Norman Jewison rejected the classic Broadway Tevyes, such as Zero Mostel or Herschel Bernardi, opting for what he called “a more virile Tevye” in the Israeli actor for his 1971 film.

5. 屋根の上のバイオリン弾き

Fiddler on the Roof remains the longest-running musical in Japanese history. Japanese audiences reportedly were in tune with veteran actor Morishige Hisaya’s Tevye and his struggle to maintain traditional values.

6. Rothschild Returns to Yiddish

After the success of the Israeli Hebrew version, “If I Were a Rich Man” was translated BACK into Yiddish by Shraga Friedman for a Yiddish production, staged in Tel Aviv in 1966. Here’s the classic tenor Jan Peerce, singing Ven ikh bin a rotshild.

7. Louchie Lou & Michie One’s solo debut “Rich Girl”

English ragga duo Louchie Lou & Michie One’s 1994 dancehall hit attests to the global success of Fiddler, but also marks a return to the money-driven despair of the original. Louchie Lou & Michie One’s sampling here not only makes use of “Rich Man” but also of other familiar, repurposed, Jewish musical motifs.

8. Gwen Stefani’s Rich Girl

Perhaps there has never been as rabid a Sholem Aleichem fan as Gwen Stefani. Ok, maybe not. 10 years after Louchie Lou & Michie One, Orange County-ska-rock fusion sensation Gwen Stefani revisioned the revisioners together with Philly-born rapper Eve. This version updates the materialism of Fiddler‘s Tevye, with some new disturbing features.