Tradition: Like A Fiddler on The Roof

by Tom Wacaster

“Tradition! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as…as a fiddler on the roof!” Tradition, simply defined, is the passing down or the handing down of a teaching from someone else.” Tradition can be good or bad. I suppose it could even be neutral. Carried to an extreme, even good tradition can be wrong, and when any tradition interferes with, or goes contrary to the will of God, it is always wrong. Often a practice that has been passed down from generation to generation over a long period of time can unknowingly become a tradition, and even imagined to be law. How does that happen? Actually it is quite simple. An action or practice is introduced to meet a circumstance or emergency. That action is repeated on similar occasions until it becomes accepted as allowable in all similar circumstances. Over a long period of time and with repeated usage, that tradition obtains an equal status with the authorized word of God, perhaps even thought to be taught in God’s word as an essential element to faithfulness. The final step in the process is when the tradition takes precedence over the word of God and is honored in place of it.

I’m not suggesting that all tradition is bad. To the contrary, it provides a certain sense of balance in our life. The leading character in The Fiddler On The Roof – Tevye – described the importance of tradition when it comes to a balanced life, while at the same time capturing the frailty and danger of blindly following tradition:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ We stay because Anatevka is our home… And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition!

We admit the role that tradition has played (and continues to play) in our lives. Some traditions are so ancient that it would be impossible to trace their beginning; others so new that we question their validity. It is true, nonetheless, that tradition is more widespread than we care to admit. As Tevye put it:

Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything…how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition… Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

Divine wisdom dictates that we recognize what is inspired tradition and what is human tradition, and maintain a healthy respect for the difference between the two. It will truly help us to have balance socially. But more importantly, it will help us maintain balance in our relationship with God. Or as Tevye put it, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

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