Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Talmud on Broadway

This morning while walking around the neighborhood alone, meaning without my walking buddies, I was listening to Broadway tunes on Spotify. The King and I is one of the shows on my "Broadway" selection, and as I listened to the words before the song "Getting to Know You," I suddenly realized that the "ancient saying" referred to was Jewish. I was sure that the concept  "If you become a teacher, from your students you'll be taught." was from  Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers. When I got home, I quickly skimmed a translation I have of the book but couldn't find it.

Then I asked my husband to find the source, and he did. It's in the Talmud, Taanit and was said by Rabbi Chanina.

Considering the disproportionately large percentage of Jews who were involved in writing/composing Broadway musicals in the mid-twentieth century, the chances are pretty good that the line was inspired by the words of Rabbi Chanina. Rodgers and Hammerstein fit that ethnic/Jewish bill. Richard Rogers was Jewish as was the father of Oscar Hammerstein.

Can you think of any other Broadway shows or popular tunes or stories that could be inspired by, or related to the Talmud or other Jewish sources?


Adelaide Dupont said...


There are lots.

Kismet and Fiddler on the Roof, of course.

And I think sometimes the Talmud is built into every stone and brick on Broadway.

How wonderful that Ethics of the Fathers was in one of my favourite King and I songs.

Maybe Dear Evan Hansen has some Talmud in it.

Batya said...

Could be. Thanks

Ester said...

Check out
for thoughts on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz". And of course the whole theme of Dorothy wanting to go home and finding it hard to say good-bye to her friends in Oz is the story of Aliyah in a nutshell.

Batya said...

Thanks, Ester, good point. Also the ruby slippers remind us that we have a lot of power for teshuva and direct contact with Gd.

rbbr said...

The movie "Random Harvest" (1942), based on a novel by British author James Hilton--not Jewish--is incidentally a very good depiction of an agunah: not one created by the malice of an antagonistic divorce, but by the tragic circumstances of war and illness. Bear in mind that in 1942, during the second World War, most people remembered the first Great War and could imagine something like this happening. The movie was a tremendous hit when it came out and stayed popular for decades.
(This is not a review of the movie, just a description.) A shell-shocked WWI soldier who can't remember his name, his past, or his family walks out of the mental asylum when the guards are celebrating the Armistice, and meets a kind showgirl who helps him avoid recapture, then takes care of him when he falls ill. They marry, have a baby, and are very poor-but-happy until he goes to the city for a job interview and gets hit by a car. Then his memory returns--up until the time he was wounded. Now he can't remember the past 3 years with his wife. He returns to his old home and resumes his life as the heir to a business empire and fortune. Meanwhile, his wife tracks him down (she got sick and the baby died) and gets a job as his secretary, but he doesn't remember her. He's about to marry again but the fiancee realizes his heart is still elsewhere. Eventually, he enters a marriage of convenience, a business arrangement, with the secretary. After a few years she can't take being so-close-and-yet-so-far anymore and goes on vacation to where they lived as a happy couple. At the same time her husband has a business meeting in the town where they first met and his memory begins to return, he goes back to their little house, they meet, it all comes back, happy fadeout.

Ok. How is this Jewish? It seems to me that from centuries ago, up through the mid 1900s when divorce became more common, most women would become agunahs through war, business travel, or non-fatal but debilitating (mental or physical) illness. A woman very possibly could know who and where her husband was, but be unknown or unrecognizable to him and therefore unable to get a get. The movie was criticized (especially by more recent viewers) as depicting an unbelievable situation, but the wife's dilemma is actually quite possible and the movie does a good job of presenting it. (The lead actress is great; the lead actor, less so.)
If they subtitled this into Hebrew they could rename it "The Agunah," and after watching it no one would ask why.

Batya said...

Interesting. Thanks