by: Natalie Levine
Matchmaker is a song in the first act of Fiddler on the Roof sung by Tevye’s daughters—Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. This song is about the jewish tradition of arranged marriages and in this case, the town’s matchmaker, Yente. The matchmaker’s main job is setting up marriages between Jewish men and women. She doesn’t necessarily look for individuals who will make each other truly happy and that will love each other but rather looks for individuals who are“suitable” matches financially. Many times a young women would be setup with a much older man, if he was in need of a wife and was financially stable. Matchmaking in this time period wasn’t about happiness but rather stability. For example the daughters sing, imitating Yente, “Hodel, oh Hodel, Have I made a match for you! He’s handsome, he’s young! Alright, he’s 62. But he’s a nice man, a good catch, true? True” (Stein 18). This shows the matchmaker, in this instance Yente, wasn’t concerned with finding a match that the female would be interested in. She was more concerned with just finding a match to ensure the female gets married. In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye’s daughters, especially Tzeital, are in no rush to be matched, as they know their potential matches won’t be similar in age to them and may even be abusive: “He’s handsome, he’s tall, That is from side to side. But he’s a nice man, a good catch, right? Right. You heard he has a temper. He’ll beat you every night, But only when he’s sober, So you’re all right” (Stein 19). They know they won’t be match on compatibility, but on financial security. All three daughters sing, “Plan me no plans, I’m in no rush, Maybe I’ve learned, Playing with matches, A girl can get burned” (Stein 20). They are very aware they may not like or be attracted to their spouse and they are in no rush to be married off to who Yente picks for them.
According to On Changing Matchmaking, Marriage, and Fertility in Israel, the degree to which arranged marriages, like the ones Yente set up in Fiddler on the Roof, have declined overall. Among oriental Jews arranged marriages have declined significantly but, “in the Arab population traditional matchmaking and marriage arrangements have remained the same and, indeed, even been strengthened and intensified” (Matras 366). The turning point for this change, declined use of matchmakers and arranged marriages seems to have taken place after WWII. Age of marriage increased and rates of education increased relating to the decreased use of matchmakers. Matras clearly stated, “the downward changes in proportions marrying at early ages are presented here as indexes of the decline in the early marriage norms in these communities, of the diminished pressure to arrange marriages, and of the additional mate-selection options opened up simply by less pressure to marry early” (Matras 374). However, “large minority of Kurds and Indians who married in Israel also indicated “arranged marriages,” that is, the traditional marriage arrangement persists to considerable measure among some Oriental Jewish groups” (Matras 378). This shows that while overall the use of matchmakers has declined, it does still persist in some areas.
According to Gender and Jobs in the Jewish Community, “The women of my [Green] generation were brought up with the notion that mothers do not work (even when ours did and we were proud of it). The Jewish woman was “princess,” wife, mother (a life-cycle progression not)” (Green 42). This corresponds with the notion in Fiddler and the song Matchmaker that women don’t work, so their value is derived from the success of their husbands. One occupation that was available to Jewish women was being a matchmaker, so as seen through Yente. A woman without children could pursue a“career” in matchmaking as there weren’t many opportunities for work for women in that time period. This article analyzed the history of Jewish women and how and if they worked. Most, at least those who were married, did not work. This further supports the meaning of the song Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof. If women did not or could not marry then they lacked someone to derive their value from, as typically women derived their value from their spouse. This connects to the lines “Because you’re a girl from a poor family. So whatever Yente brings, you’ll take, right? Of course right’ and “Did you think you’d get a prince? Well I do the best I can. With no dowry, no money, no family background Be glad you got a man” (Stein 18-19). Tzeital, Hodel, and Chava are very cognizant of the fact that the matchmaker will try to find them the most economically stable match, as their worth will forever be derived from the worth of their spouse, as most women didn’t work in this time period.
The study, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Can You Make Me a Match? Predicting Liking Between Two Unacquainted Persons by Andrea Chapdelaine, David A. Kenny, and Kathryn M. LaFontana examined how successful a person can be at determining the likelihood of two individuals liking each other. Matchmaking involves anticipating behavior. Subjects in the study struggled to successfully predict which individuals would like each other. The researchers explained,“In Fiddler on the Roof (Stein, 1964), Yente, the matchmaker, was asked to select a compatible spouse for one of Tevye’s daughters. Our subjects were given a conceptually similar task. Both the matchmaker and our subjects did not fare very well. As expected, we found that persons were not able to predict very accurately the extent to which two unacquainted persons would like each other” (Chapdelaine et al 88). This study supports that not only was Yente’s choice of Lazar a misjudgment of liking and of compatibility, but also that matchmaking as a whole is incredibly difficult to do successfully. This further supports the meaning of Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof, that matches aren’t made based on who was thought likely to have good compatibility, but rather on the economic stability a spouse could provide.
Bock, Jerry, et al. Fiddler on the Roof. Limelight Editions, 1964.
Chapdelaine, Andrea, et al. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Can You Make Me a Match? Predicting Liking between Two Unacquainted Persons.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 67, no. 1, 1994, pp. 83–91., doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11.
Green, Nancy L. “Gender and Jobs in the Jewish Community: Europe at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Jewish Social Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 2002, pp. 39–60., doi:10.1353/jss.2002.0007.
Matras, Judah. “On Changing Matchmaking, Marriage, and Fertility in Israel: Some Findings, Problems, and Hypotheses.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 79, no. 2, Sept. 1973, pp. 364–388., doi:10.1086/225551.