|Translation (Yiddish)||Transliteration (Romanized Yiddish)||Translation (English)|
”איז דען דאָ אַ באַזונדערע בְּרָכָה פֿאַרן קײסער?“
“Iz den do a bazundere brokhe farn keyser?”
“Is there a special blessing for the Emperor?”
”אַ בְּרָכָה פֿאַרן קײסער? אַװדאי.
מִי יִתֵּן און דער קָדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ־הוּא
װעט בענטשן דעם צאַר ניקאָלאַי
און אָפּהיטן אים װײַט, װײַט פֿון אונדז!“
“A brokhe farn keyser? Avade.
Me yosn un der Ḳodesh borukh hu
vet bentshn dem Tsar, Nikolai,
un ophitn im vayt, vayt fun undz!”
“A blessing for the Emperor? Of course.
May it be that the blessed Holy One
bless the Tsar, Nicholas [Ⅱ],
and keep him far, far from us!”
This humorous blessing for the Tsar (Nicholas II) is given in the voice of the Rebbe to Mendl in Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Joseph Stein’s musical theatre adaptation of Sholom Aleichem’s short stories Tevye (the Milkman) and His Daughters (1894-1914).
We are almost certain that the lines here, spoken near the end of the opening song “Tradition,” were written by Stein rather than by Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for “Tradition.” Concerning the creation of “Tradition” Harnick explained, “All I remember is that it was difficult and also that I was nervous because I thought it’s endless; it’s too long. To me an opening number had to be snappy and get down to about three or four minutes, and of course I was terrified that the whole show was too long, and that it was going to be too serious and too Jewish and a disaster. But [the director/choreographer, Jerry] Robbins wasn’t worried about that. As the number was getting longer and longer, I suddenly realized I was watching a man literally mold a number out of pieces. Joe Stein would give him some dialogue—I guess I had written the lyrics already—but I think Jerry Bock had to keep supplying him with music, and it took shape like a piece of sculpture” (from Richard Altman & Mervyn Kaufman, The Making of a Musical: Fiddler on the Roof, 1971, p.31, emphasis mine). It’s possible, however, that the lines may have been adopted by Stein from an earlier source (perhaps even from a story by Sholom Aleichem). If you know, please leave a comment below or contact us.
From Stein and Harnick’s work, Shraga Friedman prepared a Yiddish translation for an Israeli production of the musical — פידלער אױפן דאך (Fiddler Oyfen Dakh, 1965). The text here is as copied from the scripts prepared by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (Yiddish | English). There are some differences in the text found in Yiddish and in the English script, with באַזונדערע missing in the former. There are also minor differences between the lines presented here and those read in the popular 1965 cast recording, with ‘Tsar’ replacing ‘Kaiser’ in both lines. In the 1971 film adaptation using the English script, the name of the questioner was changed from Mendl to Leibl.
We are grateful to Yoni Oppenheim (Artistic Director at 24/6: A Jewish Theater Company) for his research help with the Yiddish script.
“אַ בְּרָכָה פֿאַרן קײסער | A Blessing for the Kaiser, from Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein – Yiddish translation by Shraga Friedman (1965)” is shared through the Open Siddur Project under their Fair Use Right (17 U.S. Code §107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use), in respect to the copyrighted material included. Any additional work that is not already in the Public Domain is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Works of related interest:
תְּפִלָּה לִשְׁלוֹם הַמֶּמְשָׁלָה | Prayer for the Wellbeing of the Government of the USSR, by Rabbi Solomon Shleifer (Choral Synagogue, Moscow 1956)
A Prayer for Democracies Everywhere with the Welfare of Ukraine Foremost in Mind, by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org, 2022)