If I Were a Rich Man (song)

"If I Were a Rich Man" is a popular song from the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. It was written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. The song is performed by Tevye, the main character in the musical, and reflects his dreams of glory.[1]

The title is inspired by a 1902 monologue by Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish, Ven ikh bin a Rothschild (If I were a Rothschild),[2] a reference to the wealth of the Rothschild family, although the content is quite different. The lyric is based in part on passages from Sholem Aleichem’s 1899 short story "The Bubble Bursts." Both stories appeared in English in the 1949 collection of stories Tevye's Daughters.[3]


The Oxford Companion to the American Musical wrote that the song has "cantor-like chanting", and is "the most revealing of the many character numbers".[4] The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey explained that the song contained the most number of Jewish "commonplaces" than any other number in the score; it added the song does twofold: it "offers such a strong dose of idiom early in the show [which] is good for the overall unity", and the "important dramatic function" of introducing the central character of Tevye through song.[5] History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe argues the song is based on a poem entitled "If I were Rothschild", in reference to a famous and wealthy Jewish entrepreneur.[6] Leading Your Family to Water notes that given a wealthy existence, interestingly Tevye says he would use the time not spent working to "learn more about his faith".[7] The Grammar Devotional likens the phrase "if I were a rich man" to the Cowardly Lion's "if I were king of the forest" in The Wizard of Oz in the context of imagining a scenario.[8] The song is inspired by a Hasidic folk song.[9]

Lyrics and style

The song is broken into four verses, with a bridge between the third and fourth and a chorus sung at the beginning of the song, and after the second and fourth verses.

Musically, it is written in a Jewish klezmer style.

Through the first two verses, Tevye dreams of the material comforts that wealth would bring him. Sung boisterously and comedically, Tevye first considers the enormous house he would buy and the needless luxuries he would fill it with, including a third staircase "leading nowhere, just for show," then the poultry he would buy to fill his yard.

Tevye switches his attention to the luxuries in which he would shower his wife, Golde, in the third verse. He talks of servants to alleviate her workload, fancy clothes for her pleasure, and mountains of food. The song is sung in the same boisterous, comedic style.

The music and vocals intensify during the bridge, when Tevye starts lamenting his place in the community as a lowly milkman, and considers the esteem and importance that wealth would bring him.

In the final verse, Tevye softens as he further considers his devotion to God. He expresses his sorrow that the long working hours he keeps prevents him from spending as much time in the synagogue as he would like, and how wealth would allow him to spend less time working and more time praying and studying the Torah, and finally asking God if "it would spoil a vast eternal plan" if he were wealthy.

A repeated phrase throughout the song, "all day long I'd bidi-bidi-bum," is often misunderstood to refer to Tevye's desire not to have to work. However, in an interview with Terry Gross, Sheldon Harnick said he basically made up syllables that he thought would give the effect of Chassidic chanting. The first person to play Tevye, Zero Mostel, then replaced the syllables Harnick had written with ones that Mostel thought would be more authentic.[10][11]

Lyrics are as follows:

"Oh, dear Lord, you made many, many poor people.
I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor.
But it's no great honor either!
So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?"
If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.
I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen,
Right in the middle of the town.
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.
There would be one long staircase just going up,
And one even longer coming down,
And one more leading nowhere, just for show.
I'd fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks
For the town to see and hear.
(Insert) Squawking just as noisily as they can. (End Insert)
With each loud "cheep" "swaqwk" "honk" "quack"
Would land like a trumpet on the ear,
As if to say "Here lives a wealthy man."
If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.
I'd see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man's wife
With a proper double-chin.
Supervising meals to her heart's delight.
I see her putting on airs and strutting like a peacock.
Oy, what a happy mood she's in.
Screaming at the servants, day and night.
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
"If you please, Reb Tevye..."
"Pardon me, Reb Tevye..."
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you're rich, they think you really know!
If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, seven hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.
If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.
Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan
If I were a wealthy man?

Cover versions and translations



Appearances in other media


  1. "Fiddler On The Roof - Tradition Lyrics". www.lyricsmania.com.
  2. "Fiddler On The Roof - Tradition Lyrics". www.lyricsmania.com.
  3. Tevye's Daughters, by Sholom Aleichem, translated by Frances Butwin (1949). "The Bubble Bursts" appears on pages 1–15, "If I Were Rothschild" on pages 16–19.
  4. "The Oxford Companion to the American Musical". google.com.au.
  5. "The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey". google.com.au.
  6. "History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe". google.com.au.
  7. "Leading Your Family to Water". google.com.au.
  8. "The Grammar Devotional". google.com.au.
  9. "Soundtrack Available". google.com.au.
  10. "tefilla - Meaning of "bidi-bidi-bum" - Mi Yodeya". stackexchange.com.
  11. "'Fiddler' Composer Jerry Bock, 1928-2010". NPR.org. 5 November 2010.
  12. Nimmervoll, Ed (6 September 1967). "National Top 40". Go-Set. Waverley Press. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  13. http://www.discogs.com Sergio Franchi
  14. Yidcore - If I Were A Rich Man (Video)'s channel on YouTube
  15. David Serero - Ah! Si J'étais Riche. YouTube. 5 August 2014.

External links

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