Fiddler on the Roof starts with Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughter, telling the life lives by Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905. In his house, his wife Golde is busy commanding their daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke as they prepare their home for the Sabbath meal. While they are busy doing their chores, the matchmaker named Yente comes and informs Golde that an old widower and a butcher named Lazar Wolf aspires to marry Tzeitel. Some of Tevye’s girls are excited about it but Tzeitel is not too happy about it because she’s in love with her childhood friend, Motel, a tailor.
As Tevye contemplates about his poverty and struggles in life, the bookseller Avram arrives and tells him about news regarding pogroms and expulsions. A man named Pechik admonishes them and tells them that they have better things to do than just talk. Even though the man seems a bit radical, Tevye still makes it a point to invite the man for Sabbath. Also, in exchange for a room, he asks Perchik to tutor his two youngest daughter. When he comes home, Golde informs Tevye that he has a meeting with Lazar after the Sabbath. On the other hand, Tzeitel fears that Lazar will marry her before Motel can ask her to marry him. As for Motel, he does not want to ask Tevye for his daughter’s hand until he’s able to buy a sewing machine which will prove that he can provide for Tzeitel as a husband.
During their meeting, Tevye accepts Lazar’s proposal to marry her daughter which sparks a celebration for Lazar in the inn where they meet up. Outside the inn, Tevye encounters the Russian Constable who warns him about a supposedly unofficial demonstration in the coming weeks.
The next morning, Perchik argues with Hodel about some of their beliefs. They start to develop feelings for each other when Perchik dances with Hodel just to show that he is not confined the tradition preventing men and women from dancing with each other. Meanwhile, Tevye announces Tzeitel’s engagement with Lazar. Tzeitel protests and begs her father no to let her marry the butcher. Motel also arrives and shows Tevye his conviction in marrying his daughter. Tevye is shocked by Motel’s lack of respect for tradition. However, he gives his blessing to Tevye and Motel even though he worries about his wife’s reaction when she learns about his decision.
While sleeping, fakes having a dream about Golde’s mother blessing Tzeitel’s marriage to Motel. He also tells who Lazar’s late wife rises from the grave to warn him about the bad things that can happen if Tzeitel is to marry Lazar. Because of the horridness of the supposed dream, Golde agrees in letting Tzeitel marry Motel. Meanwhile, Chave forges a secret relationship with Fyedka, a man she has met when he protected her from some young Russian and loaned her a book.
Tzeitel and Motel get married. Even though Lazar offered them a wedding gift, he argues with Tevye for breaking their prior arrangement. Perchik interrupts the feud by dancing with Hodel in front of the guests. The celebration suddenly comes to an end when the Russians barge in to do the “demonstration,” damaging the wedding gifts and injuring Perchik in the process.
When Perchik is about to leave and return to Kiev, he asks Hodel to marry him. Hodel accepts and the couple inform Tevye about their engagement. Tevye is appalled by this and is even more shocked to find out that they are not really seeking for his permission but merely, his blessing.
Tevye talks to Golde about Hodels’ engagement and about how that is different from their arranged marriage. After a few moments of contemplation, Golde agrees with his thoughts. Yente comes in and tells them about Chava and Fyedka. News about Perchik’s capture and exile in Siberia has also started circulating around. Because of this, Hodel decides to go after him but she reassures her family that she will always love them.
After quite some time, Motel manages to buy a sewing machine and have a child with Tzeitel. On the other hand, Chava asks her father to let her marry Fyedka, who is a Russian. Tevye mulls it over but he just can’t fathom her Jewish daughter marrying outside their faith. He then forbids Chava from seeing Fyedka again. This forcers her to elope with Fyedka. When Chava returns, Tevye does not want to talk to her and banishes her from their family. Meanwhile, the Russian Constable arrives to tell them that they must leave the town immediately.
In the end, Tevye and his family leave Anatevka. Motel and Tzeitel will go to Poland before joining them in America. Even Chava and Fyedka decide to go away and head for Krakow. The play ends with a fiddler playing and following Tevye and his family as they leave their village.