Shaina Taub and the Talmud Just Won a Tony

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it,” the Jewish writer and performer quoted in her acceptance speech.

The 77th Tony Awards was a big night for the Jewish theater community.

Among the most notable mentions: Jewish actor/boy who lived Daniel Radcliffe took home the Tony for best featured performance in a musical for his role in the revival of  “Merrily We Roll Along.” “Merrily,” whose lyrics and music were written by Jewish theater giant Stephen Sondheim, also snagged the Tony for best revival of a musical. Alex Edelman received a special Tony for “Just for Us,” his stand-up show about his Jewish identity and going to a meeting of white supremacists. And Syrian Jewish writer David Adjmi and British-Jewish director Daniel Aukin won best play and best direction of a play, respectively, for their work on “Stereophonic.”

But the most Jewish moment of the night came from Tony-winning writer and performer Shaina Taub. Taub was nominated for “Suffs,” a musical about the American suffragists who fought and won women’s right to vote. (“Suffs” director Leigh Silverman was also nominated, but lost out to the Jewish director of “The Outsiders,” Danya Taymor.) In her acceptance speech for best score — earlier in the night she won the award for best book of a musical — Taub mentioned the importance of the Talmud to “Suffs.”

“The epigraph on my script is a quote from the Talmud: You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it,” said Taub, who also stars in the musical as suffragist Alice Paul. She went on, “This is a hard year in our country, and I just hope that we can remember that when we organize and we come together we are capable of making real change and progress for this country for equality and justice. And so I hope we can all do that together.”

The quotation comes from Rabbi Tarphon in Pirkei Avot, or “Chapters of the Fathers.” This chapter is a part of the Mishnah, or the oral code of law at the center of the Talmud.

“It’s part of the thesis of the show,” Taub told Hey Alma in 2021. “So much of the language of activism is about this finality of finishing a struggle — never again, enough is enough, if not now, then when. But the fights and the struggles for equality and justice are never finished, and no generation really completes that work. It doesn’t mean you don’t still have to work and fight and organize as if you could finish it. It’s holding that contradiction in your head as an activist, and as any person working towards a better future.”

So what I’m hearing is that the Talmud also just won a Tony?! Mazel tov, Shaina! The work of making the world a better, more equal and accessible place is certainly not done yet. But thanks to you, “Suffs” is a perfect and very Jewish reminder to keep marching.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

Read More