Folktales of the Jews, Volume 2
Tales from Eastern Europe
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: Jewish Publication Society
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Ifirst met Dov Noy in a book—more precisely, in an endnote. I was putting together a collection of Jewish folktales, browsing through hundreds of stories collected in dozens of anthologies and primary sources. Early on in my research, I came across a bibliographic reference containing a baffling acronym—IFA—followed by a number...
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Introduction to Volume 2
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Eastern European Jewry was a relatively late Diaspora. Its communities evolved after the Jewish societies in other Diasporas such as Spain, the countries of Islam, and Western Europe had had their periods of glory and turbulence. Theories and legends abound, but evidence is slim about the origins and early days of eastern European Jewry...
A Note on the Commentaries
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When full information is available, each note consists of five sections: basic information; discussion of cultural, historical, or literary background; list of narrative analogues; folktale types; and folklore motifs. Basic information includes the tale title, archival number, and names of its narrator and collector (recorder), as well as the time and place of its narration. The “Israel Place List (1970)”...
Tales of the Supernatural
1. The Three-Day Fair in Balta (IFA 708)
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The court of the Rebbe* of Kozienitz** was overflowing with Hasidim. Everyone clustered around the rebbe. Among the Hasidim was a young man who was hanging about the rebbe’s court looking very somber and upset. He asked the shammes§ to announce him to the rebbe because he wanted to have a private audience with him...
2. The Kaddish (IFA 18159)
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Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a certain man who prayed in the synagogue every day and recited the Kaddish.* “Why do you say Kaddish every day?” people asked him. “You’re only supposed to say it on the anniversary of your parents’ deaths—when you have yahrzeit** for your mother or father.”...
3. The House Vanished with All Its Inhabitants (IFA7290)
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My father, Yosef Ephraim, son of H.ayyim Altman, was drafted into the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in the town of Roman. Soon after, in 1877, the war broke out—the Romanian War of Independence. My father and his entire unit were dispatched to the Dobruja front...
4. The Rabbi Who Was Tricked (IFA 779)
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In a small town, there lived a rabbi with his wife and children. The rabbi was a great scholar and a quiet man. The townsfolk were very fond of him. No rich men lived in the town, so the rabbi barely made a living. But he was content with his lot. He was satisfied with everything. He did not want to be a burden on the people of the town. Time passed...
5. The Demons and Spirits under the Fingernails (IFA 8792)
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In the village of Wielaccza, which lies between Szczebrzeszyn and Zamosc, there lived a village Jew, a simple, hardworking, and God-fearing man. Like all village Jews, he did not sin by knowing too much Torah. When they first met him, people quickly sensed a Jew who smelled of the field and stable...
6. The Treasure (IFA 8256)
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On a side street in a small town there lived a mother with three daughters. People called the girls “the orphans” because their father had died when they were all still very young. The mother had sweated to bring them up. She mended and sewed for the householders; the girls, when they got older, helped her...
7. The Bottle of Oil from the Holy Land (IFA4024)
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Acertain widow journeyed to visit the Rebbe* of Stratyn to ask for assistance and advice. When she arrived, she broke into tears and recounted her story. “My husband was ill for a long time. I sold everything we had in the shop and the house, everything of value, trying to save his life. But nothing helped. He passed away and left me with seven orphans...
8. Rebbe Shmelke’s Matzos (IFA 237)
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Every year, when the month of Nisan arrived, the tzadik Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sasov would take up his walking stick and wallet and set out for Nikolsburg, so he could celebrate Passover with his own master, Rebbe Shmelke. Rebbe Moshe Lieb would fill a bag with wheat that he had harvested and threshed with his own hands and stored all winter in his attic...
9. The Unforgotten Melody (IFA 5794)
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Reb H.ayyim, who held the lease on a nobleman’s distillery, wanted a scholar for his daughter, Zippora, who had reached marriageable age. What did he do? He turned to Rebbe Eliezer, the head of the yeshivah* in the nearby city, and requested a groom: one of the young men who studied all the time...
10. The Power of a Melody (IFA 5793)
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At his receptions to bid farewell to the Sabbath Queen on Saturday night after the Sabbath, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of H.abad, would relate Torah novellae and Hasidic insights to the Hasidim who were sitting around the table. Once, while he was speaking, the rebbe spied an old Jew who was not one of his close circle of Hasidim...
11. The Happy Man (IFA 12214)
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At the start of World War I, some Galician Hasidim who had been conscripted were traveling to the front. They rode in third class. Even though they were on their way to the front, they sang and had a jolly time, because it was Hanukkah. Everyone who saw them thought they must be people without a care in the world...
12. How Rothschild Became Wealthy (IFA 18601)
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Acertain Hasid of the Rebbe* of Kozientz** used to go to the rebbe’s court for every festival. One day he fell ill and died. He left several children. They were very poor, and the neighbors took pity on them. One of them identified a child with talent, but the neighbor couldn’t pay his school fees...
13. Why Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev Deviated from His Custom (IFA 7612)
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The Hasidim of Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev asked him: “Master, why don’t you perform the mitzvah of true and disinterested benevolence? Why don’t you follow deceased Jews to the cemetery?” Rebbe Levi Yitzhak answered them: “I don’t attend the funerals of rich men, even if they left money...
14. The Blessing of Elijah the Prophet on Yom Kippur (IFA 960)
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It was right before the Shavuot* festival. Many of the Hasidim were making preparations to travel to the rebbe’s** court and spend the Holiday of the Giving of the Torah with him. Two Hasidim, who had once been very rich but had lost their wealth, remembered their bygone days of affluence when they used to travel...
15. Rebbe Pinhas’l of Korets (IFA 9797)
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Rebbe Pinh.as’l of Korets was a famous rebbe,* with a following in many districts of Russia. His house was always full of Jews asking for assistance. The rebbe would receive them and listen to their troubles. Rebbe Pinhas’l was used to hearing the woes of the common folk. He gave help and encouragement to the masses and did whatever he could for them...
16. The Karliner Rebbe’s Prescription (IFA 7912)
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As a shepherd tends his flock, so did the “Babe of Stolin” care for his flock and see to all their bodily and spiritual needs. Nevertheless, he also conducted conversations on secular matters: with one person he would discuss philosophy and ethics; for another he would write down a “prescription”— a charm for physical health...
17. The Merit of the Third Sabbath Meal (IFA 5361)
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Once there was a merchant who was very meticulous about observing the precepts. Of all of them, however, he was most meticulous about shalosh se‘udot—the third Sabbath meal—and the melavah malkah* ceremony when the Sabbath was over. He always endeavored to have the melavah malkah table set attractively...
18. The Apostate Who Made the Tenth for a Minyan (IFA 4936)
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One evening the rebbe* told his shammes,** “Hitch up the horses to the wagon and we’ll start out.” Where? The next day was Erev Yom Kippur.§ No one knew and no one asked. The shammes hitched up the horses and told the rebbe that everything was ready for the journey...
19. The Fireflies on Rosh Hashanah Night in Lodz Ghetto (IFA 2361)
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During the Holocaust, the Nazis would not allow the Jews in the Lodz Ghetto to light candles. First of all, to make the Jews miserable, and, second, out of fear of aerial bombardment. In a narrow room in the Lodz Ghetto, several dozen men gathered for services on the first night of Rosh Hashanah 5704 (September 1943)...
20. The Miracle of the White Doves (IFA 11165)
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Nothing moved in the streets of Mielnice. The only sound in the town was the howling of the dogs, as if they wanted to signal the impending catastrophe. The inhabitants of Mielnice knew that that night, November 9, 1941, Hitler’s Germany was getting ready to celebrate its great holiday, the holiday of its victory. The townspeople had heard alarming reports...
21. The Exodus on Purim in the Town of Yampol (IFA 3892)
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In our town, like all towns, there is a street where the gentiles live. We used to call it “dog street,” but “wolf street” would have been more appropriate because they were such murderers that the wicked Haman was a poodle by comparison. . . . And just to provoke us, it seemed, their church was smack in the center of town, so every Sunday...
22. What Really Caused World War I (IFA 14026)
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The Holy One, Blessed Be He, is sitting in Heaven, surrounded by the heavenly host, discussing the affairs of the world. The accusing angel appears and delivers an indictment: “The world is not good. Sinners, transgressors, as usual.” Counters the defender: “That’s not true. That’s not how it is. That’s not how it is.”..
Tales between Jews and Non-Jews
23. The Shofar of the Messiah (IFA 6306)
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In our town there was a Jewish physician whose grandfather had been Zalman the blacksmith. The physician had long since forgotten that he was the grandson of the Jewish blacksmith and the son of Lipke, the Jewish mill owner. The old men in town told how the physician’s father had become wealthy thanks to the grandfather...
24. The Redemption of Captives (IFA 4813)
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In the great synagogue of Vilna, one Rosh Hashanah many years ago, when the rebbe of the synagogue, the righteous Rebbe Joshua (of blessed memory), got up to blow the shofar*—precisely at that moment Satan entered, and the rebbe could not get a sound out of the shofar, no matter how hard he tried...
25. The Long “H.ad Gadya” (IFA 7211)
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In the town of Bendzin in Poland there lived many Jews—upright and pious Jews. The city used to belong to Russia, in the time of the czars. The Polish nationalists wanted to use every means and all their energies to restore Polish freedom, establish a Polish state, and get rid of the Russians. The czar did everything to frustrate this dream. The Russian people, too, began to rise up against the czar. They too wanted to overthrow the czar and set up a regime of the workers...
26. The Two Friends (IFA 3222)
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It happened many years ago, in a town in Galicia. Avrum was a boy from a Jewish family, who lived next door to a Polish family with a son named Wlodek. The two boys were good friends. They played together and got into mischief and indulged in all sorts of pranks suggested by their imaginations...
27. The Gentile Beggar’s Secret (IFA 4541)
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Apoor Jew with many children came to see the rebbe. The Jew was a tailor by profession—he patched up the garments of poor Jews and gentiles— and his name was H.ayyim Yankel. His circumstances could hardly have been worse, yet they got more serious from day to day. So it was no wonder that the Jew complained to the rebbe about his bitter lot...
28. The Boy Who Was Kidnapped and Brought to Russia (IFA 18140)
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Once some kidnappers came and snatched an only child. He was already past thirteen. He left the synagogue with his tefillin.* But they grabbed him, gagged him so that he wouldn’t scream, put him in a wagon, and carried him off to distant Russia. They gave the boy to a childless family, who took care of him...
29. The Jew Who Returned to His People (IFA 8915)
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Once there was a Jew who lived in a small house on the banks of the Dniester River, on the Russian side, near the border between Russia and Romania. He lived there contentedly with his family, after having served twenty years in the czar’s army. All his neighbors were gentiles, but they got along well, even though the Jew lived in constant fear of them...
30. The Boots Made from a Torah Scroll (IFA 8257)
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There was a peasant family living in a village. They had three sons and one daughter. Like all the peasants in the village, they cultivated their fields. When a pogrom broke out in the neighboring town and everybody went off to plunder the Jews’ property and bodies, the peasant took his three sons along. When he came back home and started to go over his loot...
31. The Gentile Who Wanted to Screw the Jew (IFA 18136)
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Every village has a tavern run by a Jew. All over Poland there are villages with a tavern run by a Jew. The tavern serves food and drink. Once a gentile came and asked the Jew to let him have a glass of arrack* on credit. He was going to sell his cow in town and would come back with the money and pay for the drink...
32. The Old Couple and Their Children (IFA 3364)
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When he reached old age, Barukh the carpenter divided his substantial property among his children. He allotted some of the buildings and some of the money to each son and daughter. He divided it all fairly, lest there be—Heaven forbid!—less for one and more for another.
33. With the Rebbe’s Power (IFA 19892)
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In our town, the Hasidim used to beam with joy whenever anyone returned from a long journey and brought back with him some miracle worked by the rebbe’s* power. One day the worshipers in the tailors’ synagogue found out that a young man from Dorohoi had been suggested as a match for Reb**...
34. Gossip Is Worse Than Profaning the Sabbath (IFA 5609)
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Once there were two women, a mother and daughter. They were both widows and desperately poor and lived in a ramshackle hovel at the edge of town, near the forest. They eked out their living by weaving tallitot.* To earn their meager crusts, they had to work sixteen hours a day, day in and day out...
35. The Tailor Who Was Content with His Lot (IFA 8255)
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In a village there lived a poor couple. They had never had children, but this did not keep them from leading a contented life. His trade was tailoring, which he practiced for the gentiles of the village. At home they had plenty of good things. When they had a guest for the Sabbath, he never went away hungry, while they learned all the news about events in the big city from the wayfarer...
36. A Poor Man’s Wisdom Is Scorned (IFA 13498)
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In the Middle Ages there lived a great poet, Abraham ibn Ezra, who was dreadfully poor. He had absolutely nothing except for his staff and his bag, with which he wandered from place to place. All his life, Ibn Ezra was troubled by the verse “A poor man’s wisdom is scorned.”* “Why is the wisdom of the poor man scorned?”...
37. A Change of Place Is a Change of Luck (?) (IFA 14260)
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Once there was a Jew who never succeeded at anything. Whatever he did, it was always—as they say in Yiddish, mit der puter a rop—with the buttered side down (that’s what happens when you drop your bread and butter on the ground). In short, bad luck. Whatever business he tried his hand at, he failed. Plain bad luck...
38. God Will Help (IFA 18130)
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This is a story for which a person has to believe that things will work out. To think only this. Once there was an inn. The innkeeper leased it from the governor of the town. But he didn’t have the rent money. Whenever the governor came to demand the rent, the innkeeper would say, “God will help me.” It was always, “God will help me.”...
39. The Poisoned Cake (IFA 551)
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The nobleman’s castle was in a village near the shtetl. His widow lived there with her only son. The steward and his assistants handled all her business affairs; her son was at school in a distant city. He never came home except during the summer vacation, when his sole pleasure was to go hunting in the nearby forests. The son was the noblewomen’s only comfort...
40. There Is No Truth in the World (IFA 8004)
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Aman was traveling a long way. It was a very warm day, and he grew tired. He came to a pile of rocks and sat down to rest. Suddenly, he heard a voice from underneath the stones: “Help me get out of here! The rocks are crushing me.” The man’s heart was filled with mercy. He stood up and lifted a stone. A snake emerged and slithered away. The man thought no more about it and continued his journey...
41. Everyone Prefers His Own Bundle of Troubles (IFA 14460)
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The rumor flew through the town: The Messiah was on his way. Soon he would reach their town. The rabbi gathered his flock in the synagogue and told them about the wonderful and exciting event that was about to happen. “My brothers in Israel,” he announced, “the end of the exile has arrived, the end and termination of all our troubles has come. Our righteous Messiah is on his way!...
42. Reb Zusha the Shoemaker (IFA 19949)
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In those days, they didn’t make new shoes. Most people mended their old shoes. My grandfather, the late Reb* Berish, told me that for thirty years he had been mending his boots. In Yiddish they called it untergeboyt, that is, resoling. So most of this cobbler’s [Reb Zusha’s] work was to sew patch on top of patch on top of patch...
43. "As Face Answers to Face in Water" (IFA 20439)
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All her life, she had heard a story about hotels, what a lovely and elegant place they are, where you do nothing but rest, just rest and sleep. It was another place she didn’t know, because she was a woman who had to work all the time. Then she decided that for a year she would save a shekel every day...
44. Who Has the Right to Benefit from the Ten Commandments? (IFA 7755)
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Hershele Ostropoler was on intimate terms with the rebbe,* who lived peacefully among his Hasidim in a certain town. The Hasidim guarded their rebbe and sat at his table at the melavah malkah feast, Saturday night after Havdalah**, feasting on his leftovers. They also doted on the members of his household. The local magnate, who was fabulously rich...
45. The Neighbor in Paradise (IFA 5377)
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The rebbe* of Stretyn once asked, “Who will be my neighbor in the world to come?” A heavenly voice replied, “Eliezer the water carrier will be your neighbor in the world to come. He will sit next to you in Paradise.” The rebbe ordered his shammes** to hitch up the horses to the wagon...
46. A Trial in Heaven (IFA 19585)
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Acertain man died—may it not happen to us—and went up to Heaven. He came to the guardians of Heaven. There were two angels standing in front of him, the good angel and the bad angel, with a scale in front of them. The bad angel began: “This man must go to Hell.” “Why?” “Because he is wicked and a miser.” And he tossed many sins onto one pan of the scale...
47. White Flowers, Red Flowers (IFA 18156)
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In our town there was a physician who had a son. The son went abroad to study. During the summer, he came home for vacation—two months. There were two young women he was friendly with. They spent the two months together. When he left, the two women went to the train station with him. The boy had two bouquets of flowers, one white and one red...
48. The King’s Three Daughters (IFA 7202)
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Acertain king ruled his kingdom with a heavy hand. His subjects suffered under the yoke of the many taxes he levied on them. But the king didn’t care, because he wasn’t interested in how they made a living. Only a few people—the excise men, tax collectors, and clerks—knew how to get by. The rich lived in palaces; the poor in tents and miserable shacks...
49. A Boy and Girl Who Were Destined for Each Other (IFA 18132)
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Once there were two friends. They were very close until they grew up, when each of them married in a different city. But they wrote to each other. Once a week, once every two weeks, once a month. Finally they stopped. Things went well for them. One of the two friends had no children...
50. The Three Young Men (IFA 6098)
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Once upon a time, there were three young men, orphans left to their own devices. Wanting to earn an honorable living, they wandered from village to village in search of work, but could not find anything to do. One day, when they were in the forest, they met an old man. “What are you doing in the forest?” he asked them. “We have been looking for work for many days, but in vain...
51. The Poor Man Who Became Rich (IFA 8021)
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Aman who was working in the field found a treasure. He took it home and became rich. He moved to a different place, purchased a fine large house, and educated and raised his three children. Eventually he sent them to the big city to learn a profession. The first became a rabbi. The second studied medicine and became a physician. The third studied music and became a great performing artist...
52. The Stolen Ring (IFA 7812)
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Once there was a king whose precious signet ring had been stolen. This king had a Jew-hating minister named Dayenu. “Your majesty, the Jews are a stiff-necked people,” he told the king. “Their ways are crooked, and they consider every means appropriate to enhance their Passover festival, which is coming soon. Even the poor of Israel must celebrate this festival with great pomp and splendor...
53. The Money Hidden in the Cemetery (IFA 4032)
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Amerchant traveled to a large city to buy goods. He arrived there late Friday afternoon, shortly before sunset. He went at once to the bathhouse and put on his Sabbath finery. But what could he do with his money? You’re not allowed to keep money in your pocket on the Sabbath. But to whom could he entrust it? He didn’t know a soul in town...
54. Catch the Thief; or Don’t Put Too Much Trust in a Pious Person (IFA 14962)
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This is the story about Groin’m, a woman, and a priest. Old Groin’m was dying. Full of years and troubles, he called for his son, H.ayyim Yossel, and in a trembling voice, with not even enough strength to open his mouth, scarcely mumbling, he said, “H.ayyim’l, my son, I’m dying. I have nothing to leave you except for one thing.”...
55. I Came From M
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There probably wasn’t a more common or widespread saying in Hungary than, “I reached the same place as the Jew from Mád.” I heard about the source of this adage from my late grandfather, who was a shohet* in Abauszantó. Here I report exactly what he told me: The community of Mád was small...
56. The Jewish Innkeeper (IFA 4815)
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In a large town in Poland there lived a rich landowner who served as mayor. He was a respectable man and was revered by the Jews and the gentiles of the district. He was very fond of hunting and always went hunting once or twice a week. He did it for sport, not to support himself. Once when he was out hunting, he lost his way. Darkness came, and he had no idea how to get home...
57. Little Fish, Big Fish (IFA 8889)
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The head of a certain community was known to be a great miser. All the beggars in the neighborhood told one another about him and publicized the fact far and wide. Once the head of the community received a great honor: a well-known rebbe* honored him with a visit...
58. Three Complaints (IFA 8794)
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Once a maggid* came to town and wanted to preach in the synagogue and be paid for his sermon. When the synagogue officer, the gabbai, refused to let him speak, he said that he would tell just a quick story: Once, he said, a poor man...
59. The Elderly Cantor (IFA 6655)
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When the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the world, He assembled all His creatures and assigned them their allotted life span—forty years to each—as well as their tasks on earth. When it was the horse’s turn, that animal asked the Holy One, Blessed Be He, “What will my labor be?” “Human beings will ride on you,”...
60. What Kind of Congregants I’ve Got! (IFA13908)
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Awell-to-do merchant who did most of his business on the road and was always traveling once had the bad fortune to be stuck in a town far from his home on a Friday afternoon. Unable to get home, he had to stay there and spend the Sabbath in a foreign place, in some inn. But what could he do with all the money he was carrying, since it is forbidden to handle money on the Sabbath?...
61. What Kind of Rabbi We’ve Got in This Town! (IFA 13909)
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Once there were two friends who were like blood brothers while growing up. They studied together with the same elementary-school teacher and afterward were together in the school with other fine young men, until they got married and their paths diverged: Shlomo married a local girl, while his friend Yitzhak, whom they called “Itzik,”...
62. Half Is Mine and Half Is Yours (IFA 6976)
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One clear summer day, a Polish Jew came to a town in Germany looking for a way to make some money. He saw that the townsfolk were all amaratzim— unlettered ignoramuses when it came to Hebrew and religious matters. What did he do? He pounced on his prey and informed the Jews that the next day was Yom Kippur...
63. A Visit by Elijah the Prophet (IFA 3955)
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A Jew from the Land of Israel recounted that once, in a village in Europe, on the day before Passover, a Jew came to one of the householders and asked to be put up for the holiday. The family agreed to perform the precept of hospitality and was glad to host him for the seder...
64. The Emissary From the World to Come (IFA 2826)
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Once there was a Jew named Moshke. Desperately poor, he had many children and no way to make a living. One night, sleep deserted him; his wife, too, could not sleep. Winter was approaching, and they had no firewood and no warm clothes, neither for the children nor for themselves. He did not know where his salvation would come from...
65. Froyim Greidinger Revives the Dead (IFA 7127)
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Froyim Greidinger had an egg that could revive the dead. One day, he told to his wife, “Pretend you’re dead.” Then he invited the Jews to pray over her. “My wife has died,” he told them, “and I have to bring her back to life.” What he did he do? He took the egg and struck her on the forehead with it—and she came back to life...
66. The Death of a Wicked Heretic (IFA 21021)
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My masters and teachers, Because I am a maggid* and go preaching from town to town, I once came to the town of Samakhlalovitch. Oy, my masters and teachers, I came to the town of Samakhlalovitch. I have to tell you what happened there. The heretic—may his name and memory be blotted out—had died...
67. Who Had It Better? (IFA 21022)
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I’m sure you believe that in the other world everything is good for the righteous and bad for the wicked. But let me tell you, you’re dead wrong. How do I know? I’ll tell you what happened. One Erev Shabbat,* late Friday afternoon, a righteous man died and went to the other world...
68. The Shammes Who Became a Millionaire (IFA 14351)
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Once a Jew from Poland came to America with his family. He didn’t know English and began looking for work. They offered him a job as the shammes* in a synagogue. To be a shammes there you have to be able to read the notes from people who are asking for charity.
69. I Have No Place to Rest (IFA 18592)
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The story goes like this: There were two friends, let’s call them Moses and Aaron, both of them first-rate scholars, shoemakers by profession, but unsuccessful. Their living, as the saying goes, was in the prayers in the prayer book. The two fellows used to sit and talk: Would they ever manage to get up from the table feeling full?...
70. Stalin Tests His “Friends” (IFA 14263)
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Stalin, when he was alive, wanted to know which nation loved him the most—because there are many nations in Russia. Lots of them. So he summoned people from every nationality and questioned each one. “Do you love me?” he asked. “Do you know who I am?” “Yes. You are our leader, the father of all the nations, Stalin.” “Do you love me?”...
71. Communism and Religion (IFA14264)
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Stalin wanted to reform religion. What does that mean, “to reform religion”? He wanted the religions to start teaching that Communism had not begun just now, with the Revolution, but that the Bible, too, preaches communism and there has always been Communism. So he summons the head of the Orthodox Church...
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Tale Type Indexes
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Publication Year: 2006