Welcome to the Village
An Introductory Tidbit
In Chelm, the wisest thing you ever heard was spoken by the last person who spoke.
In Chelm, the most foolish thing you ever heard was spoken by the last person who spoke. Therefore,
Chelmer to speak will always have something wiser and more foolish to say.
Yet there is no contest since everyone in Chelm believes that everyone in Chelm is wise. That
foolish truth makes the village of Chelm possible.
Herein, I have collected for you some of the better-known
short short stories of Chelm.
To build a new synagogue, Chełm needed stones for the
foundation. Ten strong Chelmers were sent to the top of the mountain to
bring down stones. They loaded the stones in slings, put the slings across
their shoulders, and trudged down the mountain to the valley below.
A passerby from Tishevitz saw this and berated the
Chelmers, "Fools! This is a mountain! You could just roll the stones down
from the top and save yourselves so much effort!"
The Chelmers discussed this advice and agreed the
passerby was correct. They carried the stones back up the mountain, and
this time they rolled them down.
here to buy
The Wise Folk of Chelm
1) In Kindle (eBook) format
2) In paperback from CreateSpace
3) In paperback from Amazon.com
Buttering the Bread
Tzeitel, the wife of Berel the Butcher, buttered a piece
of bread and accidentally dropped it. Berel and Tzeitel were amazed! The
slice of bread landed on the floor buttered side up!
Now, it is well-known among Chelmers that when a slice of
buttered bread falls to the floor, it always falls buttered side down!
This is like a commandment, a law etched in stone. So why had it fallen
buttered side up?
The issue was referred to the council of the elders of
Chelm. They discussed it for seven days and seven nights (the traditional
amount of discussion, without which no decision in Chelm could ever be
The decision was delivered by the mayor who called upon
Tzeitel and informed her, "My dear Tzeitel, the entire council of Chelm
agrees that a slice of buttered bread always falls buttered side down.
Therefore, it has been declared that you buttered your slice of bread on
the wrong side!"
And now ...
The Wise Folk of Chelm
by Seymour Rossel
Chelm stories bring a smile to the lips, a laugh to the
belly, and sometimes a gentle tug to the heart.
Is there a future for Chelm stories? As the rabbi of Chelm observed,
"We can expect the future any day now." Of course, it all depends on us.
For example, I was heartened to learn that research is ongoing in several
universities to discover the ultimate origins of the stories of Chelm. By
the same token, I would be disheartened if we were ultimately to abandon
the Chelm stories to experts in Yiddish language and historians of Yiddish
culture. That is why I sallied forth (with little more than a broken
umbrella) to tell the stories of the wise folk of Chelm for a new
You will discover much that is new in The
Wise Folk of Chelm--familiar and not-so-familiar stories told
with fresh characters and in fresh ways. If you love Chelm, you are bound
to enjoy reading this revival of its mirth and merriment. If you do not
yet know Chelm, this telling will bring you smiles and laughter, and, most
of all, a bit of an escape from the tawdry news that clogs our world
The Rain Wall
One rainy season, the downpours threatened never to end,
the roads became impassable, puddles became miniature lakes, and rivers of
mud flowed down the mountain. The town council was concerned. Chelmers
could not shop, children had to be carried from place to place, and even
visiting the necessary presented an existential danger.
Seven days and seven nights of discussion and debate
resulted in the Rain Wall Plan. The elders agreed to empty the town
treasury to build a six-foot wall around the entire village of Chelm to
keep the rain out. Despite the terrible conditions in which the workmen
struggled, the wall was duly erected. Unfortunately, the rain would not
cooperate. It continued to fall even inside the Rain Wall!
The elders met again. Their plight was dire. They had
plenty of rain and no more money in the town treasury. After seven days
and seven nights of additional discussion, it was decided to switch the
meaning of the words. In this way, the town of Chelm suddenly had very
much money and no more rain.
Reduced to Begging
Yossel the Beggar was having a difficult winter. Snow and
hail kept the Chelmers from walking in the town square where Yossel
usually accosted them in his professional capacity. Finally, Yossel the
Beggar swallowed his pride and decided to
In this wise, he arrived at the door of the widow Tzippie
where he begged for
The kind widow asked, "Would you like some cold chicken soup?"
"Chicken soup," Yossel replied, licking his lips. "Even cold,
chicken soup sounds wonderful."
"Return in an hour," said the widow Tzippie. "Right now,
the soup is hot, but in an hour, it should be cold."
The shammes (synagogue attendant) of Chełm knocked on
doors at sunrise to call folks to the synagogue for morning prayers.
Whenever it snowed, Chelmers complained that it was impossible to enjoy
the natural beauty of the snowfall because, by the time they awakened, the
shammes had ruined the vista with his crisscrossing footfalls. They
complained to the elders who met for seven days and seven nights to
discuss how the shammes could wake up the town on a snowy morning without
spoiling the pristine snow.
In the end, the elders devised a solution. Whenever snow
was fresh on the ground, the shammes was directed to sit on a table. Four
volunteers then lifted the table and carried the shammes through the town.
Nevermore did the footsteps of the shammes of Chelm tarnish the
Enough Worry to Go Around
Everyone in Chelm has something to worry about. Once
the rabbi of Chelm suggested to the village elders that worrying in Chelm
had become a
The elders discussed the problem for seven days and seven
nights. Finally, they decided to appoint one person to do all
the worrying for Chelm. They offered the job to Mendel the Baker whose
sponge cake tasted like sponge and whose bread was most useful to Chelm's
fishermen as bait for pike.
Mendel was impressed, "All the worrying for Chelm! And
for this, you will pay me?"
The elders nodded.
Mendel said, "It won't work. If you pay me to worry, I'll
have nothing to worry about!"
The Rabbi's Wisdom
The rabbi of Chelm was well-versed in his chosen
profession which was to say that he had answers for the many
thought-provoking questions that Chelmers asked. When the rabbi was asked,
"Which is more important--the sun or the moon?" he never hesitated, but
replied, "The moon, of course. The sun shines in the day when we have
plenty of light anyway, but the moon shines at night when we desperately
need its light!"
"Rabbi," a Chelmer asked, "does Chelm have a future?" The
rabbi responded, "Not to worry, my child. Chelm definitely has a future
and we can expect it any day now."
"Rabbi," another Chelmer asked, "why is the ocean salty?"
The rabbi shook his head. "Just think," he said, "is the ocean not filled
Predicting the Weather
Two of Chelm's town elders went for a walk. Yankel the
Cobbler carried an umbrella. Velvel the Butcher took only his walking
When it began to rain, Velvel said, "Yankel, open your
umbrella and we will walk close beside one another so neither of us will
Yankel said, "Opening my umbrella will do nothing to
protect either of us."
Velvel said, "Why not?"
Yankel answered, "My umbrella has more holes than the
street has puddles."
Velvel asked, "If so, why did you carry it?"
Yankel replied, "I did not expect it to rain."
The illustrations on this page are the work of Russian Jewish artist and ethnographer, Solomon Youdivin (1892-1954). He
was one of three members of the famous S. An-Sky expedition from
1911-1914, collecting folktales and folk art in the Ukraine to be
deposited in the Jewish National Museum in St. Petersburg. His interest in
producing Jewish art continued until the outbreak of World War II. From
that time forward, he produced only patriotic Russian art. A retrospective
of his Jewish work was mounted at the Israel museum in 1991.
Stories of Chelm
The traditional Chelm stories retold on this page are in
the public domain. The "original" Yiddish versions were themselves
adaptations of earlier German non-Jewish sources. In turn, those German
sources derived from medieval satires. Folklorists have collected Chelm-like tales
in almost every culture.
Chelm could be anywhere. In fact, Chelm is everywhere. And
the most wonderful thing about Chelm is that you can laugh at its
inhabitants without worrying about being "politically correct."