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The Wise Folk of Chelm

Welcome to the Village of Chelm!

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, the next 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.



Rolling Stones

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.

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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 rendered).
     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 generation.

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 today.

The Wise Folk of Chelm as told by Seymour Rossel

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 beg door-to-door.
     In this wise, he arrived at the door of the widow Tzippie where he begged for food.
     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 snow!

The Wise Folk of Chelm at

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 terrible burden.
     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 Wise Folk of Chelm at

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 with herring?"

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 stick.
     When it began to rain, Velvel said, "Yankel, open your umbrella and we will walk close beside one another so neither of us will get wet."
     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."

Solomon Youdivin

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."

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Contact Info: Rabbi Seymour Rossel, 6523 Genstar Ln., Dallas, TX 75252, (713) 726-9520