The Tisch: A beloved sapling

"It might be impossible to recast the connotation of Chelm in popular memory, but it would be a shame to forget the truly wise people of the actual Chelm."

By LEVI COOPER
August 17, 2017 16:17
4 minute read.
THE OPENING page of the book ‘Neta Sha’ashuim’ – People could be considered righteous even if they a

THE OPENING page of the book ‘Neta Sha’ashuim’ – People could be considered righteous even if they are busy with everyday dealings.. (photo credit: LEVI COOPER)

 
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In collective Jewish memory, the name “Chelm” conjures up images of the so-called wise men of this imaginary city of fools. Scholars have noted that many of the tales of the wise men of Chelm also poke fun at the casuistry of talmudic study or the minutiae of Jewish law. In this sense, the tales are a comedic self-critique of the hallowed Jewish practice of studying Torah.

For example: A Chelmite bought a fresh fish on Friday in honor of the Sabbath. He put the live fish in his coat pocket, and the fish slapped his face with his tail. The man took the offending fish to the Chelm rabbinical court, and the learned court sentenced the fish to death by drowning.

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