Foolish and Dangerous Jews

In Eastern European folklore, “the city of Chelm functions as an imaginary city of fools, similar to that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda.”  In fact, the “Chelm tales describe outlandish naiveté and futility.”  Ruth von Bermuth argues that “Chelm … functioned for more than three centuries as an ironic model of Jewish society, both utopia and dystopia, an imaginary place onto which changing questions about Jewish identity, community, and history repeatedly have been projected.”

When reading these stories, one is amazed at the characters who seem so unaware of their folly.  The tales showcase how common sense is often absent as so-called wise men cite unusual solutions that never work.  They are stubbornly foolish and show contempt for logical problem-solving.

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