Folktale of the Day: When Your Life is in Danger

A Jewish merchant once came on matters of business to the estate of a Polish landowner in the country. He found the landowner at breakfast. On the table were hot cutlets and a bottle of wine. The host politely asked the merchant to take a seat at the table and urged him to eat a pork chop. The Jew thanked him but declined.

“Don’t you like pork chops?”

“On the contrary, I would like them very much but they’re forbidden to us Jews.”

The landowner laughed. “I know, I know,” said he, “you call them tref.”

After that he poured him a glass of wine. Again the Jew declined with thanks. That, too, was forbidden.

Out of patience, the landowner exclaimed, Your God certainly is a hard-hearted one! He puts upon your shoulders a burden too heavy to carry. Tell me what, for instance, would you do if you got lost in a forest, had nothing to eat for several days, and began to feel that you were about to collapse from hunger? Suppose somebody came along and handed you food that was tref – would you eat it?”

“That’s entirely another matter,” answered the Jew. “Our Law makes provision for emergencies where human life and health are at stake.”

Suddenly the landowner jumped to his feet. he glared murderously at the Jew and, whipping out a revolver, pointed it at him, crying, “Drink this wine or I shoot!”

Before you can say Bim the Jew had downed the wine in one gulp. Still pointing the revolver at him, the landowner poured him a second glad. Before you could say Bam the Jew had gulped it down.

Putting down the revolver, the landowner said smiling to the Jew, “Don’t be angry with me, I beg you, I was only joking. Assure me you’re not angry.”

“Why shouldn’t I be angry – I have every right to be angry,” retorted the Jew. “You should have started your joke a little earlier, when you first got around to the pork chops!”

From A Treasury of Jewish Folklore edited by Nathan Ausubel


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