Yiddish folklore attests to the existence of the town of Chelm, famous throughout the world (at least in those parts where Jews have settled) for its appreciation of piety, wisdom and great Talmudic scholarship, all unfettered by the limitations of reason and logic. System analysts and proponents of computational linguistics may be regarded as the spiritual heirs to the great Chelmite tradition. The purpose of this essay is to record a few anecdotes that prove Chelm's unique position in Jewish culture.
Berel was faced with the difficult problem of securing the charity box in the shul against theft. It had already been broken into once and what could be done to prevent it happening again. With great logic, Berel decided to suspend the box from the ceiling so that it couldn't be reached. But that presented another problem: how can people reach the box to put in Tzedakah ( = charity)? Undaunted, Beril decided to put a ladder nearby so the good people of Chelm could reach the box. And what of the old people, who are too weak to raise the ladder? Again, with clear logic, Beril fastened the ladder at both the bottom and the top so that it could be used by anyone.
On his way to the synagogue, Yankel spied a piece of silver on the ground. What could he do? Because it was the sabbath, picking up the coin was not permitted and he certainly couldn't hang around until sundown to pick it up. If he returned to pick it up how could he be sure he'd find it again? With a stroke of genius, Yankel left a shoe over the coin and continued on his way. When he returned he could find neither coin nor shoe. "Aha," he cried! "The next time I find a silver coin on the ground on Shabos, I'll put my coat over the shoe and I shall certainly see that." The people of Chelm admired Yankel for his great wisdom.
Rachel the Widow
As it happened, one day a man died in the market place, but who would tell Rachel that she had just lost her husband? It finally fell to Chaim, who really didn't really have a way with words, to break the bad news. He knocked on her door and when she appeared Chaim asked, "Does the widow Rachel live here?" She answered, "I am Rachel, but not a widow," to which he responded, "Do you want to bet on that?"