by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
“CHAIM YANKEL” OR “DORF YID”?
I recently had the pleasure of reading Stanley J. Schachter’s book titled, “Laugh For God’s Sake - Where Jewish Humor and Jewish Ethics Meet” (KTAV Publishing House, Inc.)
Schachter writes about the term “dorf’s Yid”—literally, a hamlet Jew. “Cities with large Jewish populations had the best Jewish schools and attracted the most learned teachers and rabbis.” The “dorf Yid” was an unflattering designation of the village Jew, a country bumpkin. He/ she was something of a simpleton or ignoramus.
Others have written that a “Chaim Yankel” is a mister nobody, whose favorite “kolir” (color) is beige.
When Marjorie Wolfe wrote to asktherabbi.org about the difference between a “Chaim Yankel” and a “dorf Yid,” Rabbi Reuven Lauffer replied:
“I think that the term ‘Chaim Yankel’ is much more derogatory. It was normally the city Jews who used the term Dorf Yid because the city Jews seemed to imagine that they were better and cleverer than the Jews who lived in the Shtetl.”
Jewish jokes often poke fun at other Jews. Some jokes seek “lakhn” (laughter) at the expense of another person’s dignity.
Shown below are a few “Chaim Yankel” jokes:
1. When Chaim Yankel walked into the office, he knew something was up. There was a message on his “shraybtish” (desk) that the boss wanted to see him as soon as he arrived.
The boss—a “gantseh knacker”—didn’t look happy when Chaim Yankel reported to his office. He said “gornit” (nothing)—just pointed at the newspaper on his desk. It was opened to “shport artiklen” (sport articles), and there was a picture of a smiling Chaim Yankel, holding up a trophy for winning the local golf tournament the day before.
“How could this be Chaim Yankel?” asked the boss. “You called in sick yesterday.”
“I know,” Chaim Yankel responded. “I was really surprised to win the tournament too, sir. Imagine what my score would have been if I hadn’t been ‘krank’ (ill)!”
2. Chaim Yankel is experiencing “tsores” (trouble). He’s having a tough time finding a job in the Borscht Belt—the Catskill Mountains. What with the current economic problems, he can’t even get an interview.
Finally, he secured an interview and needless to say, he was trying his best to impress. The interviewer said, “In this job, Chaim Yankel, we need someone who is ‘achrahyes’ (reliable).”
“I’m the one you want,” Chaim Yankel replied. “At my last job every time anything went wrong, they said I was responsible.”
3. “A shtetl Jew arrived in the big city on a Friday. It was his first experience away from his home town. The next morning he set out on foot to attend Shabbat prayers. On his way to the synagogue, he passed a number of Jewish merchants who sat in front of their open shops waiting for customers to arrive. For them, the Shabbat was no different than any other day of the week. Shocked and confused by what he saw, he continued on his way. A store keeper saw him and called out, ‘Come in. All men’s suits are available at seventy percent off.’ Greatly upset by this desecration of the Shabbat, the visitor shouted back, ‘Shame on you! Isn’t it enough that you are violating the Shabbat? Must you also announce it for the whole world to hear?” The storekeeper shot back, ‘I’m forced to sell good quality suits at seventy percent off, and you call that doing business on Shabbat?!” Source: “Laugh For God’s Sake” by Stanley J. Schachter
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