The Art of Begging.

Print this page Print this page

You see them at every bar mitzvah, bris, and wedding, the guys who appear the second someone lays out a bowl of chopped liver. Schnorrers are a staple of Jewish humor (and social life)--the beggars (or, at least, those who proclaim themselves needy) who aspire to respectability and are always demanding more. They annoy us with their free-loading ways--think of all the money we lay out for our celebrations!--and yet, what can we do about them? You got it: All we can do is laugh, laugh, laugh. The following selections are reprinted with permission from the Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding (Jonathan David Publishers).

The Nerve!

Chernov, the schnorrer of Petrograd, had a very wealthy patron who, for some obscure reason, had taken a liking to the nervy little beggar. Each year he would give Chernov a handsome stipend--never less than 500 rubles. One year, however, the rich man gave him only 250 rubles.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the insolent schnorrer. "This is only half of what you have been giving me!"

"I'm sorry, Chernov, but I must cut my expenses this year," apologized the wealthy man. "My son married an actress and I am paying all the bills."

"Well, of all the chutzpah [nerve]!" roared Chernov, hopping mad. "If your son wants to support an actress that's his business. But how dare he do it with my money!"

The Diamond

The itinerant schnorrer arrived in the small Lithuanian community late Friday afternoon and was told by the local parnes [community representative] that his chances of being billeted for the Sabbath were very poor. Everyone, it seemed, had already taken in a poor man for shabbes [the Sabbath].

"You mean there's no one who will give me a place to sleep and something to eat?" asked the schnorrer bitterly.

"Well," acknowledged the parnes, "there's a man here named Landau, the magnate of the town. Nobody has been assigned to him yet. But Landau is the worst miser in town. He would never welcome a stranger to his home."

"Just tell me where he lives," said the beggar confidently. "I know how to deal with his type."

Within a few minutes he was knocking boldly on the rich man's door. A servant came out and offered him a copper.

"I want no charity," declared the schnorrer loftily. "I came to see Reb Landau on business."

The servant quickly ushered him into the rich man's presence. "What can I do for you?" he asked politely.

"Reb Landau, what could you offer me for a flawless diamond as big as an egg?"

"I can't say offhand," replied the wealthy tightwad with a show of studied casualness, though his eyes were bulging with greed. "Stay with me over Saturday, rest up a little, and then we'll talk business."

"I hate to impose on you, but since you insist..."

All that Saturday the stranger was royally entertained. The host saw to it that his guest did not leave the house even for a minute, fearing that he might be approached by someone else. When the Sabbath had finally passed, the host broached the subject that had been uppermost in his mind.

"Now, let's see the diamond."

"Diamond? What diamond?" asked the schnorrer innocently, as he rose to leave the premises.

"You said you had a diamond as big as an egg," snapped Landau, a dawning suspicion bringing a flush to his face.

"My dear man, I said no such thing!" the schnorrer reminded him. "All I asked was how much would you offer if I had one. Can't a man ask an academic question?"

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.