English writer and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” Humor can bridge religious denominational gaps, as is epitomized by the absurdist stories about the so-called Wise Men of Chelm, which are told in Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Jewish circles alike.
Naturally, the Chelm residents are anything but wise, which is why Isaac Bashevis Singer, the late Jewish Nobel Prize-winning author, titled his 1973 book on the subject “The Fools of Chelm and Their History.”
There’s the tale, for example, of the Chelmite court that sentenced a fish accused of assault to death by drowning. And then there is the Chelm construction crew that carried rocks down from a mountain to help build a new synagogue; when the crew was told that rolling the rocks would have been more efficient, it carried the rocks back up to then roll them down again.
Read more of my article in the Houston Chronicle.