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.
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 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?”
A shammes [synagogue caretaker] happened to be looking out of the synagogue’s open door when he saw a familiar face. All at once it dawned on him where he had seen the man before. He rushed out and collared the passerby.
“Swindler! Thief!” the shammes yelled. “Only yesterday I saw you begging in front of a Catholic church. Today you’re begging at the entrance to a synagogue. What are you, Catholic or Jew?”
“A Jew,” the beggar gulped. “But in these hard times, who can make a living from only one religion?”
Two brothers, Ganseh and Mishpocheh, who could not or would not work for their daily bread, were regular callers at the Rothschild residence where, once a month, they were given 100 marks each.
It happened that Ganseh died, so Mishpocheh made the usual call alone. The family treasurer who disbursed funds to the poor handed him the usual 100 marks.
“Just a chicken-pluckin’ minute!” Mishpocheh protested. “What’s with this 100 mark business? I’m entitled to 200, and when a man is entitled he’s entitled, so hand it over!”
“Entitled nothing!” retorted the treasurer. “Your brother, Ganseh, is dead. His 100 marks is withdrawn.”
“What do you mean, withdrawn?” the schnorrer said icily, “Who is my brother’s heir–me or Rothschild?”
Then there’s the story of the schnorrer who made a nuisance of himself by calling at the home of a rich merchant every evening, just in time for dinner.
The merchant was a kind man, but his patience was growing thin. Yet, what could he do? Jewish tradition requires that those who have must share with those who have not.
One evening, when the rich man was entertaining a lady of whom he was quite fond, who should knock on the door but Reb Nuisance himself–the star boarder.
“Look,” hissed the merchant fiercely through the slightly opened door, “if you don’t mind, I’m entertaining a lady friend.”
“I don’t mind at all,” said the nervy schnorrer. “I’ll eat in the kitchen.”
“Then tell me, do you like cold chicken?”
“Oh, I just love cold chicken–I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said the beggar enthusiastically.
“That’s just fine!” snapped the merchant. “Come back tomorrow night. The chicken is piping hot right now!”
The Miser and the Schnorrer
There were two men in the town whom no one had ever been able to outwit: Eisinger the rich miser, and Fenster the schnorrer. Neither had ever tested his mettle against the other but the day of reckoning inevitably came.
Fenster, the crafty beggar, decided to challenge Eisinger, the cunning skinflint, to a duel of wits. He went to the miser’s house and, after a lengthy argument, persuaded him to lend a silver cup.
On the following day, Fenster not only returned the cup but he also gave Eisinger a little cup.
“What’s the extra cup for?” asked the wealthy man suspiciously.
“Take it and have no fears, it rightfully belongs to you. You see, last night your large cup gave birth to this little one, so I thought it no more than right to give it to you.”
“A regular schlemiel [fool],” thought the miser. “Very well,” he said aloud, scarcely able to conceal his glee, “as long as you are honest enough to admit it, I’ll be honest enough to accept it.”
“Thank you,” said Fenster. “And now I’d like to borrow a silver candelabra for the weekend. I’m expecting an important guest and I want to make a good impression.”
The old tightwad was impressed, not only with the schnorrer’s honesty but also with his apparent stupidity. “Sure, take it!” he said.
On the following Monday, bright and early, Fenster returned the candelabra, together with a separate candlestick.
“Your candelabra gave birth to this candlestick,” explained the schnorrer.
Eisinger was too crafty a man to question Fenster about the absurdity of an inanimate object bearing offspring. “Anytime I can be of service in the future just call on me,” he said pleasantly as he accepted the newborn gift.
“Well, there’s something I can use right now,” said Fenster. “I am expecting my brother-in-law tomorrow, and just to create a show, I’d like to borrow your diamond-studded gold watch.”
The rich man immediately conjured up visions of an immaculate conception whose progeny would be a “baby” watch of comparable value to the “parent.” He promptly handed over the watch, on the assurance that it would be returned the following evening. “What an ignorant fool!” he thought contemptuously.
But Fenster did not return the expensive watch the next evening, nor the next week, nor the following month. So the miser went to the schnorrer’s humble dwelling to demand the return of his property.
“Where’s my gold watch?” Eisinger asked.
“It grieves me to tell you this,” explained Fenster, “but your watch took sick and died.”
“Died? That’s ridiculous!”
“Why is it ridiculous?” asked the schnorrer calmly. “If a silver cup and a candelabra can bear children, as you yourself agreed, then why can’t a watch pass away?”
Reprinted with permission from the Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding (Jonathan David Publishers).
Pronounced: KHOOTZ-pah, Origin: Yiddish, nerve, brazenness, presumption, extreme confidence.