Why nothing gets done by fools: A Bridge in Chelm

A Bridge in Chelm

A river flowed right through the middle of Chelm. It occurred to several merchants that a bridge over it would be good for business on both sides of the river. But some of the younger people objected. They said: “Of course it would be nice to build a bridge, but let’s not do it because it would be good for business; we should build it solely for aesthetic reasons. We’ll be glad to contribute to the building expenses for beauty’s sake, but we won’t give a penny for the sake of trade.” Still others, even younger people, said, “A bridge! That’s a good idea, but not for the sake of trade or beauty but to have someplace to stroll back and forth. We’ll be glad to contribute money to build a bridge for strolling.” And so the three groups began to quarrel, and they are quarreling still. And to the present day Chelm does not have a bridge.

From Yiddish Folktales by Beatrice Weinreich

See also How the Wise Men Got to Chelm: The Life and Times of a Yiddish Folk Tradition by Ruth von Bernuth


There are many Yiddish folktales from Eastern Europe about a town called Chelm. In these stories all the people of Chelm are fools, though they all think they are smart.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Chelm and learn something, particularly about the news of the day.