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February 1999
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I don't know

The Christians would often force Jews to participate in debates. This is an historical fact. One old Yiddish joke tells that in one city they issued the announcement that the Jews must choose one amongst their midst to debate with the local priest. All the Jews must attend, and soldiers would be present to enforce that. The debate would take place on the bridge near the entrance to the town.

The rules were simple: whichever of the two was the first to say "I don't know," would be pushed, by the soldiers, off the bridge to certain death. If the priest wins, all the Jews would be killed or converted. If the Jews win, they would be left alone until the next year, at the next scheduled debate.

The Jews were afraid. "Who shall we send?" No one wanted to volunteer, and the city did not have any scholars among them.

Finally, one elderly man (let's call him Moishe -- why not?) volunteered. Unfortunately, he was nothing even close to a scholar. He wasn't even related to a scholar! He was a good, honest Jew, to be sure, but he was hardly capable of debating a learned scholar like the priest. He was so simple and unlearned, that he couldn't even understand the Chumash (Pentateuch -- Five Books of Moses) without reading the Yiddish translation!

But time was running out, and there were no other candidates, so with a heavy heart they agreed to let Moishe debate.

Moishe was allowed the first question.

"What does 'Aini yode'ah' mean?" (Note -- It is Hebrew for "I don't know." No, this is NOT the punchline.)

"I don't know," answered the priest.

Immediately, against his protests, the soldiers throw the priest into the deep waters.

The Jews quickly run back to town, victorious for now. They all congratulate Moishe.

"How did you come up with that brilliant question?"

Moishe was modest. "It was simple. I saw that the Yiddish translation translated the words as 'I don't know.' Now, if even the Yiddish translater doesn't know what 'Aini yode'ah' means, how is this priest going to know????"


This page was last updated February 1, 1999.

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February 1999
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