The Talmudist Takes a Train Trip

This comes via John Harrison. I can really relate to this one: very representative of the importance that Jews place on analysis and thinking.

“After months of negotiation with the Soviet authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission to visit Moscow.  He boarded the train and found an empty seat.  At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and thought, ‘This fellow doesn’t look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.’  ‘But, on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the only Jew in this district who has permission to travel to Moscow.  Aahh, wait!  Just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don’t need special permission to go to Samvet.  But why would he travel to Samvet? He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there.  But how many Jewish  families are there in Samvet?  Aha, only two – the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs.  But since the Bernsteins are a low, terrible, family, such a nice looking fellow as this young man must be visiting the Steinbergs.’  ‘But why is he going to the Steinbergs in Samvet? The Steinbergs have only daughters, two of them, so maybe he’s their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah Steinberg married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so this must be Sarah’s husband.  Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I’m not mistaken.’  ‘But if he came from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name.  What’s the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen?  It is Kovacs.  But since they allowed him to change his name, he must have special status to change it.  What could it be ?  He must have a doctorate from the University.  Nothing  less would do.’  At this point, therefore, the scholar of Talmud turns to the young man and says, ‘Excuse me.  Do you mind if I open the window, Dr. Kovacs?’  ‘Not at all,’ answers the startled fellow passenger. ‘But how is it that you know my name?’  “Ahhh,” replies the Talmudist, ‘It was obvious.'”

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.
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