Anatoly Kaplan: The Enchanted Artist

The Enchanted Tailor

Color‭ Lithograph

Sholem Aleichem’s The Enchanted Tailor (דער פֿאַרכישופֿטער שנײַדער) tells the story of Shimen-Eli, who goes by the nickname of Shema Kolenu (“hear our voice”), since he just loves to lead services for his fellow tailors.He is a simple, excitable Jew with a weakness for alcohol. Sent by his wife to a nearby town to purchase a milk-giving she-goat to feed their starving family, he finds himself entangled in a tragi-comic quest. En route, the tailor is waylaid by Dodi the Tavernkeeper, who switches Eli’s she-goat for a billy-goat, and vice versa. Each time this happens, Shimen-Eli becomes more distraught until he and his fellow townspeople become convinced that the goat is cursed by demons and reincarnations. Finally, the half-crazed lonely tailor lies on his deathbed while the goat, perhaps the mythical scapegoat, runs away. Rather than end on a tragic note, Sholem Aleichem interrupts the story with a deceptive last sentence that soon became a Yiddish proverb: “Laughter is good for you. Doctors prescribe laughter.”