מרכז סיפורי עם ופולקלור
C. F. F
The rabbi whose wife turned him into a werewolf
Once upon a time, in the land of Uz, there lived a distinguished rabbi, who was very wealthy and knew the seventy languages. He supported a great yeshibah and had many able students and also educated many young children. He always had at least one hundred pupils in his yeshibah. He also supported an organization for the poor, and many poor people had free access to his house. In short, the rabbi was a pious man and had all the virtues that a good Jew should have. But, as against this, he had a very bad-tempered wife, who could not bear with any of his actions and looked askance at all his deeds. She did not like to see a poor man enter her house.
The proverb, which says: "When the rope is too tight it snaps," was verified in the case of this pious man. He became so poor that he could no longer give any charity, nor could he do as much good for the young students as he had done formerly. Then the poor rabbi thought to himself: "What shall I do now? All the days of my life I have given freely for God's sake and have done much good to many, and now I am very poor. What shall I do? I will accept my fate willingly from the Lord, blessed be He, who does no injustice. I wonder what sin I have committed." Then he continued: "What is the good of my lamenting my poverty? There always are people who gloat over another's misfortune. There is one thing I can do. I will leave town secretly, so that no one should know what has become of me."
So he called his best pupils and said to them: "My dear young men, you know well how faithful I was toward you up to now, how I supplied you with food and clothing and taught you besides. Now I will confide to you a secret, hoping that you will act towards me as I have acted towards you."
The pupils replied: "Dear Rabbi, tell us your secret, for we will stand by you as long as God grants us life."
So the rabbi told his pupils that he must depart, for he did not understand why he had become so poor. And he asked them to go with him. "For," he said, "I have still a few florins, which I should like to spend with you. Who knows but that God may give me wealth again, and then you will enjoy it again with me as long as you live."
The pupils replied: "Dear Rabbi, whatever you desire us to do we will do willingly, and whatever we possess in money and clothes, we will share with you."
So the rabbi went away with fifty of his pupils, and not a man in the community knew of his departure. When the poor people learned that their rabbi had gone, they feared greatly, and so did the little children, whom he had brought up by his bounty, as well as the other pupils who remained behind with his wife. Thus he departed together with his pupils, and wherever he came, he was received with the honor he deserved. And no one was surprised to see him traveling about, for they thought he was going to a yeshibah to study.
After traveling about for a year or two, their garments were torn and the money in their purses was spent, as can be easily imagined, and they became dependent upon charity. But wherever they went, people locked the doors in their faces, for nobody knew their circumstances, whether they were vagrants or students. At last the students grew tired of wandering about, and said to the rabbi: "What will be the end of our wandering? We have neither clothes nor money, and cannot help ourselves. And wherever we go, people lock the doors in our faces and look upon us as vagrants. We will therefore return to our parents. Moreover, we are getting older and wish to marry. But we will not tell anyone how you are faring or where you are."
When the good rabbi heard this from his pupils, he thought for a while and then said to them: "My dear pupils, I have nothing but praise for the loyalty which you have shown to me. Therefore I beg of you to remain with me four or five days more until after the Sabbath. After that I will let you go in the name of God. Perhaps God will send us something good and we shall return home together."
And the pupils replied: "Very well, dear Rabbi. We have stayed so long with you that we might as well remain a few days longer."
So they continued their travels and came to a clump of small trees. Then the rabbi said to the pupils: "Go ahead and I will be with you soon."
The pupils went along, talking among themselves and discussing various points of law. And the rabbi, seeing a small spring, washed his hands and was about to leave, when he saw a small weasel running along with a pretty gold ring in its mouth. He ran after the weasel until it dropped the ring. He picked it up and saw that the ring was of little value, but on examining it more closely, he found an old inscription on the inside, which he easily read. It ran as follows: "Although I look unattractive, my value is inestimable."
Now the rabbi was a very clever man and he suspected that the ring must have a special virtue. He thought as hard as he knew how to find out what kind of charm the ring could have, to be so valuable. Then he thought perhaps it was a magic ring, by means of which one could obtain one's desires, and decided to try it. So he said: "I wish I had a girdle with money."
And before he had finished the sentence, he saw a girdle filled with gold, lying in front of him. He became cheerful again, and, going to his pupils, he said: "My dear boys, be of good cheer, we are going to a place where I have a very rich friend, who will lend me money, for he does not know that I am so poor. I will then buy clothes for you and send you home."
But he did not tell his pupils that he had found a magic ring, fearing that they might take it away from him or report him and he would lose it. The pupils rejoiced at the thought of getting new clothes and asked no further questions, having no doubt that their teacher had told them the truth. So they came to the town and after spending a day there, the rabbi dressed them in clothes of pure silk and velvet and dressed himself in clothes similar to those he had worn before. He stayed there a week or ten days, studying very earnestly with his pupils, and the people paid him all the honor which was due to him as a great scholar.
One day he went into the town and bought a coach worthy of a prince, and said: "My dear pupils, come here and I will pay you back all the money which you laid out for me on the journey, and then we will go home."
The pupils had no doubt that his relative who lived in the town and who was a rich man, had lent him a few thousand florins, as the rabbi had told them, so that he might return to his home with honor.
They started for home together and where the people had previously shut the door in their faces, they now received them with great honor. Now as long as the rabbi had been away from his home the people were unhappy, but now a shout went up in the community that the rabbi had come back together with his pupils. And who rejoiced more than the poor?
As soon as he had reached home he received everyone with a friendly air, for no one knew that he had gone away because of poverty; they all believed that he had gone to study. The rabbi resumed his old habits of almsgiving, opened his yeshibah and brought up the young children to study. On the Sabbath he was in the habit of taking a nap and then studying tosafot with his pupils.
One Sabbath he lay down to take a nap as usual, and his wife said to him: "My dear husband, where did you get so much money? We were so poor before that you had to leave."
The rabbi replied: "I had a godsend on my journey."
But the wife would not believe this and she worried him so long, as women will do, until the rabbi let himself be persuaded and told her his secret. This was a mistake. For King Solomon said: "Do not confide thy secret to thy wife," for women cannot keep a secret, as happened to the good rabbi, as you will soon hear. If he had not confided his secret to his wife he would have been spared much trouble, and because he told her the secret of the ring, viz. that all one's wishes are fulfilled, he had to suffer great misfortunes.
When the evil-tempered wife heard the story, she thought: "If I had the ring, he would never get it back again," and she would have readily taken it away from him, but it could not be taken off his finger against his will. So she said: "My dear husband, let me see the ring for a while."
The rabbi knew what an evil-tempered woman she was and would not give it to her, whereupon she pretended to weep and said to him: "I see you do not love me, for you will not trust me with the ring." And she plagued him until at last he gave it to her.
As soon as she slipped the ring on her finger, she put her head under the sheet and said: "I wish my husband were turned into a werewolf and ran about in the woods among the wild beasts."
She had scarcely uttered these words, when the good rabbi jumped out of the window and ran into the forest, called the Pemerwald (Böhmerwald), and began to devour the people and do damage, so that no one ventured to go through the forest alone for fear of the wolf which struck terror into the heart of the people. The werewolf made himself a dwelling in the forest (and took in the charcoal) to keep his lair dry. Accordingly all the charcoal burners in the forest ran away also for fear of the werewolf.
Now let us leave the wolf for a while and see what happened in his house. When the time arrived for the rabbi to read tosafot to his pupils, the rabbi's wife (may her name be blotted out!) told them: "The rabbi cannot read tosafot today, as he is not well."
The pupils believed her and went away. The next morning they came again, and she said: "The rabbi has gone away and has not told me where, but I believe he will be back in four years."
She appeared to be very grieved, but it was only a piece of infamous acting on her part, may her name be blotted out!
The poor people came to the door, but she refused to let anyone in. The poor people grieved very much at the loss of the rabbi. The infamous woman was very rich, as one can well imagine. For she was able to obtain everything she desired, hence there was no limit to her wealth. But nobody knew what had happened to the rabbi, or why he had so suddenly disappeared. Moreover, there was no one who could find out, but everyone believed he would return again, as he had done before.
We will leave the wicked woman alone and will return to the poor rabbi, running about in the forest as a werewolf, doing great damage and killing man and beast, for there is no stronger animal than the werewolf.
The charcoal burners were asked if they could capture the wolf, but they replied: "No, he is much stronger than a lion and has intelligence besides."
When the king heard of this, he arranged a hunt through the forest but he could not catch the wolf. They dug pits in many places but of no avail.
Now among these charcoal burners there was one whom the wolf did not hurt, but on the contrary made friends with him and spent most of its time near his hut. All other people had to avoid the forest for fear of the wolf.
Now the king issued a proclamation that he who succeeded in capturing the wolf, alive or dead, would receive the king's daughter as a wife and on the death of the king would succeed to the throne.
At the king's court there was an unmarried knight, who was very strong and had taken part in many tournaments. This knight arose and said: "My lord king, if you will keep your word, I will undertake to kill the wolf, for I have fought many battles and luck has always been with me. Therefore, I will try once more."
The king repeated his promise on his honor. Accordingly, the knight put on his armor, feeling certain that he would succeed in killing the wolf. He went to the charcoal burner who lived in the forest and was friendly with the wolf and said to him: "Friend, show me the wolf's lair or its whereabouts."
When the man saw that the knight intended to attack the wolf, he was very much frightened, fearing the knight would be killed in the encounter, as had almost happened to himself. The charcoal burner said to the knight: "What are you doing in this forest? If the wolf becomes aware of your presence, you will lose your life, great as you are."
The knight replied: "Nevertheless, show me his lair, for I have come here to kill him."
But the charcoal burner continued: "Sir, I pray you, do not attempt this. You are playing with your life."
The knight replied: "Be quick about it, for it must be."
Then the charcoal burner said: "May God have mercy on you," and went with him and showed him where the wolf roamed. The knight took his gun and his spear in his hand and went into the wood, thinking that as soon as he saw the wolf, he would shoot him.
When the wolf saw that his life was in danger, he jumped aside, caught the knight by his throat, cast him to the ground, and was about to kill him. When the charcoal burner saw this, he drove the wolf away.
The knight was not satisfied and wanted to attack the wolf again, but the coal burner prevented him. Nevertheless, he rushed at the wolf a third time. Thereupon the wolf became enraged and wanted to tear him to pieces. Then the knight prayed to God to save him from the wolf, promising that he would not attack him.
The wolf released his hold and began wagging his tail in fawning fashion. He would not leave him and ran before the knight as a dog runs in front of its master. The knight was very anxious to get rid of him, for he was afraid of him, but the wolf continued to run at his side. So he took off his girdle and, tying it round the wolf, held him by it, the wolf acting as his guide in the forest. And whenever a wild beast desired to do the knight harm, the wolf tore it to pieces. And when he saw a hare or a fox, he caught it and brought it to the knight.
Finally the knight brought the wolf to the king. The king and the counselors were seized with fright, for they had heard so many stories about the wolf killing people. So the king told the knight to take the wolf away.
The knight replied: "You need not fear, he will do no harm to anyone who will not molest him, I pledge my life on it. On the contrary, he has caught animals for me."
So the knight kept the wolf with him and took good care of him, remembering the mercy the wolf had shown to him in sparing him although he had deserved death for having made three attempts upon the wolf's life. He therefore looked after him well and gave him of the best food and drink. Whenever he went hunting, he took the wolf with him and whenever he saw a beast, the wolf caught it and brought it to him.
The king had promised that any man who brought him the wolf alive or dead would obtain his daughter to wife, and as the knight had properly earned this reward, the king kept his promise and gave him his daughter and half of his wealth besides. When at last the old king died, the young knight became king in his stead and obtained the whole land. But all the time he kept the wolf with him and did not want to abandon him as long as he lived, for the wolf had saved his life and was instrumental in his obtaining the kingdom.
One day in the winter after a heavy snowfall, the young king went out hunting and took the wolf with him. As soon as the wolf came out, he began wagging his tail and ran as if he had scented something. The king followed the wolf and saw him in the distance, digging in the snow with his feet. When the king came up, he saw that there was something written on the snow.
The king was greatly astonished and said: "There is something strange about the wolf being able to write, perhaps he is a human being who has been turned into a beast by a curse, as has often happened before."
But no one was able to read the writing. He sent for all the doctors, but none could read it. Among his counselors there was one who knew Hebrew, and he told the king that it was a writing of the Jews and began to read it as follows: "My dear king, remember the kindness which I showed you when you came into my lair in the forest. I could have torn you to pieces, for I had you under me three times, and in truth would have been justified in taking your life. Nevertheless, I spared you and even helped you to become king. I have a wife who lives in a town called so-and-so (and he mentioned the name), who put a curse upon me, and unless I recover my ring, I must remain a wolf to the end of my life. But as soon as I get the ring I shall be a human being again. Remember the loyalty I have shown you, go into the town, get the ring from my wife and bring it to me for the sake of our friendship, else I will take away your life." And he gave him a sign by which he might know the ring. All this was written in the snow.
When the king heard this, he said: "I will help him again even if I lose my life in the attempt."
Accordingly he took three servants with him and rode into the town which the rabbi had named and in which his wife lived. He announced that he had come to buy beautiful rings and Frankish antiques and that he would pay any price to obtain them. He sent for the Jews and asked them if they had any old Frankish gold or rings or precious stones.
The Jews replied : "We are poor people, but there is a woman in this town who has very beautiful rings of all kinds and precious stones."
He asked the Jews to take him to the woman, and they did so, not knowing he was a king, but thinking he was a merchant.
When he came to the woman, he said: "My good woman, I have been told that you have some old curious gold rings with and without precious stones and old Frankish work. If I like them I will pay you a good price." And he pulled out of his pocket many beautiful rings and said that he had bought them on his travels.
The woman said: "I will show you what old gold I have." And she went into her chamber and brought out many beautiful ornaments, such as the king had never seen. And the king was greatly astonished to find such beautiful things in the house of a Jewess.
Among other things he saw a string of rings, among which was the gold ring which the wolf had described. Thinking how he might obtain the ring, the king took the rings in his hand and said to himself: "I wish my wolf had the ring in his hand already." And, without pointing to the particular ring, he said to the woman: "What would be the price of these rings?"
She replied: "So many hundred florins."
The clever king concluded the bargain and bought two rings, at the same time slipping the other ring into his hand without the woman noticing it. Then he paid her the amount, took leave of her, and returned home.
When he had reached home, the woman missed the ring but dared not avow it, for she did not know who the merchant was. She grieved very much and mourned like a widow, but no one knew anything about it.
When the king reached home, he ordered a great banquet and invited all the nobles of the kingdom. And as he was sitting at the table and making merry, he called for the wolf, who came in, wagging his tail with great joy, for he knew that the king had gone for the ring, but did not know whether he had brought it. The wolf kissed the king and stroked him, and when the king saw the wolf fawning so eagerly, he drew the ring out of the bag and showed it to the wolf.
Had the king known the virtue of the ring; he might perhaps not have given it to him. But as it was, he took the ring and put it on one of the wolf's toes, and suddenly there stood a naked man before them.
When the king saw it, he threw his mantle over him. All the nobles who were present were frightened, but the king said: "Fear not, the man who stands here before you is none else but the wolf."
The man rejoiced greatly and said to the king: "My dear king, I beg of you to grant me leave to return to my home; for I have not been home in three or four years."
The king replied: "If it is your wish, you may go home, but if you desire to remain here you may stay with me and eat at my table as long as you live, for I cannot repay you for the kindness which you have shown me."
But the rabbi preferred to return home. The king wanted to give him many gifts, but the rabbi said: "My lord king, you have seen that I have enough wealth at home, therefore I have no need of your money. You have done me enough good in obtaining the ring for me; for if I did not have my ring, I would have to be a werewolf all my life."
Had the king, however, known the secret of the ring, he would not have given it to him so easily, for although the king possessed many valuable things, nothing would have served him as well as the ring.
The rabbi took provisions for the journey and departed. On the way he gathered again fifty pupils, dressed them in black velvet and came back to his town. When he had come near the town, he said: "I wish that my wife (may her name be blotted out!) be turned into a she-ass, standing in the stable and eating out of the trough with the other animals."
In the meantime the shout went up that the rabbi had come home, bringing with him fifty pupils dressed in black velvet. The community went out to meet him and received him with great honor.
They would have liked to ask him where he had been all that time, but the rabbi said: "If you wish to be kind to me, do not ask me where I have been or what I have done."
The rabbi pretended not to know anything about his wife, although he knew very well that she was in the stable. Accordingly, he asked his household: "Where is my wife? I do not see her, perhaps she does not like to see me bringing again fifty pupils."
The people of the household replied: "If it will not frighten you, we will tell you."
The rabbi said: "I shall not be frightened."
The people of the house replied: "When we heard that you were coming home, we hastened to your wife to tell her the good news, but she disappeared and we do not know what has happened to her."
The rabbi did not show any fear and pretended not to know. Then he said: "I believe that when she has been away so long as I, she will come back."
The rabbi resumed his former mode of life giving alms to the poor, maintaining a yeshibah and doing works of benevolence generally, so that everybody was happy again. After some time, he prepared a great banquet and invited all the people of the town. Being in good spirits, he said: "Now that God has helped me to come home in safety, I have taken a vow that I would build a beautiful synagogue and the she-ass will carryall the stones required for the building."
The she-ass was his wife, but the people did not know that he had put such a curse upon her. Then the people replied: "May God give you strength to carry it out quickly in peace and in good health."
The she-ass meanwhile had been feeding and had grown very fat. Like an animal she showed no shame and mated in the open. But when the rabbi began to use her for carrying stones, she became lean again. When the rabbi saw that she refused to move, he kicked her in the side and said: "Oh, you miserable beast, remember the evil you have done to me, may the lightning strike you!"
So he kept on using the she-ass very hard until she grew very thin. This went on for a long time and nobody knew what had become of his wife. When he had completed the building. of the synagogue, he made again a great banquet and invited all his wife's friends. And when they were draining their cups, the rabbi told them the whole story of how his wife had made him suffer for so long and how the Lord had helped him to recover. "And now," he added, "I have cursed her that she should become a she-ass and remain such all her life."
When her relatives heard this, they became very much frightened, for they felt pity for her, and begged the rabbi to forgive her this time, saying that she would never do it again. But the rabbi would not trust her.
Shortly afterwards the rabbi died and left great wealth to his children. The ring disappeared again and the woman remained all her life a she-ass. This is why king Solomon said that one should not confide his secret to his wife, for had he not revealed the secret of the ring to his wife, the rabbi would not have had the misfortune of running around wild in the forest. But he repaid her fully, for many a one digs a pit for others and then falls into it himself.
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Source: Ma'aseh book: book of Jewish tales and legends, translated by Moses Gaster, 1934 (no copyrights),
Ma'asehbuch was written in Judæo-German in Hebrew script, at the beginning of the 17th century and containing stories, legends, and tales ("ma'asim") on various subjects, most of them relating to Jews and Judaism.
I put the whole book on the web as a database. Here is the reference: the list of the tales.
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A modern edited translation from Prof. Miller's site:
The Rabbi Who Was Turned into a Werewolf
This story really happened.
Once there was a rabbi, a man of distinction, who lived in the land of Uz. He was very rich and he knew all the seventy languages. The rabbi kept a great yeshiva, which was attended by many fine students. He also paid for the education of a number of boys. All in all, there were some hundred young men in the yeshiva.
He also supported an organization for the poor, and there were many paupers who frequented his home. In a word, the rabbi was a pious Jew, with all the virtues befitting a Jew.
His wife, however, was a wicked woman, who looked askance at his good deeds. She couldn't bear the presence of any poor people in her house.
How does the proverb go? When the rope is too taut, it snaps.
And that was what happened with our pious rabbi. He lost all his wealth. Now, he could no longer help the poor, the students, and the little boys. He thought to himself:
"Oh God, what should I do? I've devoted all my life to charity for the sake of the Lord. But now, sinful creature that I am, I have become a pauper. What can a man do? I'll bear this without protest from God's hand, for everything He does is righteous. Who knows? Perhaps I committed some sin!"
And he mused:
"Well, what's the use of complaining? There are people who gloat over other people's misfortunes. I'll do something about it. I'll leave town secretly so that no one will know what's become of me."
He called together his fine students in the yeshiva and said:
"Dear students, you know how devoted I've been to you all this time. I've provided you with food and clothing, and studied with you. But now I have to tell you a secret, and I hope that you will do toward me as I have always done toward you."
The students answered together:
"Dear Rabbi, tell us your secret. And we promise that we will be true to you as long as God gives us life."
The rabbi told them he had to leave town, he couldn't understand why he had become a pauper. And he asked them to come away with him. "I still have a few ducats in my pocket, and we can live on them together. Who can tell? Perhaps some day the Good Lord will make me rich again, and then you can board with me for the rest of your lives."
The students answered:
"Dear Rabbi, we will gladly do everything you ask of us. And whatever we own, whether money or clothes, we will share with you."
And so the rabbi went away with fifty of his yeshiva students, and no one in the community knew about it. When the poor people found that the rabbi was gone they were deeply frightened, just like the boys he had raised at his own expense, and the other students, who remained in his house with his wife.
But the rabbi was off with his students. And because he was famous, he was greatly honored wherever he went, as befits such a great man. No one was surprised that he had left home, people assumed that he and his students were traveling to a yeshiva to study the Torah.
After they roamed about for a year or two, their clothes became tattered, and they ran out of money. Now they had to go begging. And there were fifty of them. Wherever they came, people shut the doors in their faces and refused to let them in. No one could tell whether they were yeshiva students or ne'er-do-wells.
At last, they became tired of their life of wandering, and they said to the rabbi:
"Dear Rabbi, what's going to become of us? How much longer can we roam like this? We have no money and no clothes. There's nothing we can do about it. Wherever we come, people close their doors and take us for ne'er-do-wells. Perhaps we ought to go home to our parents. We're growing older, we want to get married. But we won't tell anyone what you're doing, or where you are."
Upon hearing this from his students, the good rabbi pondered for a while, and then he said: "My dear students, what greater praise can I speak of you than your loyalty, which you have been showing me all this time. I therefore want to ask you: Stay with me another four or five days, until after Sabbath. Then, with God's help, I'll let you go. Perhaps the Good Lord will grant us some luck, and we'll be able to go home together."
The students answered:
"Fine, dear Rabbi, we've been with you so long, we'll stay together for a few more days."
And so they wandered on until they came to a clump of saplings. Here the rabbi said to his students,
"Go on ahead, I have to relieve myself."
The students walked on, discussing and disputing.
After relieving himself, the rabbi wanted to wash his hands. He caught sight of a spring not too far away. He took some water and washed his hands. Just as he was about to go farther, he sighted a little weasel dashing past, with a lovely golden ring in its mouth. The rabbi began to chase the weasel, until the beast dropped the ring. The rabbi picked it up. He saw it was worthless. But then he noticed an ancient writing on the inside, which he was able to read. It said: "Though I look ugly, I am invaluable."
The rabbi was very wise and he realized there was something special about this ring, and he pondered and pondered. "What kind of virtue does the ring have. What makes it so invaluable? Perhaps it has the magic power to grant any wish that a man might desire. I'll try it."
And he wished: "May God let me find a moneybelt before me." Scarcely had he uttered his wish when he saw lying before him a belt full of gold. He was overjoyed again. And upon returning to his students, he said:
"Dear students, you can make merry. We will soon arrive in a place where a friend of mine lives. He is a wealthy man, and I'm sure he will lend me money, he doesn't yet realize that I'm poor. With the money, I'll be able to buy you all new clothes and send you home."
He didn't want to tell his students about the ring. He feared they might take it away, or else report him, and he would lose it. So he didn't say a word.
When the students heard they would soon be getting new clothes, they were overjoyed, and they asked no further questions. They believed everything he told them.
And so, they arrived in the next town.
On the very first day, the rabbi began dressing his students in the finest velvet and silk. And he bought himself the same kind of clothing he had worn before. He remained in this town for a week or ten days, studying hard with his students. The citizens paid him a good deal of respect, as was proper, for he was a great Torah scholar and very learned.
He went into the city and bought a beautiful coach, fit for a prince, and he told his students:
"Dear students, come here, and I will pay you back for everything you did for me while we were roaming about, and then we shall go home."
The students merely thought that the wealthy relative in the town had lent him a thousand ducats, just as the rabbi said to them, so that he might return home in honor. And they started back. And the people who had once closed their doors to them, now opened them wide and welcomed the travelers warmly.
However, while the rabbi and his students were away from their home town, the people were miserable. But then they found out that the rabbi and his students were coming back, and there were shouts of joy. And who was as glad as the poor people in town?
When the rabbi arrived, everyone gave him a warm welcome, for nobody realized he had gone out into the world because he had been poverty-stricken. People thought he had gone away to study. And the rabbi acted as he had always acted before. He gave charity, opened his yeshiva and brought up little boys to study. On Sabbath afternoons, following his nap, he would interpret the hard critical glosses of the Talmud for his students.
One Saturday afternoon, he went to sleep with his wife. Some time later, his wife started nagging him:
"Dear husband, how come you have so much money all at once? We were so poor earlier that you left town."
Her husband answered:
"The Good Lord sent me some luck during my travels."
But his wife didn't believe him. She kept tormenting him, as women do, until he gave in and told her the secret. That was very foolish of him. King Solomon once warned that a man should never tell a secret to his wife, for she will betray him. This happened to the good rabbi, as you shall hear. If the rabbi had refused to tell her the secret, he would have spared himself a lot of trouble. But because he told the secret of the ring, which made all wishes come true, he soon had to suffer terribly.
The moment that shrew of a rebbetsin heard about the ring, she thought to herself:
"If only I can get the ring out of him, he'll never see it again."
She was simply dying to get the ring, but she knew she couldn't get it without his consent. So she said to him:
"Dear husband, give me the ring for a while, I want to see it."
But the rabbi knew how wicked she was, and he wouldn't let her have the ring. So she started yelling, and said:
"I can see you don't love me anymore. Otherwise you wouldn't be afraid to trust me with the ring."
And she put a flea in his ear, until he had to give her the ring.
The moment she had it, she stuck her head under the cover and said: "I wish that God would turn my husband into a werewolf and let him run around in the forest with the wild beasts."
Scarcely had she uttered her wish when the good rabbi leaped out of the window and dashed off into the deep forest, the Bohemian Woods.
Here, he started devouring people in the forest. He caused so much havoc that it was worth your life walking through the forest. Everyone was scared of the werewolf. He built himself a dry den to live in. And he caused so much terror that the char coal-burners all ran away from the forest because they were frightened of him.
But now we'll leave the wolf for a time and write about what was happening in his home with the students.
When the time came, that Sabbath afternoon, for the rabbi to do his lesson with the students, his wife, damn her soul, said to them:
"The rabbi won't be able to give his lesson today because he doesn't feel well."
The students believed her and went back home. The next day, they came for their lesson again, and the wife said: "The rabbi has gone traveling again, but he didn't tell me where he was going. But I think that when four years are up, he'll return."
And she made believe she was very sorrowful. But in reality, damn her soul, she was very glad.
Now, when poor people came, she wouldn't let them in the house. This was a dreadful time for the poor, and they were very miserable because of the rabbi's absence. The wicked shrew grew rich, as we can well imagine. She got herself everything she desired, and there was no end to her wealth.
But no one could understand what had become of the rabbi and where he had suddenly vanished to. Nor could anyone find out. People only hoped that he would finally come home, as he had already done once before.
But now we'll leave the shrew for a while and describe the condition of the poor rabbi, who was running around in the shape of a wolf. He caused terrible suffering and tore apart people and other animals. For there is no animal stronger than the werewolf. The town sent for the charcoal-burners and asked then whether they would be willing to go after the werewolf and destroy him. The charcoal-burners refused, saying the werewolf was stronger than iron, and as smart as a human being.
Hearing this, the king went hunting for the werewolf in the forest, but he couldn't catch him. They dug pits in the forest, but nothing helped.
However, there lived a charcoal-burner in the woods, whom the werewolf never bothered. On the contrary, he became friendly with him and always hung around his hut, although other men had to keep clear of the forest because they were so frightened of him.
One day, the king issued a proclamation that whoever would overcome the wolf and capture him, dead or alive, would marry the king's daughter and inherit the kingdom. The king had an adviser who was unmarried, and he 'was very strong and heroic, and had displayed his might in tournaments. This adviser said to the king:
"Your Majesty, if you intend to keep your word, then I will undertake to kill the wolf. You know that I've fought in a lot of wars and shown a great deal of strength and always carried the day in my fights. And now I want to try my luck again."
The king promised he would keep his word. The adviser took his weapons and armed himself well, for he was convinced he would kill the wolf. First he went to the charcoal-burner, who was friendly with the wolf, and said to him:
"My friend, show me where the wolf's den is or where he hangs about."
When the charcoal-burner saw that the royal adviser was intent on killing the wolf, he was deeply alarmed, for he was fearful for the adviser's life since he himself had almost been killed by the werewolf.
So the charcoal-burner said to the adviser:
"My lord, what are you doing here in this forest? When the Wolf sees you, you will be doomed no matter how great you are."
The adviser said:
"Never mind. just show me where he is. I came here to try and kill the wolf."
The charcoal-burner said:
"My lord, I beg you, do not go on, or you will be doomed."
The adviser said:
"Don't hold me up! This is what has to be."
So the charcoal-burner said:
"Then God have mercy on your soul!"
And he led the adviser to the place where the wolf was running about. With his musket and spear in his hands, the adviser slowly crept up toward the werewolf, thinking he would kill him as soon as he saw him up close.
But when the wolf saw that his life was in danger, he leaped to the side and sprang upon the adviser's throat. He flung him upon the earth and was about to kill him.
When the charcoal-burner saw what was happening, he chased the wolf away from the adviser. But the adviser wouldn't stop. He still wanted to kill the wolf. The charcoal-burner wouldn't allow it.
When the adviser tried to attack the wolf a third time, the wolf became so fierce that he wanted to tear him to shreds. The adviser pleaded with God to save him from the wolf. He swore he wouldn't go after him anymore. The wolf let go, and began wagging his tail, quite humanly, the way one man tries to flatter another. He wouldn't stay away from him, and he trotted after him the way a loyal dog trots after his master. The adviser wanted to get rid of him for he was terribly frightened. But the wolf kept running after him.
The adviser took his belt off, and used it as a leash for the wolf. In this way, the wolf became his steady companion in the woods, and, whenever a wild beast appeared that might harm the adviser, the wolf would kill it. If he saw a hare or fox running by, he would catch it and bring it back to the adviser.
Finally, the adviser led the wolf back to the king in town. The king and his advisers were terror -stricken. They had heard enough rumors about how the wolf had torn people to shreds. The king asked the adviser to get rid of the wolf.
But the adviser said:
"Your Majesty, don't be afraid! He won't harm anyone if nobody bothers him. I'll put my head on the block for that. Why, he's even caught various animals for me."
And so, the adviser kept the wolf at his side and did a lot of good things for him. He told everyone that the wolf had taken pity on the adviser and allowed him to live, even though he certainly deserved to be torn to shreds, because he had tried to kill the wolf three times. That was why the adviser was now treating the wolf so well, giving him food and drink, the very best and not the very worst. Whenever the adviser went hunting, he always took the wolf along, and when the wolf sighted an animal, he caught it and brought it back to his master.
As we already know, the king had promised to let his daughter marry the man who captured the wolf dead or alive. Now the adviser certainly deserved her hand. The king did indeed keep his word and gave him his daughter for a wife as well as half his wealth. And when the old king died after a time, the adviser took his place and ruled over the entire land. He always kept the wolf at his side and was unwilling to part from him as long as he lived. This was because the wolf had saved his life, and helped him become king. And thus he took care of him, for it was only just.
One winter's day, when it was snowing heavily, the young king went out hunting, and he took along the wolf. As soon as the wolf was outside, he began wagging his tail and kept running on ahead, as though he were tracking down something. The king rode after him and saw him, from afar, grubbing in the snow with his paw. When the king arrived he saw some words written in the snow. The king was astounded and said:
"There's something wondrous here--a wolf that can write! Perhaps he's really a human being under a curse! Such things have happened in the past."
But no one could read the writing. So the king sent for scholars, but none of them could read the script. However, among the king's advisers, there was one who knew Hebrew, and he said:
"Your majesty, that is the script of Jews."
And he began to read:
"Dear king, remember our friendship and do not forget the good I did you when you came to my den in the woods. I could have torn you to shreds for I overpowered you three times. You certainly deserved it. But nevertheless, I spared your life. In the end, you became king. Know then that I have a wife in that town" (and he mentioned the name of the town) "and she put a spell on me. If I don't get the wishing-ring back very soon, I'll have to remain a wolf for the rest of my days. But if I can get back the wishing-ring, I can become a human being again like everyone else. Therefore I beg of you, recall my loyalty to you. Ride to that town, take the ring from my wife and bring it back to me for the sake of our friendship. Otherwise, I will kill you." There was also a sign showing what the ring looked like. And all this was written clearly in the snow.
Upon hearing this, the king said:
"I want to help him even if I have to risk my life."
With no further ado, he started out with three servants and rode and rode until he came to the town where the rabbi had said that his wife lived. Here, he announced that he wanted to buy lovely rings and old-fashioned jewelry. Nothing was too expensive for him. He would pay the full price. He also summoned the Jews of the town and asked them whether they had any old-fashioned gold or rings or perhaps even gems. The Jews said to him:
"We are poor people, but there is a woman here in town who owns a lot of beautiful jewelry and many gold rings."
He asked them to take him to the woman. They did so. But they didn't realize that this was the king himself. They took him for an ordinary merchant who dealt in gold and all kinds of precious stones.
Upon coming into the woman's home, the king said to her:
"Listen, my good woman! I've been told that you own old rare objects and old golden rings, some with and some without jewels, but with lovely, old-fashioned work. If I see something I like, I'll pay you a good price."
He took out many lovely rings from his pouch and told her he had bought them en route.
The woman said:
"I will be pleased to show the lord my old gold."
She went into her chamber and took out quite a number of precious objects. The king had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life. He was astounded at finding a Jew with such lovely things. But then all at once, he caught sight of a string of rings, and among them was the gold ring that the wolf had described. The king thought to himself:
"How can I get the ring?"
He took hold of the rings and said to himself:
"If only my wolf had the ring he desires."
And to the woman he said:
"How much would you charge for such rings?"
But he didn't point to the magic ring.
The woman said:
"So-and-so-many hundred ducats."
My good king came to terms with her two rings, and he stole the wishing-ring, but the woman didn't even notice. He paid, took his leave, and went home.
By the time he came home, the woman realized that the wishing-ring was gone. But what could she do? She didn't even know who the merchant was. She was as miserable and grief-stricken as a widow, and no one could console her.
When the king arrived home, he gave a great banquet and invited all the lords of the realm. As he sat at the table, merry and joyous, he sent for the wolf. Coming in, the wolf was so overjoyed that he wagged his tail flatteringly, for he knew the king had gone out to get the ring. The wolf kissed the king and caressed the king. When the king saw this, he took the ring from his bag and showed it to the wolf. If the king had known about the true power of the ring, he might not have given it away so readily. But now he took the ring and put it on the wolf's paw. And a naked man stood before them.
When the king saw him, he quickly threw an expensive cape over him to cover his nakedness. The lords of the realm were terrified. The king said:
"Don't be afraid! The man standing before you was the werewolf."
Now the man leaped up in great joy and said to the king:
"Dear king, I beg you, give me permission to go home again, for I haven't been there for three or four years. Do me the great favor and let me go."
The king said:
"My dear friend, if you wish to go, you may do so. But if you prefer to remain with me, you can live here and eat at my table for the rest of your life. I'll never be able to repay the good things you did for me."
And so the rabbi took leave of the king and went home. The king wanted to give him many presents, but the rabbi said:
"Your Majesty, you have seen for yourself that I have money enough at home. Therefore, I don't need your money. You've done me a big enough favor by getting me the ring. Without it, I would have had to remain a werewolf all my life."
Of course, if the king had known the secret of the ring, he would not have been so quick to return it. Even though the king had no dearth of beautiful objects, he still did not possess such a prize as the ring, whose value was beyond estimate.
And so, the rabbi took some food for the journey and started out. On the way, he once again gathered fifty students and bought them clothes of black velvet, and they came to his town. But before he even set foot there, he said:
"I wish to God that my wife, damn her soul, would turn into a donkey. Let her stand in the stable and eat from the trough with the other beasts."
Meanwhile, the news had spread through the town that the rabbi was arriving with fifty students, all dressed in velvet. The whole community gave the rabbi a hearty welcome.
They wanted to know where he had been for so long, but the rabbi said:
"It would be better if you didn't ask. I won't tell you where I've been."
The rabbi acted as if he didn't know what had happened to his wife, although he fully realized she was in the stable. Nevertheless, upon coming home, he did ask his servants:
"Where is my wife? I don't see her anywhere! She won't be able to look at the fifty students I've brought back with me."
His servants said:
"Dear Rabbi, please don't be frightened, and we'll tell you the whole truth."
The rabbi said:
"I won't be frightened."
So they began:
"Dear Rabbi, as soon as we heard that you were coming, we ran to tell your wife the wonderful news. But we couldn't find her anywhere. And we don't even know what's become of her."
The rabbi wasn't the least bit frightened and he continued to affect ignorance. He said:
"I think that if she stays away as long as I did, she'll still come back in the end."
Meanwhile, the rabbi started acting as he had always acted. He distributed alms to the poor, kept up a yeshiva, did good deeds and kind actions. Everyone rejoiced.
A short time later, he gave a large banquet and invited the entire town. Sitting there in high spirits, he said:
"Friends, since the Good Lord helped me to come home safe and sound, I swore an oath to build a beautiful house of worship. The bricks we need for the construction will be hauled by the donkey."
This donkey was his wife. But the others didn't know he had transformed her. They said:
"Dear Rabbi, may the Good Lord help you and enable you to carry out your wish in peace and health."
Meanwhile, the donkey had been eating a lot and gotten fat. And in front of people, she had no sense of modesty, she coupled openly like all animals. But when the rabbi made her haul bricks on her back, she became very scraggy. The rabbi saw that she didn't want to move, so he kicked her in the ribs and said:
"You wicked shrew! What ordeals you inflicted on me—the devil take you!"
And the rabbi made the donkey work until she grew very, very scraggy. This took a long time, and no one wondered where his wife had gone.
As soon as the synagogue was built, the rabbi gave another great banquet, inviting all his wife's kith and kin. When they were all tipsy, the rabbi told them the entire story, everything that had happened to him, the terrible troubles his wife had caused him, until the Good Lord had helped him and he had recovered his human form:
"That's why I turned her into a donkey, and that's what she'll remain for the rest of her days."
When her kith and kin heard this, they were terrified and felt pity for her. They pleaded with the rabbi to forgive her, assuring him she would never do it again. But the rabbi wouldn't trust her.
Not long after that, the rabbi passed away, leaving his children a vast wealth. But the wishing-ring had vanished, and his wife remained a donkey as long as she lived.
That is why King Solomon said that one should never entrust a secret to one's wife. For if the rabbi had not told his wife the secret of the wishing-ring, he would have been spared his ordeal and not have had to run about in the woods. But in the end he paid her back what she deserved. For, as it is written in the Book of Psalms:
"He made a pit, and dug it, and he has fallen into the pit that he made."
Source: Prof. Miller's site: http://www.brooklyn.net/classes/y371/