Reb Yozifl and the Contractor


Aleichem, Sholom


Short Story


Sholom Aleichem is sometimes referred to as the "Jewish Mark Twain." Born in 1859, he grew up in Jewish settlements in what is now Ukraine. Aleichem wrote with great humor, wit and wisdom about the poverty-stricken and marginalized Jews of his day. The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" is based on one of his most beloved fictional characters, Tevye the Dairyman. In this short story, the rabbi of a poor village, Reb Yozifl, has his mind set on building a home for the aged. To raise the funds, he needs the help of a haughty Moscow contractor. How Reb Yozifl secures the obstinate contractor's donation is left a mystery. An ironic twist at the end of the story raises the question of whether the rabbi is truly a benefactor to the town or not.


Inside Kasrilevke, by Sholom Aleichem, translated by Isadore Goldstick.  Shocken Books, 1965.




Giving and ReceivingImpact and OutcomesMoney and Wealth

Big Questions

How do we know what a gift achieves?What does good giving require?What makes a good gift?How do we identify desired outcomes? Who decides?What should our goals be? What is the best way to identify them?Is money a good gift?What do those with more owe to those with less?


Hearing the Call Across Traditions

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does Reb Yozifl insist on building a home for the aged? Why not, as the narrator says, a hospital?
  2. How does Reb Yozifl go about securing funding for the project? Why does he focus so much attention on Poliakov?
  3. What does Reb Yozifl mean when he says messengers of a good deed can suffer no injury?
  4. What is the effect of Poliakov slapping Reb Yozifl? Why can’t what happened next be told?
  5. What is the legacy of the home for the aged? What are the impacts of Reb Yozifl and Poliakov’s actions?
  6. What is wise giving? What is wise service?
  7. How do we determine what a community needs? How do we decide the best ways to meet those needs?
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