Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 18:48:44 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Re: folk tale, "1, 2, 3"

Greg D. comment below.

At 06:32 PM 1/21/98 EST, you wrote:

Not on topic, (apologies all) but I thought that some of you here might

know this---

there's a folk tale, situated variously in areas where pogroms occurred.

In the tale, the provincial governor, or ruler, or even village chief,

tells the local jewish population that one of them will have to debate

him, or vie with him, and if the jewish representative loses,s/he'll be

killed and everyone else driven out. No one wants to be the debater,

and finally an illiterate, lowly sweeper or laborer or cowherd (e

is selected. The cowherd and the village chief meet in the village

square, and sit face to face, silently for a long time. At last, the

cowherd hold up one finger. The village chief looks startled, then holds

up two fingers. After a while, the cowherd holds up three fingers. The

village chief announces that the cowherd has won and everyone can stay.

Later, each gives a different interpretation of what the other meant.

Larry Horn, where you der, charley?

Anyone? Anyone know this?


beth simon

assistant professor, linguistics and english

indiana university purdue university


This is a bit of folklore that has been around for some time, and with the

advent of cut-and-paste-capable email, it travels even more than it used to.

The most recent time I saw this story was when one of my students emailed it

to me in Oct. 1997. I found it easily by searching for the letter sequence

"three fingers" in my fall-of-97 email box.

Here it is in full with the ending ( = puchline), in the version I was sent

in Oct. 1997 anyway:

|Religious Sign Language

|About a century or two ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to

|leave the Vatican. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish

|community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate

|with a member of the Jewish community; if the Jew won, the Jews could

|stay; if the Pope won, the Jews would leave.


|The Jews realised that they had no choice. So they picked a middle-aged

|man named Moishe to represent them. Moishe asked for one addition to the

|debate. To make it more interesting, neither side would be allowed to

|talk. The pope agreed.


|The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each

|other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three

|fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved

|his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground

|where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe

|pulled out an apple. The Pope stood up and said, "I give up. This man is

|too good. The Jews can stay."


|An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what

|happened. The Pope said: "First I held up three fingers to represent the

|Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there

|was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger

|around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by

|pointing to the ground and showing that god was also right here with us.

|I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that god absolves us from

|our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an

|answer for everything! What could I do?"


|Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe. "What

|happened?" they asked. "Well," said Moishe, "First he said to me that

|the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of

|us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of

|Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here." "And then?" asked

|a woman. "I don't know," said Moishe. "He took out his lunch and I took

|out mine."

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]