In the Diaspora, particularly in Eastern Europe, the Jews in the towns and villages raised goats so as to have an independent supply of milk. Chagall's pictures are filled with pictures of goats, as are Shalom Aleichem's stories. In popular Jewish folklore, the goat is a well-known motif which finds expression in jokes, folk songs and paintings. The Hasid Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk (early 19th cent.) told the following story:

"An old Jew once lost his snuffbox made of horn, on his way to the House of Study. He wailed: ‘Just as if the dreadful exile weren't enough, this must happen to me! Oh me, oh my, I've lost my snuffbox made of horn!' And then he came upon the sacred goat. The sacred goat was pacing the earth, and the tips of his black horns touched the stars. When he heard the old Jew lamenting, he leaned down to him, and said, ‘Cut a piece from my horns, whatever you need to make a new snuffbox.'

"The old Jew did this, made a new snuffbox, and filled it with tobacco. Then he went to the House of Study and offered everyone a pinch. They snuffed and snuffed, and everyone who snuffed it cried: ‘Oh, what wonderful tobacco! It must be because of the box. Oh, what a wonderful box! Wherever did you get it?' So the old man told them about the good sacred goat. And then one after the other they went out on the street and looked for the sacred goat.

"The sacred goat was pacing the earth and the tips of his black horns touched the stars. One after another the people went up to him and begged permission to cut off a bit of his horns. Time after time the sacred goat leaned down to grant the request. Box after box was made and filled with tobacco. The fame of the boxes spread far and wide. At every step he took, the sacred goat met someone who asked for a piece of his horns.

"Now the sacred goat still paces the earth – but he has no horns."


From: Tales of the Hasidim, ed. Martin Buber. Translated by Olga Marx. Schocken Books, NY, 1991.



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