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The Jew Among the Thorns
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a rich man, who had a servant who served him
diligently and honestly. He was every morning the first out of
bed, and the last to go to rest at night, and whenever there was
a difficult job to be done, which nobody cared to undertake, he
was always the first to set himself to it. Moreover, he never
complained, but was contented with everything and always merry.
When a year was ended, his master gave him no wages, for he said
to himself, that is the cleverest way, for I shall save something
and he will not go away, but stay quietly in my service. The
servant said nothing, but did his work the second year as he had
done it the first, and when at the end of this, likewise, he
received no wages, he submitted and still stayed on.
When the third year also was past, the master considered, put his
hand in his pocket, but pulled nothing out. Then at last the
servant said, master, for three years I have served you honestly,
be so good as to give me what I ought to have, for I wish to
leave, and look about me a little more in the world.
Yes, my good fellow, answered the old miser, you have served me
industriously, and therefore you shall be graciously rewarded.
And he put his hand into his pocket, but counted out only three
farthings, saying, there, you have a farthing for each year, that
is large and liberal pay, such as you would have received from
The honest servant, who understood little about money, put his
fortune into his pocket, and thought, ah, now that I have my
purse full, why need I trouble and plague myself any longer with
hard work. So on he went, up hill and down dale, and sang and
jumped to his heart's content. Now it came to pass that as he
was going by a thicket a little man stepped out, and called to
him, whither away, merry brother. I see you do not carry many
cares. Why should I be sad, answered the servant, I have enough.
Three years, wages are jingling in my pocket.
How much is your treasure, the dwarf asked him. How much. Three
farthings sterling, all told. Look here, said the dwarf, I am a
poor needy man, give me your three farthings, I can work no longer
but you are young, and can easily earn your bread.
And as the servant had a good heart, and felt pity for the little
man, he gave him the three farthings, saying, take them in the
name of heaven, I shall not be any the worse for it.
Then the little man said, as I see you have a good heart I grant
you three wishes, one for each farthing, they shall all be
fulfilled. Aha, said the servant, you are one of those who can
work wonders. Well, then, if it is to be so, I wish, first, for
a gun, which shall hit everything that I aim at, secondly, for a
fiddle, which when
I play on it, shall compel all who hear it to dance, thirdly, that
if I ask a favor of any one he shall not be able to refuse it.
All that shall you have, said the dwarf, and put his hand into the
bush, and just imagine, there lay a fiddle and gun, all ready,
just as if they had been ordered. These he gave to the servant,
and then said to him, whatever you may ask at any time, no man in
the world shall be able to deny you.
Heart alive. What more can one desire, said the servant, to
himself, and went merrily onwards. Soon afterwards he met a Jew
with a long goat's beard, who was standing listening to the song
of a bird which was sitting up at the top of a tree. Good
heavens, he was exclaiming, that such a small creature should have
such a fearfully loud voice. If it were but mine. If only
someone would sprinkle some salt upon its tail. If that is all,
said the servant, the bird shall soon be down here. And taking
aim he blew, and down fell the bird into the thorn-bushes. Go,
you rogue, he said to the Jew, and fetch the bird out for
Oh, said the Jew, leave out the rogue, my master, and I will do it
at once. I will get the bird out for myself, now that you have
hit it. Then he lay down on the ground, and began to crawl
into the thicket.
When he was fast among the thorns, the good servant's humor
so tempted him that he took up his fiddle and began to play. In a
moment the Jew's legs began to move, and to jump into the air, and
the more the servant fiddled the better went the dance. But the
thorns tore his shabby coat from him, combed his beard, and
pricked and plucked him all over the body. Oh, dear, cried the
Jew, what do I want with your fiddling. Leave the fiddle alone
master, I do not want to dance.
But the servant did not listen to him, and thought, you have
fleeced people often enough, now the thorn-bushes shall do the
same to you. And he began to play over again, so that the Jew
had to jump higher than ever, and scraps of his coat were left
hanging on the thorns. Oh, woe's me, cried the Jew, I will give
the gentleman whatsoever he asks if only he leaves off fiddling,
a whole purseful of gold. If you are so liberal, said the servant,
I will stop my music, but this I must say to your credit, that
you dance to it so well that one must really admire it. And
having taken the purse he went his way.
The Jew stood still and watched the servant quietly until he was
far off and out of sight, and then he screamed out with all his
might, you miserable musician, you beer-house fiddler. Wait till
I catch you alone, I will hunt you till the soles of your shoes
fall off. You ragamuffin, just put six farthings in your mouth,
that you may be worth three halfpence. And went on abusing him as
fast as he could speak. As soon as he had refreshed himself a
little in this way, and got his breath again, he ran into the town
to the justice.
My lord judge, he said, I have come to make a complaint, see how
a rascal has robbed and ill-treated me on the public highway. A
stone on the ground might pity me, my clothes all torn, my body
pricked and scratched, my little all gone with my purse - good
ducats, each piece better than the last, for God's sake let the
man be thrown into prison.
Was it a soldier, said the judge, who cut you thus with his
sabre. Nothing of the sort, said the Jew, it was no sword that he
had, but a gun hanging at his back, and a fiddle at his neck, the
wretch may easily be recognized.
So the judge sent his people out after the man, and they found the
good servant, who had been going quite slowly along, and they
found, too, the purse with the money upon him. As soon as he
was taken before the judge he said, I did not touch the Jew, nor
take his money, he gave it to me of his own free will, that I
might leave off fiddling because he could not bear my music.
Heaven defend us, cried the Jew, his lies are as thick as flies
upon the wall.
But the judge also did not believe his tale, and said, this is
a bad defence, no Jew would do that. And because he had committed
robbery on the public highway, he sentenced the good servant to be
hanged. As he was being led away the Jew again screamed after
him, you vagabond. You dog of a fiddler. Now you are going to
receive your well-earned reward. The servant walked quietly with
the hangman up the ladder, but upon the last step he turned round
and said to the judge, grant me just one request before I die.
Yes, if you do not ask your life, said the judge.
I do not ask for life, answered the servant, but as a last favor
let me play once more upon my fiddle.
The Jew raised a great cry of, murder. Murder. For goodness,
sake do not allow it. Do not allow it. But the judge said, why
should I not let him have this short pleasure. It has been
granted to him, and he shall have it. However, he could not have
refused on account of the gift which had been bestowed on the
Then the Jew cried, oh. Woe's me. Tie me, tie me fast. While
the good servant took his fiddle from his neck, and made ready.
As he gave the first scrape, they all began to quiver and shake,
the judge, his clerk, and the hangman and his men, and the cord
fell out of the hand of the one who was going to tie the Jew
fast. At the second scrape they all leaped up and began to
dance, the judge and the Jew being the best at jumping. Soon all
who had gathered in the market-place out of curiosity were dancing
with them, old and young, fat and lean, one with another. The
dogs, likewise, which had run there, got up on their hind legs
and capered about, and the longer he played, the higher sprang
the dancers, so that they knocked against each other's heads
and began to shriek terribly.
At length the judge cried, quite of breath, I will give you your
life if you will only stop fiddling. The good servant thereupon
had compassion, took his fiddle and hung it round his neck again,
and stepped down the ladder. Then he went up to the Jew, who was
lying upon the ground panting for breath, and said, you rascal,
now confess, whence you got the money, or I will take my fiddle
and begin to play again. I stole it, I stole it, cried he, but
you have honestly earned it. So the judge had the Jew taken
to the gallows and hanged as a thief.