The people of Vaysechvoos were too poor to own pets, but they had a problem and to solve that problem, they welcomed a few stray cats into the shtetl. You see, a multitude of mice had taken up residence there. But the appearance of the cats had hordes of mice trembling and turning on their tiny heels to escape their natural enemies. Those that were slow or stupid became cat food and the felines soon grew plump and brazen.
The townspeople were very happy to see the mouse population decline. The only problem was that the cats became plentiful and started acting like they owned the village and that they were simply tolerating the people who lived there. They knocked over bottles of cream, stole eggs from the chicken coops and kept the townspeople up all night long with their caterwauling.
That is, except for one cat who is very important to this story. He even had a name, Shlomi. His eyes were green and his whiskers fanned out on his wise and welcoming face. Shlomi’s fur was black as night except for a white patch on his back which strangely formed a cross. A Christian cat? Who can say, but he seemed to be a lot more considerate of the customs of our people than any human with that yichus (pedigree).
Then one day the Magistrate came to town, as he did periodically, to record births, marriages, notify draftees, and on behalf of the government, settle matters that would not otherwise be settled by the Jews themselves. His Excellency had brought with him, as usual, his dog Nikolas.
Now, Nikolas was an obedient dog who seldom left his master’s heel while the Magistrate presided. The townspeople came in, one by one, as the Magistrate dealt with them. These proceedings were very interesting to Shlomi, who was as curious as a cat could be. And so he sat, outside of the town meeting room, peering through the window.
That’s when it happened. Nikolas saw Shlomi, and all his training went out the window, with his body close behind. He did what he had never done before; he left his master’s heel and ran outside barking up a storm. Shlomi bounded up a tree as soon as he saw the dog coming. He just looked down in contempt at the ferocious dog for a few moments, then, without a twinge of fear, he jumped straight on Nikolas, like a rider on his horse. Shlomi dug his talons deep into Nikolas’ back, and rode the shrieking dog out of the town and across the fields.
The Magistrate was furious. His dealings were interrupted; his dog had taken the cat for a ride all over Russia for all he knew, and in his anger he levied a fine of 500 rubles on the town, declaring it illegal for a Jewish cat to harass and insult a Christian dog.
The people of Vaysechvoos did not know what to do. Five hundred rubles? Where would they get such a fortune! First they tried to reason with the Magistrate.
“Sir, if you examine that cat, you’ll see he has a white cross on his back. Is this not a holy sign of your religion?” The Magistrate grew angrier and angrier as the townspeople remarked about such things as Shlomi’s flat nose and green eyes, trying to persuade the official that Shlomi was indeed a Christian cat.
But the Magistrate was very cunning and so he turned to the sage of Vaysechvoos and said, “You people believe that your God is all-knowing, and He would certainly be able to tell you if the cat in question is Jewish or Christian, correct?”
“Of course our God knows,” responded the sage.
“Well and good,” said the Magistrate, “let lots be drawn. I will put two pieces of paper face down before me. On one I shall write the word ‘Jew.’ The other will say ‘Christian.’ If you draw the one that says ‘Jew,’ then I will take it as a sign from your God that the cat is indeed Jewish. You will then pay the fine of 500 rubles, with no further discussion. And, of course, if you should draw the other piece of paper that says ‘Christian,’ I will immediately leave your town in peace.”
The townspeople of Vaysechvoos were very nervous, but what choice did they have? The Magistrate wrote on the papers and placed them face down. The sage moved slowly toward the table where they lay. “Which one should I choose?” he thought. “I have no idea.” Just as he was about to reach out, Nikolas and Shlomi came running into the room, Shlomi still on Nikolas’ back. Shlomi leaped off of Nikolas onto the table, upsetting the two pieces of paper. One fell upon Nikolas and seemed to cling to his fur, almost like a label. Everyone looked down and was shocked to see that according to the paper tag, Nikolas was not a Christian dog after all, but a Jewish one. And if Nikolas was the Jew, then Shlomi must be the Christian. And everything made sense to the people of Vaysechvoos.
In all the commotion, the other piece of paper was lost. The Magistrate was in no hurry to recover it, for he had, indeed, written “Jew” on both pieces of paper. He looked at Nikolas with disdain and promptly left the little village.
Nikolas remained a part of the Vaysechvoos community and the sage wisely observed that it was providential. After all, the cats took care of the mouse problem and now, they hoped, this dog, would keep the cats in line. And, with the exception of Shlomi, who was in a category all his own, he did.
As for the Magistrate, he was never seen in Vaysechvoos again. It was rumored that he had been retired to a rest home in Siberia.