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Motke Ḥabad


MOTKE ḤABAD (c. 1820–c. 1885), Lithuanian jester (*badhan). Motke (familiar form of Mordecai) was the most famous jester of Lithuania, the counterpart to Hershele *Ostropoler of Galicia. He eked out a poor living by acting as badḥan at weddings and other festive occasions, and his barbed wit, directed against the rich and the powerful, as well as his practical jokes, constituted a form of social protest, reflecting the condition of Jews in Russia generally and of the poor within the Jewish community. His subjects include government bureaucracy, autocratic powers exercised both by lay and religious authorities, the shrewish woman, and particularly the affluent and miserly. Collections of anecdotes and sayings ascribed to Motke, however, include many of apocryphal nature. Various suggestions have been made as to the name Ḥabad, which is identical with that of the Lithuanian *ḥasidic sect. One is that it is a distortion of his family name Hobat, another that he married into a Habad family, and a third that it was a satirical anti-ḥasidic designation coined by Haskalah intellectuals, whereby Badḥan was changed to Ḥabad.

Whereas in Jewish folklore Hershele Ostropoler is the hero of the prankish deed, Motke is more the master of the biting witticism; but both were directed against those who hold the reins of wealth and power.

[Gershon Winer]


(including collections of his anecdotes): M.J. Levitan, Motke Ḥabad of Vilna (1902); Motke Ḥabad (Heb. Publ. Co., n.y., 1911); B.J. Bialostosky, Jewish Humor and Jewish Jesters (1953) (all in Yiddish).

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