Sholem Aleichem’s “On Account of a Hat”

Resource Kit by
Sasha Senderovich

Module Content



“On Account of a Hat” was written in 1913 by Sholem Aleichem, one of the most famous Yiddish writers and humorists, at a time of resurgent anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the subsequent collapse of the Tsarist regime. It is a hilarious yet devastating story about travelling by train—that preeminent symbol of the modern age. It is also about leaving home and attempting to return there, a clash between the traditional sense of time associated with Jewish religious practices and a sense of time associated with living in the modern world, and the disintegration and breakdown of identity under the strain of these and other conflicts. Sholem Shachnah—nicknamed Rattlebrain—emerges as the story’s hapless hero with one foot firmly out of the shtetl but the other foot only tentatively in the bigger world that he thought he understood until it became clear to the story’s readers that he didn’t.

Cover image: Detail of a map of the Russian railway system, illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, circa 1890—1907.