After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was granted permission to visit Moscow. He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop a young man got on and sat next to him.
The scholar looked at the young man and thought: This fellow doesn’t look like a peasant, and if he isn’t a peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.
On the other hand, if he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.
Ah? But just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don’t need special permission to go there. But why would he be going to Samvet? He’s probably going to visit one of the Jewish families there, but how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Only two—the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. The Bernsteins are a terrible family, and a nice looking fellow like him must be visiting the Steinbergs. But why is he going? The Steinbergs have only daughters, so maybe he’s their son-in-law.
But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah’s husband. Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I’m not mistaken. But if he comes from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name.
What’s the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? Kovacs. But if they allowed him to change his name, he must have some special status. What could it be? A doctorate from the University!
At this point the scholar turns to the young man and says, “How do you do, Dr. Kovacs?”
“Very well, thank you, sir.” answered the startled passenger. But how is it that you know my name?”
“Oh,” replied the Talmudist, “it was obvious.”