A 1950s Western With a Jewish Twist


Have Gun – Will Travel was an “adult Western” series that aired in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Set in San Francisco nearly 100 years earlier, the hero, Paladin (played by Richard Boone), was a gentleman gunfighter who enjoyed opera, beautiful women, fine food, and chess. He often quoted Shakespeare and Greek philosophers and, in one episode, both Pirkei Avot and the The Zohar.

In that episode, “The Fatalist,” written by Shimon Wincelberg, a young Jewish immigrant named Rivka Shotness begs Paladin to help her father, Nathan, who is being bullied by hoodlums. Paladin agrees.

“In Hebrew,” Rivka tells him, his name means “wonderful  law.” Her father then quotes Pirkei Avot 3:2: “The Mishnah says, ‘Pray for the welfare of the authorities, for if not for the fear thereof, men would swallow each other alive.'” Paladin responds from the same chapter,  “Doesn’t your Mishnah also say, ‘Im ein Torah, ein kemach: ‘If there is no law there is no bread’?”  He continues: “The good die young that they may not be corrupted; the wicked live on that they may have a chance to repent.”  Astonished, Nathan marvels: “Mr. Paladin even quotes from our holy Zohar!”

Perhaps a young Billy Joel was watching.

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