There are many stories that are told over about the people who lived in Chelm. They all have the theme of: the people in Chelm were fairly unintelligent. Where did this come from? Is it true? It sounds highly unlikely that a whole city would be more unintelligent then the next city.
- Anybody can ask a question
- Anybody can answer
- The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
I've always speculated that it came from the fact that at one time Chelm had a very wise rabbi, named R' Shlomo (d. 1717). He is famous for his book Mirkeves Hamishneh, a commentary on the Rambam's Yad Hachazakah; appended to it is a work called Kuntreis Breichos Becheshbon, which analyzes difficult mathematical problems in the Torah. (Parts of the latter have been adapted into English under the title "Approaching Infinity," by M. Littman.)
So conceivably, by comparison to R' Shlomo, everyone else in Chelm seemed like a fool!
I heard that the reason was because they were a Chassidic city, and in "popular culture", chassidim weren't known to be smart.