One afternoon King Solomon went for a walk, accompanied by three of his councilors. It was a cold autumn day, and they shivered in their light coats as they tramped along the road. To their surprise, they saw a tanner who stood knee-high in the ice-cold water, washing skins.

King Solomon called him over and asked him: “Aren’t seven more than five?”

The tanner replied respectfully: “Yet thirty two are more than twelve, sire.”

The king seemed satisfied with the answer. After a minute of silence, he asked further: “How often did you burn down?”

Said the tanner: “Three times, and twice more to go.”

Solomon was again satisfied and asked: “If I send you three turkeys, will you pluck them?”

“Go ahead, sire; I’ll take care of them,” was the brisk reply of the tanner.

King Solomon and his councilors moved on. On the way back to the palace he asked his companions: “Tell me, gentlemen, what was the meaning of the conversation between the tanner and myself?”

His councilors, who had not the faintest idea what the three questions and answers meant, looked foolish.

Said the king: “Very clever councilors I selected! A tanner beats them at their own game. Either you tell me within three days what the talk was about, or you will be dismissed from your duties.”

The three councilors went to their homes and thought and thought. They searched through all their wise books for the answer to the riddle. But, alas, none could give them a clue. Now, being the king’s clever councilors, they all went to the tanner and implored him to disclose the meaning of his conversation with the king.

After a while the tanner said: “All right, gentlemen, I will tell you the meaning of my conversation with the king, if you leave me all your money and possessions.”

The three men had no choice but to agree.

After the councilors had handed over all they possessed of money and precious things: “The meaning of the questions and answers is very simple, my friends. King Solomon was wondering why I was standing in the ice-cold water and asked, ‘Aren’t seven -months of summer- more than five months of winter? Why don’t you rather work in water during the summer’?”

“I replied: ‘The thirty-two’-teeth-‘are more than twelve’-months. In other words, I need more money than I can possibly earn during full twelve months of hard work.”

“Then the king inquired: ‘How often did you burn down?’ Now, strange as it may seem to you, to us poor people, marrying off a daughter is equivalent to a fire in one’s house, for we give away our last possessions to establish a home for the young couple. In reply to King Solomon’s question I stated correctly that I had married off three of my five daughters, and that I hoped to do so with the remaining two.”

“The king had pity on me and wanted to help me; that is why he asked the third question.”

With these words the tanner turned his back to the councilors and wanted to go back to his work.

“Wait a minute,” shouted his visitors, “what about the turkeys you were to pluck?”

The tanner laughed and turned around to ask the three gentlemen: “Aren’t you plucked, my good friends?”

The councilors were very angry at this last remark, but there was nothing they could do about it. It was better for them to keep quiet than to call attention to the way they had been fooled by the tanner and the king.