UPDATE: More than three years after writing this post, I've just made a video of Moshe Kraus singing Der Vaser Treger. I have my doubts about whether this is actually the original tune - he leaves four lines out of every stanza and there are significant variations in the text. But how can we know? I overlaid his singing with the words as printed by Zhelonek, not as Kraus sang them. He attributed the song to Moshe Broderson and Henech Kon.
Click the album cover to listen to and/or buy our recording of these lyrics set to a different, cheerier melody by Henech Kon, An Eytsele. You can hear that song on Youtube and also on russian-records.com, strangely spelled thus: An' eicele, sung by Ola Lilith and her partner Wladyslaw Godik, music by Henech Kon, words by Moshe Broderson.
I called my concoction An eytsele tsum vaser-treger. (Advice for the water carrier.)
It was Bob Freedman who dug deep into his collection (the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Archive at the University of Pennsylvania) to find this song sung on a privately issued cassette called "Moshe Kraus sings Yidish in Yidish."
There are quite a few songs in Itzik Zhelonek's collection with the same plot: the husband/father is studying, there is no money, the wife is complaining. Some of these songs could be sincerely saying prayer is more important than food, but some are critical of the idea that sitting on a bench in a study house is more important than taking care of one's family.
My translation of the Yiddish:
Reb Eliezer was a prosperous man in the good old days. Now he's a water-carrier, bringing water to people. All day he trudges around with his pail of water, he earns a gildn a day and comes home wet. At home his wife's sobbing and complaining, her life is boring. The barley soup is watery, what will she give him to eat? "Be quiet, woman, you're a blockhead and a fool. There's bread and potatoes, thank God. One has to eat, one has to live, so thank God."
All day he trudges around and comes home tired and sore in all his limbs. He has a 20-year-old daughter, a pretty girl. Her dress is tattered, she's sitting and crying. Reb Elizer gets really angry at the pretty girl. "Things are so bad these days and you're thinking about a dress? Be quiet, you're a wanton woman, a fool. There's bread and potatoes thank God. One has to eat, one has to live, so thank God."
Outside a strong wind is blowing, just like in hell. You can always see him - thin, hunched over, with his pails. He finds his son Berele at home, almost crying; he was sent home from school because the tuition bill wasn't paid. Reb Eliezer drops his head with tears in his eyes; from his dirty purse he draws out the last coins. "Be quiet, my son, blockhead, don't be sad, there is bread, even if without potatoes, thank God for it. One should learn, one must learn, so God will help."