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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, , at sacred-texts.com
§ 1. Work
156. Who hath not worked shall not eat (Gen. R. ch. xiv. § 10; Ds. 97).
The identical words are to be found in 2 Thess. iii. 10. The Rabbis were fond of quoting "When thou eatest the labour of thine hands, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee" (Ps. cxxviii. 2), with the comment that the man who eats the fruit of his labour stands higher than the God-fearing man (Ber. 8a). That work is a blessing is finely taught in the Talmudical legend which relates how Adam burst into tears when he was told that as a consequence of his disobedience the earth would henceforth produce thorns and thistles. "Shall I and the ass eat out of the same manger?" he cried. When, however, he was informed that by the sweat of his brow he could grow corn and eat bread, he was comforted (Pes. 118a).
157. Hadst got up early, thou needest not have stayed up late (Lev. R. ch. xxv. § 5; Da. 6).
If you had worked while young, there would be no necessity for you to work in your old age (Jastrow). Cf. "Leisure is the reward of labour." Dukes renders the proverb quite differently: "Hast seen the dawn, thou hast not yet seen the dusk." Man is ignorant of what the next step he has to take will bring him. Cf. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. xxvii. 1), and "Let not him that girdeth on his armour boast himself as he that putteth it off" (1 Kings xx. 11).
158. Flay a carcass in the street and earn a living, and say not, I am a great man and the work is below my dignity (Pes. 113a; B. B. 110a; D. 579).
Other similar sayings are: "Great is work, for it honours the workman" (Ned. 49b; D. 188), and "Make thy Sabbath [-table like that of] a weekday, but be not dependent upon others" (Shab. 118a; D. 568). The Rabbis certainly practised what they preached, for there were no professional scholars in their day. We hear of great Rabbis being at the same time shoemakers, carpenters, smiths, builders, bakers, etc. The eminent Rabban Gamliel had as his favourite maxim: "An
excellent thing is the study of the Law combined with some worldly occupation, for the labour demanded by them both makes sin to be forgotten. All study of the Law without work must in the end be futile and become the cause of sin" (Aboth. ii. 2).
159. Seven years lasted the famine, but it came not to the artisan's door (Sanh. 29a; D. 622).
Cf. also "It is a father's duty to teach his son a trade" (Kid. 29a), and "He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal" (ibid.). A man without a regular occupation was not permitted to act as judge or even give testimony (Sanh. 24b).
160. If a swordsman he is no book-worm; if a book-worm he is no swordsman (Ab. Zar. 17b; D. 46).
The occupations of the student and warrior clash with each other. Another reading of the proverb is: "If the sword the Book is not, if the Book the sword is not."The Book is the Bible, and its teachings make for peace and good-will.
161. A physician afar off is a blind eye (B. K. 85a; D. 111).
I.e. he is of no use. Jastrow translates, "If the surgeon is far off, the eye will be blind" (before he arrives).
*182. There is no faith in slaves (B. M. 86b; D. 437).
Palestinian proverb. Elsewhere it is said: "Of the ten measures of sleep that came down into the world, slaves received nine and the rest of the world only one" (Kid. 49b); "Slaves have no sense of shame" (Sanh. 86a); "Their testimony is not accepted" (Mish. R. H. i. 8); "It is forbidden to teach a slave the Law" (Keth. 28a). Harsh though these dicta sound, they were no doubt justified by experience. On the other hand, there cannot be any doubt that servants [there is only one word in Hebrew and Aramaic for "slave" and "servant"] were well looked after and protected by law. It is thus recommended, "Do not eat fine bread and give coarse bread to your servant, do not drink old wine and give him new wine, do not sleep on soft cushions and allow him only straw; hence people say, Whoever acquires a Hebrew slave, acquires a master over himself" (Kid. 20a).
§ 2. Trade
163. Does a man buy and sell just to be called a merchant? (B. M. 40b; B. B. 90a).
The chief aim in trade is to make a profit. Cf. "A merchant that gains not, loseth."
*164. Hast bought, thou hast gained; sell, and thou wilt lose (B. M. 51a).
The art of trading consists in skilful purchasing.
Cf. "Buying and selling is but winning and losing."
165. Loosen thy purse-strings, [then] open thy sack (Pes. 113a; D. 643).
Receive payment before parting with your goods. Cf. a Scotch proverb "Ell and tell [ = ready money] is good merchandise."
*166. Behold the sack, the money, and the corn; arise and measure (j. Sanh. x. 1; D. 230).
Deal for cash only.
167. Vines purchase date-palms, date-palms do not purchase vines (B. K. 92a).
The fruit of the vine is more valuable than that of the palm. Therefore devote your energies to the former, for it will prove more profitable.
168. A Kab from the ground and not a Kor from the roof (Pes. 113a; D. 586).
Better is a small profit derived from the place where you dwell than a larger profit from afar off. You are saved worry, and there is no need to mount the roof of your house to look out anxiously for the arrival of your agents. Cf. "Buy at market but sell at home." On the Kab see no. 21. The Kor was a larger dry measure.
*169. If on opening the door [in the morning] there is rain, set down thy sack, O ass-driver, and lie on it (Ber. 59a; Taan 6b; D. 163).
Morning rain is the sign of a fruitful season.
Provisions will be cheap, so do not carry thy produce to market, for the profits will be small. On the other hand, the Talmud bitterly denounces the men who inflate the price of food-stuff by withholding it from the market in the time of scarcity (B. B. 90b).
*170. The beam sells for a Zuz in the town and for a Zuz in the forest (B. K. 11a; D. p. 15).
The cost of transporting the timber does not materially affect the price.
*171. Ten parasangs for one Zuz, eleven parasangs for two (Ḥag. 9b).
Cry of ass-drivers.
*172. Four [Zuz] for a large skin and four for a small skin (B. B. 5a; D. 117).
The cost of tanning a skin, whether large or small, is practically the same. Make use of this fact to get the most possible for your money. In the context, the application is that the cost of guarding two contiguous fields is the same as that for one field. (This seems the most probable of the various translations and explanations of the proverb.)
173. A hundred Zuz [invested] in business, and every day meat and wine; a hundred Zuz [invested] in land, and salt and vegetables (Jeb. 63a; D. 463).
The Jews seem at one time to have had a disinclination to acquire much land, possibly on account of the uncertainty of tenure in
the time of persecution. Cf. the wording of proverb no. 130. The opinions on the question of landed property differ very widely. Ben Sira says: "Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry, which the Most High hath ordained" (Ecclus. vii. 15). The fact that "husbandry" is specially mentioned is in keeping with Ben Sira's general view, shared by the Greeks, that occupation with the soil led to boorishness. A Rabbi of the second century AḌ. gives it as his opinion that there could be no worse occupation than agriculture, and on seeing a field ploughed across its breadth he exclaimed sarcastically, "Plough it also long-wise, and still you will find that to engage in commerce is more profitable" (Jeb. 63a). Rab, who lived in the third century, noticed the ears of corn being fanned by the breeze, and declared "However much you may fan, it is better to devote oneself to commerce" (ibid.). On the other hand, it is also said, "A man who does not possess a piece of land is not fit to be called a man" (ibid.); and another Rabbi adopts a middle course by advising "Let every man divide his money into three parts, and invest a third in land, a third in business, and a third let him keep by him in reserve" (B. M. 42a).
174. A hundred bleedings for a Zuz, a hundred
heads (hair-cuttings) for a Zuz, a hundred lips (moustache-trimmings) for nothing (Shab. 129b; D. 464).
There are some occupations which are absolutely barren of profit. Although, as we have seen, work was considered a blessing, a distinction was naturally drawn between the different trades. "No trade," says a Rabbi, "will ever pass away from the world; but happy is he who sees his parents engaged in a superior trade, and woe to him who sees his parents engaged in an ungainly occupation. The world cannot exist without a perfumer and a tanner; but happy is he whose occupation is that of a perfumer, and woe to him who is a tanner" (Kid. 82b). Here the emphasis is laid on clean and pleasant work; but another Rabbinic passage regards the matter from a different point of view. "Let not a man teach his son to be an ass-driver, nor a camel-driver, nor a barber, nor a sailor, nor a shepherd, nor a shop-keeper, for their trades are those of thieves. Ass-drivers are mostly wicked, camel-drivers mostly honest, sailors mostly pious, the best of physicians is destined for Gehenna, and the most honourable of butchers is a partner of Amalek" (Mish. Kid. iv. 14). Also the professions which brought men into frequent contact with women were discouraged, such as the
goldsmith, wool-carder, maker of hand-mills, perfumer, weaver, hairdresser, fuller, cupper, and bath-heater. None engaged in these trades could be elected to the office of king or high priest (Kid. 82a).
*175. Fifty [Zuz] which produce [increase] are better than a hundred which do not (j. Peah viii. 8; D. 296).
A little which is used is of greater value than double which is lying unused.
Next: Chapter VI: Rules of Conduct