Chapter Two

On the Birth and Circumcision of the Jews, and how they are educated for the Jewish Life.

[Having established his Christian orthodoxy, Buxtorf is free to give his remarkable snapshot of the beginning of a Jewish life in the Ashkenazic world which he was keenly observing , and he tones down his rhetoric considerably. Occasionally he indulges in a ponderous dig, as when he declares a sermon on the Tree of Life to be a wooden  sermon (get it?) but at least he was listening, unlike some of the Jews present then and now. He was well aware that circumcision had been ordained for the Jews, and the crucial decision to lift this tough requirement for male adult gentiles who wished to accept the new religion, as related in chapter fifteen of the Acts of the Apostles, was the key to the spread of early Christianity. The Lilith material at the beginning is essentially folkloristic, and has fallen into desuetude in our day, but the remainder has not changed all that much in ultra-orthodox circles. In more relaxed Liebermanian practice it is becoming common to apply a local anesthetic salve prior to the operation of circumcision, and the Mezizah,  oral suction, which serves to promote the flow of blood and wash away debris, has been replaced these days with a hand-operated suction device to avoid the possibility of infection. Apart from this, little has changed in a traditional circumcision. For more information on current issues in this regard, see my article on Circumcision in the  Reader's Guide to Judaism, edited by Michael Terry (Chicago, 2000.)]

I have given in the previous chapter a short introduction to the Jewish Religion and their faithful practices, as well the basis of the Jewish faith which I pointed out in detail, and this should appeal to the reason and judgment of all, so that they can understand how strong and magnificent the rest of the structure will be, how strong and solid it is, withstanding the wind, thunder and lightning of the prophets; and how frail it will be found in the eyes of those people who are enlightened by the true knowledge of God and his word.

Therefore no one should be provoked to laugh, feel angry or make mockery at what follows now, or look on it as fabricated, but with a fearful and trembling mind you should read and consider it, because it comes from the people who were chosen by God and adopted as his children. It will describe how the Jew is buried, and how he is sent through deep, secret caves into the Promised Land, where he will eat milk and honey, and he will sit and eat a great feast with the future Messiah, consisting of a supernatural enormous ox, fish, fowl, and delicious wine grown in Paradise, where he will go and reside amid great joys.

Nunc lectum admissi risum teneatis Amici. When the time of confinement comes for a Jewish pregnant woman, the room in which the child's bed is will be furnished with all necessary things; and now the man of the house or another holy and pious Jew, if he can be found, takes a chalk and makes a circle in the room and on all walls, and he writes above the door inside and outside, on each wall and around the bed in Hebrew letters: Adam, Chava, Chutz, Lilis,  that is, Adam, Eve, out you Lilis! This means that if the woman has a son, God should give him a wife like Eve, not like Lilis; but if she has a daughter, then she should be for her future husband like Eve, a helpmate, not like Lilis who is stubborn and disobedient. What is Lilis? This name is found in Isaiah 34.14 and is sometimes interpreted as Strix  [the screech-owl] which is a horrible monstrous bird; some say it is Lamia,  [Lat. sorceress] a monstrous ghost. The Jews also talk about a devil in the form of a woman, who on the eighth day, the day of their circumcision, would come and kill the babe or take him away. This ghost or nightwoman was also called Lilis, from the Hebrew word, Lel, Nox  or night.

You can also read a story in the [apocryphal] book Ben Sira (not as the scholar Paul Fagius [Bible scholar, born Rheinzabern, 1504, died 1549] has printed and translated it into Latin, [1542] but as the Jews have printed it. My copy was printed in Constantinople; and it is the same as Sebastian Münster mentions at the end of his Cosmography. I bought this copy from a Jew, who had it from the Münster library, because Münster had been Professor of Hebrew here in Basel and is buried here.) In this book you read the following story. When God made Adam in Paradise, he said: It is not good that man should be alone; and therefore he made him a wife from the soil, and he gave her the name Lilis. Soon afterwards the two started to quarrel and fight, and the wife said: Eni schochébhes lemattah,  "I won't lie underneath" and the man said: Eni schohebh lemáttah ella Lemáhalah, "I won't lie underneath but on top, because it is proper for you to submit to me." Then the wife answered: "We are both equal, and neither is better than the other, because we are both made of the soil." And they remained recalcitrant and obstinate towards each other. When Lilis saw that there would be no unity between them, she said the holy name Schoem hamphorasch  (the holy name of God with its secret cabalistic interpretations against which Luther wrote a little book) and she flew away into the open air. Now Adam said to God: "Lord of the world, the woman that you gave me flew away." Then God sent three angels after Lilis, Senoi, Sanfenoi, and Sanmangeloph, and he said to them: "If she is willing to come back, it is well; if she does not, then every day one hundred of her children shall die." The angels went after her and just met her over the mighty waters, the same place where the Egyptians would later drown, and they showed her God's command. When they saw that she did not want to obey and come back, the angels said, "If you don't come back we shall drown you in the water." Lilis begged to be allowed to stay, and promised she would only kill male infants eight days old or female infants twenty days old. When the angels heard that, they wanted to take her by force, and bring her back to Adam. Now Lilis promised under oath that if she would find a piece of parchment with the angels' names on it, she would have no power over these children, and would not harm them, and she would take and suffer the curse that as punishment one hundred of her children should die every day. After that one hundred Schedim  or young devils, her children, died every day. This is the reason why we write the name of those angels on a Kamea  or piece of parchment, and hang it on the infants, so that it reminds Lilis of her oath, and she will not harm the children. So far from Ben Sira. It may well be true that they hang those pieces of paper on the infants because they are supposed to have a healing power. You also find such drawings in the room of a young mother, and the name of the angels who have a protective power over them are written inside above the door. From where did those wise Rabbis get this beautiful story? You find the answer in the German-Hebrew book Brandspiegel (which was printed in Crakow, Poland in the German language but with Hebrew letters in the year 1597) chapter eight, in these words: God made the women out of the rib of man, that she should serve him like a part of his body. This is why our Chachamim  argue about what is written: And God made man, i.e. he made a male and a female. And after that it says in a different chapter: It is not good that the man is alone, I will make him a helper who can be with him. The learned Jews ask: Where is that first woman that was created with Adam? Answer: The first woman was Lilis, who was too proud to serve her husband because she was created from the same soil as man. Then God took her away from him and made him another one from his own body, so that she should obey him and serve him and help him like a part of his own body. So far from the Brandspiegel. Now when the night ghost is banned from the room, and the labor starts, it is prohibited for the Jews to call a Christian woman or midwife, unless there is no Jewish woman available. The Jewish people should be standing around her to make sure that Christian midwife does not neglect or kill the infant. These words you can read explicitly in the Talmud in the chapter about idolatry.

If the woman recovers and happily gives birth to a son, then there is great joy in the house, and the father will look around for geese, chicken, fish, meat and good drinks for the Bris milah,  the circumcision-feast. God ordained the circumcision of the male on the eighth day as everybody knows from the books of Moses. On that day, the guests are invited to the circumcision-feast. There should be at least Minjan  or ten men, all of them over thirteen. On the seventh night some guests come and sit with the mother, they have a good meal and play cards all night, or play games, sing, and tell tales, and the men drink themselves full, and entertain the young mother so that she should not be worried about the forthcoming circumcision. However the learned and pious Jews add some devotions and prayers, and they warn the man who will perform the circumcision not to drink too much, so that his hands will be steady for the performance.

The man who performs the circumcision is called Mohel  in Hebrew. He has to be a man of the Jewish faith (not a woman) and skilled and experienced. Rich Jews will not let a man who has never before performed a circumcision do so on their sons. They say: he's not going to learn to shave a beard on me! Someone who is just learning will pay a poor Jew so that he lets him try it on his child. You can recognize the Mohel by his two thumbs which have long pointed nails. The knife which is used for circumcision should be made of sharp material like stone, glass or wood, usually good, sharp, iron knives are used similar to the one the barber uses; rich Jews have theirs set in silver and covered with precious stones.

The infant has to be cleaned and bathed and wrapped in clean clothes. He has to be clean for the ceremony otherwise no prayers can be said over him, and in case he should soil himself, then everybody has to wait until he is clean again.

The right day for the circumcision is the eighth day from the day of birth It can be performed from morning on, after the sun rises, until night. Usually it is done in the morning, when the stomach is empty and the chances of too much bleeding are therefore less.

On the morning of the eighth day everything is prepared for the circumcision. First of all, they arrange two chairs with two different seats, which are decorated with silk or velvet cushions depending on wealth and circumstances. It can be done in the public synagogue or shul or at home in a special room with everything that is needed. If it is done in the shul, then the chairs should be close to the holy ark, where the book of Moses is kept, because this is a holy place. Then comes the sponsor. He stands right next to the chairs and the Mohel  next to him; he is followed by other Jews. One of them calls in a loud voice to bring everything needed for the circumcision. Several young boys come now, one with a big torch, which is composed of twelve little wax-candles corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, two who carry cups with red wine, one who carries the circumcision-knife, one with a bowl with sand, one with a bowl filled with oil in which there is clean, thin gauze to cover the infant's wound. They all gather around the Mohel so they will learn and see, because these duties are bought by the boys for money. Others bring confections and sweet things, sweet wine with clove, cinnamon and other good spices, to give strength to the infant's father, the sponsor and others to face up to the pain of the poor child. When everybody is gathered, the sponsor sits on one of the prepared chairs and the Mohel stands opposite him and he sings the song from the book of Moses which the children of Israel sang when they walked through the Red Sea and other songs. Then the women bring the child to the door and the whole congregation rises. The sponsor goes to the door and receives the child and he sits down on the chair with him and everybody calls Baruch Habba,  Praise to the one who comes! This is to be understood in a cabalistic sense. The Hebrew word Habba,  has the numerical value of eight (He, Bes and Aleph make eight.) The cabalistic sense is therefore: Praise to him who comes on the eighth day, namely the day of circumcision. There is also an abbreviation in which each letter means a certain word, namely Hinne Ba Eliahu,  that is: See Elijah is coming, who is called the angel of the Covenant. We understand also that the Prophet Elijah is coming with the child and he sits down on the other chair, and he wants the Covenant of circumcision to be performed the right way as it is written: And the angel of the Covenant whom you desired will come. At a certain time when it was prohibited for the Israelites to have their children circumcised it is said that the Prophet Elijah was so concerned about it that he hid in a cave willing to give up his life. Then God spoke to him, as is written in the first book of Kings: "What are you doing here Elijah?" Elijah answered: "I am zealous for the Lord God Zebaoth,  because the children of Israel have left your covenant", namely, the Covenant of circumcision. And God promised Elijah at that time that he would always be present, and see the circumcision, so that the children of Israel should never leave that Covenant again but should preserve it and hold to it, as it is written: And the angel of the Covenant will come. When they prepare the chair for Elijah, they have to say loud and clear: "This is the chair of the prophet Elijah!" If this is not made explicit, there will be no circumcision. Maybe he cannot hear so good because of his age so you have to speak loud and clear! And to wait the whole period of circumcision out it is customary to leave his chair for three days standing there. Anne, a rich Jew in Regensburg, wanted to have a circumcision for his baby and he invited Rabbi Judah Chasid (who was called Judah the Holy for his piety) to be a sponsor. When the child was brought everybody got up and called out Baruch habba.  Rabbi Judah was silent and did not get up. When he was asked for the reason for his behavior he said: "I did not see Elijah come to sit on the chair next to me, and from this I conclude that nothing good will come of this child. I see an old man with a white beard sitting by the window. Ask him and he will tell you." When they asked the old man he answered: "The reason why Elijah did not come for the circumcision is that this child will some day show a desire to schmadden," that is, to fall away from the Jewish faith and become a Christian - which later really happened.

When the sponsor is holding the baby on his lap, the Mohel  unwraps the baby, takes hold of his member, and grasps it in front at the foreskin, squeezes the glans behind, rubs the foreskin to make it less sensitive so the child will feel the knife less, takes the circumcision-knife from the boy standing beside him and says aloud: Praise to you, O Lord, who have blessed us with your commandments and given us the covenant of circumcision. While he says that he cuts off a piece of the foreskin, so that a small part of the head is exposed. He quickly throws the piece of foreskin in the little bowl with sand (now the boy takes back the circumcision-knife) reaches for the cup of wine, takes a mouthful, sprays the child with it, cleans the blood away, sprays some on the face in case of weakness, takes after that the child's member in his mouth and sucks out the blood and ejects it into the wine-cup or into the bowl with sand. He repeats this at least three times. In Hebrew it is called Mezizah,  which Moses did not command, but was ordered by the Rabbonim  or wise Jews. After that, when the bleeding has slowed, the Mohel grasps with his sharp pointed thumb nails the cut foreskin on the child's genital, rips it apart, and strips it back so that the head is totally uncovered. They call this Priah , uncovering, and it is more painful to the child than the circumcision itself. He reaches for the gauze in oil, dresses the wound with three or four layers, and then covers the baby up again. Now the father of the child begins to say: Praise to you God our Lord, King of the world, who have blessed us with your commandments, and commanded us to enter the covenant of Abraham our Father. Then the entire congregation answers and says: Just as this child has entered into the covenant of Abraham our Father, so may he also enter into the Law of Moses, marriage, and good deeds. After that the Mohel  washes his mouth and hands thoroughly. Then the sponsor rises with the child, and stands opposite the Mohel,  who takes the second cup of red wine, says a prayer over it and over the child too: O our God, and God of our fathers, strengthen and keep this child for his father and mother, and his name shall be known among the people of Israel (now he gives the child his name) Isaac son of Abraham. Prov. 23.25 Rejoice, father, in him who came forth from your loins, rejoice, mother, in him who came forth from your body, as it is written: let your father and mother rejoice that they have born you. The prophet says too Ezek. 16.6: I passed you and I saw you lying in your blood and I said to you: In your blood you shall live, yea I said to you, when you were lying in your blood, you shall live. With that he dips his finger in the cup with wine which he had previously used to spit the blood in, and he smears it three times on the child's lips so that it should live longer in the blood of his circumcision. And David says: He will never forget the covenant and the promise which was made for him and a thousand generations. He goes on praying that God may protect them for having once more confirmed the covenant, and that the father and mother shall have a long life and the child shall be blessed. After that he gives all the boys to drink from the blessed cup, and they go home with the young Jew and hand him back into the mother's arms and with that the event ends. Some learned and holy Jews, when they hear the baby's painful cries during the circumcision, comfort themselves with the saying from Exodus 6.5: Also I have heard the painful cries of the children of Israel and I have remembered my covenant.

When the Mohel says the last prayer he stands with the sponsor close to the ark, on a holy place. The learned and wise men have noted that the Hebrew word Milah,  circumcision, has four letters, and each one means a certain word, namely Mohel Yered Liphne Hattebha,  that is: the man doing the circumcision should stand by the ark: or, Maleach Joschebh Liphne Haaron, that is: the angel is standing by the ark, namely, Elijah the angel of this covenant stands by the ark and prays. Some pious Jews put the infant, before and after the circumcision, on the cushion of Elijah, so that Elijah himself can touch and bless him.

They know that they have to do the Prioh, uncovering with their sharp nails, from Joshua 5.2: Make yourself sharp knives and circumcise the children of Israel once more. Here the Chachamim  and learned Jews say this "once more" should be understood as Prioh, meaning, another circumcision. They discuss at length why they did not circumcise the ones born in the desert in those forty years. Not because of the malice and stubborness of the parents, oh no, but the midnight wind or the northwind did not blow in the forty years, and without that wind loss of blood and wounds can be very dangerous. This is why there is a medical rule in Chaldee [i.e. Aramaic]: Bejoma deibba, ubejoma delchula lo mahalinan velo mesubbarinan,  that is, on foggy days and on days with an east wind you shall neither circumcise nor let blood. Someone might say: should you always wait for the north wind, can you not do it every day? Answer: the Chachamim  say in the Talmud: every day four winds blow and the north wind is intermingled with the others; sometimes it is stronger than the others, this is why you may do it every day. That the wind did not blow at that time could be because the wind would scatter the clouds and bring clear weather, as it says (Job 37.21): When the wind blows, it will be clear, from midnight comes gold. That is, clear weather, pure and beautiful like gold. If that wind would have blown in the desert, it would have scattered the cloud which travelled with the people of Israel and the people would have come into great difficulties. But I must not uncover all the subtleties. Whoever understands and so wishes can find more of this in R. David Kimchi about the previous statement from Joshua, and in the Talmud Tractate Jebhamos,  chapter 8, in which more beautiful and deep discussions are found about the abstention from circumcision in the desert.

Throwing the foreskin in the sand means first, that their seed should be like the sand of the sea, as it is written: I will make your seed like the sand of the sea. Gen.32.13 Then there is the verse: your seed shall be like the dust of the earth. Gen.28.14. When Balaam saw that the whole desert was covered by the foreskins of the Israelites he said: Who can count the dust of Jacob? This means, who can withstand the holiness and worthiness of this people, who are all circumcised, and who buried their foreskins in the sand? How could I curse such a people? Moreover, the old serpent who seduced Adam harischon,  the first Adam in Paradise, eats sand, because his bread is the dust of the earth as it is written: Is. 65.25 the snake shall eat dust. Since the old serpent is still the enemy of man, and has an insatiable hunger for his body and soul, they feed him with God's commandments, that is with the bread of the holy Thorah,  as it is written: Prov. 25:21  When your enemy is hungry, feed him bread. In this way his power will dwindle, so that he cannot seduce man anymore.

Sick children are not circumcised on the eighth day, but they wait until they are well. The child that dies before the eight days are over is circumcised in the cemetary at his grave: no prayers are added, but a memorial is erected. We should pray that God may have mercy on him, and that he should come back to life on the day of resurrection. In certain places all the people who attend the circumcision except the sponsor have to stand, as it is written: II Kings 23.3 And all the people stood for the covenant. Lastly, the Mohel  has to say the bracha  or the blessing over the ceremony of circumcision, and he has to hold the knife in his hand. The Chachamin  derived this from the statement: Ps. 149.45 The praise of God is in their throats, and in their hands are sharp swords.

Thus the first act in the synagogue is at an end; then they come home with the baby for a space. When they come home from the synagogue, the table is prepared for a good meal to which at least ten men are invited, one or two of them should be learned rabbis who recite a very long prayer at the table and give a sermon to which the audience does not pay too much attention. I once heard at such a circumcision-meal the following about the words of Solomon: Prov 3:18 Wisdom is a tree of life for all who hold it; but I must say that I found it to be a rather wooden sermon! The Hebrew word Milah,  circumcision, is taken to prove that they should prepare a delicious meal, because it is taken as an acronym for the expression: Mischteh Jaaseh Lecol Hakkeruim,  that is: You shall prepare a meal for all your invited guests.

The observance on the eight day is proved skillfully from the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. It is written:Gen. 21.8 And the child grew and was weaned and Abraham made a great feast Bejom higgamel es Jitzchak  on the day that Isaac was weaned. On this they make a Medrasch  and say: You shall not read Higgamel  (in Hebrew it only has four letters or consonants, He, Gimel, Mem, Lamed)  but Bejom hag mal.  The letters He  and Gimel  have no meaning as a word, but are numerals, and are the number eight: the word Mal  means "he circumcised." [He  = 5, Gimel  = 8.] According to the cabalistic interpretation of the rabbis it should be understood as follows: And Abraham made a great feast on the eighth day when Isaac was circumcised; and the child grew and was weaned.

So it became the correct custom to prepare an excellent meal, and to invite learned rabbis and other pious people, as David said: Gather the holy ones who keep my covenant (i.e.the circumcision). The man who performed the circumcison has to stay for a few days to take care that the child does not start bleeding.

The mother stays six weeks in childbed for either boy or girl, and the husband has to abstain completely from relations with her. He cannot touch her, nor eat from the same bowl as her, in a manner similar to the monthly unclean period, which I shall discuss elsewhere.

Thus the little boy is "jewished," that is to say, he becomes a Jew through circumcision. If a woman bears a girl however, no great fuss is made about it, and you also find no special information about it in their books. However, the convert [to Christianity] Ferdinand Hess (may God preserve him in the true faith!) writes that when the child is six weeks old, a few young girls sit around the cradle, which is decorated with beautiful cloths and silver bells. They lift the baby and cradle up a few times and give her a name. The one standing at the head of the baby is the sponsor. After that they have a good meal and enjoy themselves.

The Law of Moses states that a woman, if she has born a son, should be at first unclean for seven days, and after that she should be confined for thirty-three days a total of forty days; and for a girl double, that is eighty days. It is the custom however that the confinement is six weeks or forty days for both boy or girl; the reason for this is a strange Jewish sect, called Karráim, which is still found in Poland, Russia and Turkey. They rely strictly on the letter of the written law, and they reject all the injunctions and interpretations of the Rabbis. Lest the Jews be looked upon as if agreeing with that sect, they observe the confinement for a baby girl for only forty days. When the forty days or six weeks are over, the women have to bathe themselves before they can return to their husbands and have relations with them. They take the bath in pool, or if that is not available they have special boxes, wells or holes in their homes, backyards or alleys where they live. They dig them deep enough so that when they are filled up with water, they can stand in them up to their necks. If there is deep mud they place a flat stone at the bottom or something else so that their feet are in the water and the water will flow between their toes. The bath is useless if their whole body is not covered by water. They have to put their hair up, and the hair-nets have to come off likewise, necklaces or beads or anything else they may wear around their neck. Rings have to be taken off the fingers, the teeth have to be cleaned, and all in all there should be nothing unwashed. Finally, they have to submerge, so that not a hair stays out. They must spread their arms and fingers, open their eyes and mouth a little if they can, and they should bend over in a way that their breasts do not touch their bodies, so that the water can clean the whole body. If they feel faint in the water, no-one should touch them with unwashed hands, otherwise the bath does not count. They should have somebody with them all the time, another woman or a girl at least twelve years and one day old, and if a woman is not available, her own husband can be with her to see and testify that she does it the right way. A Christian woman should not be in attendance, since she cannot be relied on for this purpose. In winter, when ice covers the water, she takes a bath just the same, although it is customary at this time to add some warm water. They might be permitted also to bathe in warm or hot springs which are found in some places. For those who want to know more about this, there is a little German- Hebrew book called Frawen-büchlein in which all the customs are explained.

The following explains how a firstborn son is released from the priest. When a mother brings a son as her firstborn into this world, according to the Law of Moses he belongs to the Lord and and must be redeemed from the priest; as it is written Exod. 13.13: Whatever the mother first brings forth is mine. All firstborn sons you shall redeem. This redemption takes place in the following manner. On the thirty first day after the child's birth, the father calls a Cohen  or priest and some of his best friends. He puts the child before him on the table with the equivalent of two gold pieces or a third of a thaler, and he says to the priest: My wife has presented me with a Bechór or a first-born son, and the Law requires that I give him to you. The Cohen says: Are you therefore letting me have your son? The father answers: Yes. After that the priest asks the mother if she ever had a child or a miscarriage before. If the mother says no, the priest says to the father: What would you rather have, your first-born or the money? The father answers: My first-born son. Then the priest takes the money, and puts it by the head of the child and says: This is a first-born, and God bids you to redeem him, as it is written: They shall redeem it when it is one month old and give money, namely five shekels. When you were in your mother's body you were in the power of the heavenly father and your parents, but now you are in my hands. Your father and mother want you redeemed because you are a first-born and given to the Lord as it is written: Bring me all first-born that the mothers of Israel bring forth, human and animal, because they are mine. Instead this money shall be given to the priest to redeem the first-born. I have released you now, as is right, and you are released; had you not been released, you would still be under the law. May you grow up to fear God, to get married and do good deeds. Amen. If the child's father dies before the thirty-first day the mother does not have to redeem the son, but they hang a little note or a silver plate around the child's neck on which is written: Bechór Schaello niphdeh,  that is, this first-born son is not yet released. When the child grows up to adulthood, he is required to redeem himself from the priest.

Before I conclude this chapter I would like to tell a story from the Gemara or Talmud Abodah Zarah 10b, about a stranger who through a miraculous circumcision acquired a portion in the other world, and died a pious Jew. A Roman King [probably Hadrian] who was an enemy of the Jews wanted to exterminate and expel them from the land, and he said to his advisers: If someone has an old wound that is festering, should he cut the bad part out so he can regain his health or should he go on and suffer the pain? By this the King meant the Jews, who had lived for a long time in his land and who had been a great nuisance to his people. One of his advisers, Ketijah, son of Schalom, understood this and he said: Adoni, [=my Lord] you cannot exterminate or expel the Jews, because it is written Zech. 2.6 (2.10 in the Hebrew text) I have scattered you to the four winds of heaven. This means, just as the world cannot exist without winds, it cannot exist without Jews. Therefore it is not possible to expel the Jews. Furthermore, if you would do that they would call you a corrupt and tyrannical King. The King said: You have answered correctly, but whoever defeats the King is an argument shall be buried alive in a sandpile [reading Gk. kimolia;  others read chaminion,  furnace] and suffocated. Since you have defeated me (which is shameful for a king) and slandered my kingdom you must be punished. When they led him away a stately Roman matron saw him and called out: "Behold the ship that sails away without giving tribute." She wanted to let everybody know that this Ketiah would suffer death because of the Jews, and he would have a part in olam habba,  in the eternal life, but he had not given his tribute yet, he was not yet circumcised. Some people said he took a knife and cut his foreskin off, others said he fell in his eagerness with his mouth over his Orlah,  his foreskin, and bit it off with his teeth, and he called out in a loud voice: Now I have paid tribute. When they lowered him into his grave [or: threw him into the furnace] he called out again that he gave his worldly possessions to the highly learned Rabbi Akiba. A voice was heard then from heaven saying: Ketija, son of Schalom, eternal life is waiting for you. Here one can learn what a precious thing circumcision is, and that you should give all your possessions to the Jews; nothing is lost if for one hundred pieces of gold you get ten thousand back. In the same chapter they praise Emperor Antoninus, declaring that he was circumcised and died a pious Jew. It happened this way. Not far from the emperor's residence lived a famous and learned Rabbi. A secret passageway led underground from his house to the palace, and they could have secret meetings. With that the emperor felt the desire to learn the Jewish laws, and know more about their religion, and become a Jew himself. Every day he went to the Rabbi and learned the Thorah.  But to make sure that no one was aware that he was going to the Rabbi to be taught, he took always two servants with him, one of whom he killed at the Rabbi's door, the other he killed on the way home at his own door, and he forbade the Rabbi to have any other pupils there when he came, or to allow anyone else in. Once the Emperor came and found a stranger with the Rabbi, Rabbi Chanina Bar Chamma, who was a holy and noble Rabbi. The emperor was angry and told the Rabbi: Did I not tell you not to let anybody in when I come? Said the Rabbi: Adoni,  Lord emperor, he is not a man, but an angel. Answered the emperor: If he is an angel, then he shall go and tell my servant to come in; he is lying outside the door sleeping (he was speaking about the dead servant.) When Rabbi Chanina saw that the servant was dead, he was afraid, and did not know what to answer the emperor without accusing him of murder. He fell on his knees and prayed until the servant came back to life. When the Emperor saw what had happened, he was surprised by the holiness of this Jew, and he asked them to dine, and stay overnight with him. When the Rabbi was getting ready to go to bed, the Emperor bent down to become a footstool for the Rabbi, so that he could step into bed. The Rabbi refused such great honor, but the emperor showed himself as a humble subject and told him he wanted to be his footstool in the other world too. And at the death of the Emperor Antoninus, the Jews learned that he was a Magaijer,  that he was circumcised, and died a pious Jew.


Go to next chapter
Go to list of chapters
Go back to Home Page
Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu