Chapter Thirty-two

About the Begging and Poverty of Jews

Usually people say that the Jews do not permit any beggars among them. Experience shows, however, that they regard beggars very poorly.

They go to the houses to beg on Friday, in order to have something to eat so as to honor the feast on the Sabbath or holiday.

In a case where someone is suffering from grinding poverty, his rabbis who know him give him a begging letter, [Ger: Bättelbrief] in which they rehearse his want and his poverty, indicate that he is pious and of the Jewish faith. They call this letter Kibbutz, a collection-letter, and the beggar is called Kabzan, collector. With this letter he goes to as many Jews as he can find in the whole country. When he comes to a place where there are many Jews, he gives the letter to the Chief Rabbi, the sexton, or the Parnásim (that is the councillors) or to the Rosh Hakehel [sic] (he is their chief, the head of the Synagogue, like a Burgomaster) or the Gabboim (they are in charge of begging, or alms stewards who distribute the alms, just as among the Christians they go around the Church with a pouch) and requests permission to beg. When he receives permission, he stands with two other Jews at the shul door, or they go with the letter from house to house and collect as much as they can.

If a poor Jew has a marriageable daughter, and he cannot give her a dowry, the father must act similarly until such time as he can manage a dowry, because otherwise she is unlikely to find a husband.

If poor Jews are traveling across the country, they will stay with someone, usually one or two days. It is not considered good that they stay too long in one place, for they inscribe on their rooms:Bejóm rischon órach, Bejóm schéni tórach, Bejóm schelischi barach oder sarach, that is to say: On the first day a guest, on the second day a pest, on the third day you leave, or you stink like the rest. [Ger: Am ersten Tag ein Gast / am anderen Tag ein Last / am dritten Tag ein Fluchtiger oder Stinckender.]

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Alan D. Corré