Chapter Six

How the Jews conduct themselves after the morning prayers, and how they prepare for their noon meal.

Before the men come home from shul, the pious women are supposed to clean the house, and put everything in its place, so that they will not find anything that could make them find fault, and give them grief, because their thoughts are still towards Schem Schamáim, turned towards God in heaven. If he finds everything in order, then his Sechel, his disposition stays clear, if not, he becomes gloomy.

A pious wife lays a Sefer, that is to say a book, on the table for him, either the books of Moses, or a Sepher musar, a book dealing with penalties or discipline, from which he should learn to fear God and honor him. With this he should sit and read for at least an hour before he leaves the house to attend to his business. The Chachámim and wise men have learned this from what King Solomon said in his Proverbs 1.7: The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. This means that you should in all things have the fear of God, and also learn God's word. Therefore the wise have also interpreted the Pasuk, or verse, when Moses said Deut.7.12: Vehajah ékebh tischmeun, that is, translated in the Jewish style, and there will be heels, and you will hear. The meaning is: before you put your heels out of the house, you shall first study the Thorah, reading something in the law, and hearing what he wants you to do. It is a great Mitzvah, a very good deed, if you study the Thorah and a great sin if you do not. At the time of the first Temple, in Jerusalem, the people did many evil things, and sinned greatly, when they committed incest and idolatry. But God overlooked all of that all until they despised the law and stopped learning the Thorah, then God cast them out, killed them, and destroyed their Temple. Therefore the prophet Jeremiah says 9.12: Why is the land ruined, and devastated like a desert, in which no one walks? Because they have left my Law which I gave them. And in the fifth book of Moses is written Deut. 29.24: Why did the Lord do this to this land? What caused such great and fierce anger? Then they will say: Because they have left the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he led them from Egypt. Therefore each pious Jew, should not, right away in the morning, run after his business, but, either at home, or still in the synagogue or shul, go to his study, or to the Bes hammedrasch, [house of study] and study the laws that serve to teach him to fear God, and help him to live a pious and honorable life, so that he might fulfil what King David said Ps. 84.8: They went from one virtue to another, or, as it is interpreted in the Jewish fashion, in a Sepherle, or little book of the fear of God: They went from one room to the other, namely to study Thorah.

When they come home, they take off the Tephillin  or prayer-band, and put it in a drawer, first the head Tephillin, after that the hand Tephillin, so that he may touch the hand Tephillin  first again the next time he puts it on. Some take off the Arba canphos, a garment which is a little cover to help remember the laws of God from which the Zizis hang, although it would be better to keep it on to ensure that you do not forget the laws of God, and keep them. The one who wants to be very pious will wear it all day under his coat, and let the Zizis hang out, so he may see them, and this may prevent him from sinning, as I saw not long ago an old tetricum morosœ sanctitatis Rabbinum, [severe rabbi of morose sanctity] a head of the synagogue, walking with the tassels hanging down almost to his shoes. Those five knot tassels are a remembrance, like a button or knot in your belt not to forget a certain thing. Here, it is not to sin. This is the reason why the Jews are all so pious, and they keep the Laws of God, scilicet. [So to speak - Buxtorf wants to be sure you catch his sarcasm.]

They also think that it is healthy to eat something before you go about your business. There are sixty-three diseases of the gallbladder all of which a piece of bread and a sip of wine can take away. The one who has no wine may drink beer or water, as Raschi says: Kittun schel majim lemi schœen lo jajin, that is: Give a cup of water to the one who has no wine. After that he is better able to look after his business.

Pious women should in the meantime prepare the meal, so that the men may find something to eat at the right time when they come home tired and hungry. In the Talmud, in the Tractate about the Sabbath, it is determined and ordered that you should take your noon-meal not later than five hours after sunrise, which would be about eleven o'clock. If one waits longer than that, it is likely that you will get sick or weak, because the body needs nourishment at this time. If you does not get it, you will draw from your own body, like the bear in winter, who, if he finds nothing to eat will suck his own paws.

The food should be prepared and served in a clean and pure manner, as it is written Lev. 11.43: You should keep your body pure, because I am the Lord your God. Therefore you shall keep yourself holy, and be holy unto me, because I the Lord am holy. The wise ones interpret this as follows: You shall eat pure food like humans, not like animals, and if you fail to do so, you defile yourself, and you are not holy any more.

The table should be set in a clean manner, and you should put a whole loaf of bread on it, which should be well baked, but not burned, so that you can say a thanksgiving over it to start the meal with the blessing.

If you have animals in the house, you should give them food before you sit down at the table, as Rabbi Judah has taught and commanded in the Talmud, and because it is written Deut. 11.15: I will give your animals grass in your field, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Here the Thorah says that the animals come first. You should show pity on them first, then the food will do you good and you will be satisfied. In the little book Seder mitzvos naschim, About Women's Customs, you read: It is a woman's duty to feed the animals right after the morning prayer, and before they get their own children up and nurse them, because it is written Prov. 12.10: The just has pity on his animals. If she feeds the animals at the right time, she is called just and pious. You can read further on, that it is useful to keep animals in the house, because sometimes the Maaréches, that is, the stars and planets, predict a mishap which threatens the master or mistress of the house, or the servants. If in the meantime the man or the woman gives alms, or does other good deeds, then the Saphra rábba, the great counselor (an angel), who keeps count of all the good deeds, and keeps record of them, steps up to God and says: Ribbono schel olam, Lord of the World, prevent disaster coming to this man, or his servants, because they did such and such good deeds. Then the disaster (because the planets must take their course) comes down upon a godless man, as it is written Prov. 11.8: The just will be saved from his troubles, and the godless takes his place. If there is no godless person, it comes down on the animals. It is too lengthy and the women might not understand everything.

You should try to go to the Bes Hakkisse [the privy] to try to relieve nature, so that you come with an empty stomach and clean body to the table. If you come there with a full body, you may walk away with sickness. The most wise Rabbis believed this too, and they interpreted thus the following verse Lev. 26.10: You should remove the old before the new comes, that is, you should remove the old food in your stomach before the new food comes.

First of all, you should wash your hands really clean in fresh water, not muddy or brackish water. It should not have been used before, except to cool the wine in summer. It should not have been used to rinse out glasses or cups, nor should it be water from which chickens or dogs drank. Usually the servants wash their hands first, then the women, last the Baal bajis, or master of the house, so that he can go straight to the table and make the blessing over the bread. And the Chachamim and wise men write: Whoever acts thus will not be injured by the meal.

Also, you should dry your hands well. Therefore you read in the Talmud Sotah 4b: R. Abhu said: If someone eats bread with unwiped or wet hands, it is reckoned as if he is eating unclean bread, as it is written Ezek. 4.13: Also the children of Israel should not eat Lachmam tame, their bread unclean. This has, according to the Kabbalah, the following meaning: the two words Lachmam Táme have the numerical value in Hebrew of 168. [l=30,ch=20,m=40,t=9,'=1] The following words have the same value: Belò niggubh jadájim, [b=2,l=30,'=1,n=40,y=10,g=3,u=6] which, translated, means: without drying your hands. The kabbalistic meaning is: The children of Israel will eat their bread without drying their hands, and that is unclean. Rabbi Jose says in the Talmud: The one who eats bread with unwashed hands commits a sin as grave as if he would lie with a prostitute. He interpreted this from the Proverbs of Salomon 6.26: Because of a prostitute, he will only have one loaf of bread.

They observe this commandment about washing hands before and after meals very strictly. Therefore you very seldom find a Jew who forgets about it. They are so strict about it, that you should not even keep a ring on your finger when you wash your hands, for fear that some unclean matter might stay under it, and if you keep it on, it would be just as bad as if you ate with unwashed hands.

You read in the Talmud that Rabbi Akibha was imprisoned by the Gojim, or Christians, and Rabbi Jehosua brought him everyday enough water to drink and wash his hands. One day the prison guard took the water away from him, and spilled half of it. When Rabbi Akibha saw that he had not brought enough water, he said to Rabbi Jehosua: Give me the water that I may wash my hands. R. Jehosua said: Dear Rabbi, this will not be enough to drink. Rabbi Akibha answered: Whoever eats with unwashed hands deserves death. It is better I die of thirst than infringe the laws of my elders.

We read another story in the Talmud about the washing of hands. Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Jose, Rabbi Judah walked together across the fields, and on Friday they came to a Jewish innkeeper, where they wanted to spend the Sabbath (because on the Sabbath Jews are not allowed to travel.) Rabbi Meir asked the innkeeper his name. He answered: Kiddor is my name. R. Meir thought to himself: The innkeeper must be a rogue, because he has such a evil name, which reminds me of the saying Deut. 32.20: Ki dor tahapúchot hémma, they are of a perverted generation. Rabbi Jose and Rabbi Judah did not pay attention, and gave him their bags to keep over the Sabbath. R. Meir did not give him his bag, but buried it at the grave of the innkeeper's father. That night the innkeeper Kidor had a dream that he should go to his father's grave, and dig, then he would find a bag of money. In the morning the innkeeper told his dream to R. Meir, but the Rabbi answered that he should not pay attention to dreams that happen on a Friday night, and he went and sat guard at the grave all Sabbath, so that the innkeeper could not take the money, and after the Sabbath was over, he dug his money up again. On Sunday, the two others demanded their bags from the innkeeper, but he denied that they had given him any. They took him to a winehouse, and they wanted to convince him with good words to admit the truth. In the meantime they saw that he still had linseed or peas hanging in his beard. Then they thought he must have had linseed for his noon meal. They left him therefore, and went to his wife and said to her: Give us back our bags, which we gave your husband to keep, and so that you see that we are telling the truth, he lets you know that he had linseed for his noon meal. When the women heard that, she believed them, and gave them back their bags, and they went on their way. But when the husband came home, and asked about the bags, he understood the whole situation, and he beat his wife so that she died soon after it. From all this you should learn always to wash yourself after a meal, because if that innkeeper had washed his hands, he would also have washed his mouth and beard, and the two would not have seen any sign on him, and they would never have seen the bags again, which had cost the woman her life.

There is another story in the Talmud about a Jew who ate pork because he did not wash his hands before he ate. It happened this way. There was a Jewish innkeeper who took care of Jews and Christians. He recognized the Jews right away because they washed their hands before they ate, and he gave them kosher meat to eat, that is, pure and good meat, as is commanded and allowed by the law. If Gojim, or Christians, came, he gave them pork to eat. Now there came a Jew, sat down at the table, but he forgot to wash his hands. The innkeeper thought he was a Goj, and gave him pork to eat. The Jew did not pay attention, but ate it with great gusto. Maybe he was very hungry. When it was time to pay, the guest thought the bill was too high, and he complained to the innkeeper, and asked if beef was so expensive. The innkeeper answered: Dear friend, you ate a good pork roast, and that meat is very expensive. Now the Jew was frightened that he committed such a big sin, and he had to pay penance, and suffer great punishment. This happened to him because he did not wash his hands before a meal. Therefore everybody should be warned about it.


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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu