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The Book of Delight and Other Papers by Israel Abrahams

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This contention would be conclusive, if it were based on demonstrable
facts. But what is the evidence for it? Graetz offers none in his brilliant
Commentary on Canticles. In proof of his startling view that, throughout
post-Exilic times, the shepherd vocation was held in low repute among
Israelites, he merely refers to an article in his _Monatsschrift_ (1870, p.
483). When one turns to that, one finds that it concerns a far later
period, the second Christian century, when the shepherd vocation had fallen
to the grade of a small and disreputable trade. The vocation was then no
longer a necessary corollary of the sacrificial needs of the Temple. While
the altar of Jerusalem required its holocausts, the breeders of the animals
would hardly have been treated as pariahs. In the century immediately
following the destruction of the Temple, the shepherd began to fall in
moral esteem, and in the next century he was included among the criminal
categories. No doubt, too, as the tender of flocks was often an Arab
raider, the shepherd had become a dishonest poacher on other men's
preserves. The attitude towards him was, further, an outcome of the
deepening antagonism between the schoolmen and the peasantry. But even then
it was by no means invariable. One of the most famous of Rabbis, Akiba, who
died a martyr in 135 C.E., was not only a shepherd, but he was also the
hero of the most romantic of Rabbinic love episodes.

At the very time when Graetz thinks that agriculture had superseded
pastoral pursuits in general esteem, the Book of Ecclesiasticus was
written. On the one side, Sirach, the author of this Apocryphal work, does
not hesitate (ch. xxiv) to compare his beloved Wisdom to a garden, in the
same rustic images that we find in Canticles; and, on the other side, he
reveals none of that elevated appreciation of agriculture which Graetz
would have us expect. Sirach (xxxvii. 25) asks sarcastically:

How shall he become wise that holdeth the plough,
That glorieth in the shaft of the goad:
That driveth oxen, and is occupied with their labors,
And whose talk is of bullocks?

Here it is the farmer that is despised, not a word is hinted against the
shepherd. Sirach also has little fondness for commerce, and he denies the
possibility of wisdom to the artisan and craftsman, "in whose ear is ever
the noise of the hammer" (_ib_. v. 28). Sirach, indeed, is not attacking
these occupations; he regards them all as a necessary evil, "without these
cannot a city be inhabited" (v. 32). Our Jerusalem _savant_, as Dr.
Schechter well terms him, of the third or fourth century B.C.E.; is
merely illustrating his thesis, that

The wisdom of the scribe cometh by opportunity of leisure;
And he that hath little business shall become wise,

or, as he puts it otherwise, sought for in the council of the people, and
chosen to sit in the seat of the judge. This view finds its analogue in a
famous saying of the later Jewish sage Hillel, "Not everyone who increaseth
business attains wisdom" (_Aboth_, ii. 5).

Undeniably, the shepherd lost in dignity in the periods of Jewish
prosperity and settled city life. But, as George Adam Smith points out
accurately, the prevailing character of Judea is naturally pastoral, with
husbandry only incidental. "Judea, indeed, offers as good ground as there
is in all the East for observing the grandeur of the shepherd's
character,"--his devotion, his tenderness, his opportunity of leisurely
communion with nature.

The same characterization must have held in ancient times. And, after all,
as Graetz himself admits, the poet of Canticles locates his shepherd in
Gilead, the wild jasmine and other flowers of whose pastures (the "lilies"
of the Song) still excite the admiration of travellers. Laurence Oliphant
is lost in delight over the "anemones, cyclamens, asphodels, iris," which
burst on his view as he rode "knee-deep through the long, rich, sweet
grass, abundantly studded with noble oak and terebinth trees," and all this
in Gilead. When, then, the Hebrew poet placed his shepherd and his flocks
among the lilies, he was not trying to conciliate the courtly aristocrats
of Jerusalem, or reconcile them to his Theocritan conventions; he was
simply drawing his picture from life.

And as to the poetical idealization of the shepherd, how could a Hebrew
poet fail to idealize him, under the ever-present charm of his traditional
lore, of Jacob the shepherd-patriarch, Moses the shepherd-lawgiver, David
the shepherd-king, and Amos the shepherd-prophet? So God becomes the
Shepherd of Israel, not only explicitly in the early twenty-third Psalm,
but implicitly also, in the late 119th. The same idealization is found
everywhere in the Rabbinic literature as well as in the New Testament.
Moses is the hero of the beautiful Midrashic parable of the straying lamb,
which he seeks in the desert, and bears in his bosom (_Exodus Rabba_, ii).
There is, on the other hand, something topsy-turvy in Graetz's suggestion,
that a Hebrew poet would go abroad for a conventional idealization of the
shepherd character, just when, on his theory, pastoral conditions were
scorned and lightly esteemed at home.

It was unnecessary, then, and inappropriate for the author of Canticles to
go to Theocritus for the pastoral characters of his poem. But did he borrow
its form and structure from the Greek? Nothing seems less akin than the
slight dramatic interest of the idylls and the strong, if obscure, dramatic
plot of Canticles. Budde has failed altogether to convince readers of the
Song that no consistent story runs through it. It is, as has been said
above, incredible that we should have before us nothing more than the
disconnected ditties of a Syrian wedding-minstrel. Graetz knew nothing of
the repertoire theory that has been based on Wetzstein's discoveries of
modern Syrian marriage songs and dances. Graetz believed, as most still do,
that Canticles is a whole, not an aggregation of parts; yet he held that,
not only the _dramatis personae_, but the very structure of the Hebrew poem
must be traced to Theocritus. He appeals, in particular, to the second
Idyll of the Greek poet, wherein the lady casts her magic spells in the
vain hope of recovering the allegiance of her butterfly admirer. Obviously,
there is no kinship between the facile Sirnaitha of the Idyll and the
difficult Shulammith of Canticles: one the seeker, the other the sought;
between the sensuous, unrestrained passion of the former and the
self-sacrificing, continent affection of the latter. The nobler conceptions
of love derive from the Judean maiden, not from the Greek paramour. But,
argues Graetz with extraordinary ingenuity, Simaitha, recounting her
unfortunate love-affair, introduces, as Shulammith does, dialogues between
herself and her absent lover; she repeats what he said to her, and she to
him; her monologue is no more a soliloquy than are the monologues of
Shulammith, for both have an audience: here Thestylis, there the chorus of
women. Simaitha's second refrain, as she bewails her love, after casting
the ingredients into the bowl, turning the magic wheel to draw home to her
the man she loves, runs thus:

Bethink thee, mistress Moon, whence came my love!

Graetz compares this to Shulammith's refrain in Canticles:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the roes,
And by the hinds of the field,
That ye stir not up
Nor awaken love,
Until it please!

But in meaning the refrains have an absolutely opposite sense, and, more
than that, they have an absolutely opposite function. In the Idyll the
refrain is an accompaniment, in the Song it is an intermezzo. It occurs
three times (ii. 7; iii. 5; and viii. 4), and like other repeated refrains
in the Song concludes a scene, marks a transition in the situation. In
Theocritus refrains are links, in the Song they are breaks in the chain.

Refrains are of the essence of lyric poetry as soon as anything like
narrative enters into it. They are found throughout the lyrics of the Old
Testament, the Psalms providing several examples. They belong to the
essence of the Hebrew strophic system. And so it is with the other
structural devices to which Graetz refers: reminiscent narrative, reported
dialogues, scenes within the scene--all are common features (with certain
differences) of the native Hebraic style, and they supply no justification
for the suggestion of borrowing from non-Hebraic models.

There have, on the other side, been many, especially among older critics,
who have contended that Theocritus owed his inspiration to Canticles. These
have not been disturbed by the consideration, that, if he borrowed at all,
he must assuredly have borrowed more than the most generous of them assert
that he did. Recently an ingenious advocate of this view has appeared in
Professor D.S. Margoliouth, all of whose critical work is rich in
originality and surprises. In the first chapter of his "Lines of Defence of
the Biblical Revelation," he turns the tables on Graetz with quite
entertaining thoroughness. Graetz was certain that no Hebrew poet could
have drawn his shepherds from life; Margoliouth is equally sure that no
Greek could have done so.

"That this style [bucolic poetry], in which highly artificial
performances are ascribed to shepherds and cowherds, should have
originated in Greece, would be surprising; for the persons who followed
these callings were ordinarily slaves, or humble hirelings, whom the
classical writers treat with little respect. But from the time of
Theocritus their profession becomes associated with poetic art. The
shepherd's clothes are donned by Virgil, Spenser, and Milton. The
existence of the Greek translation of the Song of Solomon gives us the
explanation of this fact. The Song of Solomon is a pastoral poem, but its
pictures are true to nature. The father of the writer [Margoliouth
believes in the Solomonic authorship of Canticles], himself both a king
and a poet, had kept sheep. The combination of court life with country
life, which in Theocritus seems so unnatural, was perfectly natural in
pre-Exilic Palestine. Hence the rich descriptions of the country (ii. 12)
beside the glowing descriptions of the king's wealth (iii. 10).
Theocritus can match both (Idylls vii and xv), but it may be doubted
whether he could have found any Greek model for either."

It is disturbing to one's confidence in the value of Biblical
criticism--both of the liberal school (Graetz) and the conservative
(Margoliouth)--to come across so complete an antithesis. But things are not
quite so bad as they look. Each critic is half right--Margoliouth in
believing the pastoral pictures of Canticles true to Judean life, Graetz in
esteeming the pastoral pictures of the Idylls true to Sicilian life. The
English critic supports his theme with some philological arguments. He
suggests that the vagaries of the Theocritan dialect are due to the fact
that the Idyllist was a foreigner, whose native language was "probably
Hebrew or Syriac." Or perhaps Theocritus used the Greek translation of the
Song, "unless Theocritus himself was the translator." All of this is a
capital _jeu d'esprit,_ but it is scarcely possible that Canticles was
translated into Greek so early as Theocritus, and, curiously enough, the
Septuagint Greek version of the Song has less linguistic likeness to the
phraseology of Theocritus than has the Greek version of the Song by a
contemporary of Akiba, the proselyte Aquila. Margoliouth points out a
transference by Theocritus of the word for daughter-in-law to the meaning
bride (Idyll, xviii. 15). This is a Hebraism, he thinks. But expansions of
meaning in words signifying relationship are common to all poets. Far more
curious is a transference of this kind that Theocritus does _not_ make. Had
he known Canticles, he would surely have seized upon the Hebrew use of
sister to mean beloved, a usage which, innocent and tender enough in the
Hebrew, would have been highly acceptable to the incestuous patron of
Theocritus, who actually married his full sister. Strange to say, the
ancient Egyptian love poetry employs the terms brother and sister as
regular denotations of a pair of lovers.

This last allusion to an ancient Egyptian similarity to a characteristic
usage of Canticles leads to the remark, that Maspero and Spiegelberg have
both published hieroglyphic poems of the xixth-xxth Dynasties, in which may
be found other parallels to the metaphors and symbolism of the Hebrew Song.
As earlier writers exaggerated the likeness of Canticles to Theocritus, so
Maspero was at first inclined to exaggerate the affinity of Canticles to
the old Egyptian amatory verse. It is not surprising, but it is saddening,
to find that Maspero, summarizing his interesting discovery in 1883, used
almost the same language as Lessing had used in 1777 with reference to
Theocritus. Maspero, it is true, was too sane a critic to assert borrowing
on the part of Canticles. But he speaks of the "same manner of speech, the
same images, the same comparisons," as Lessing does. Now if A = B, and B =
C, then it follows that A = C. But in this case A does _not_ equal C. There
is no similarity at all between the Egyptian Songs and Theocritus. It
follows that there is no essential likeness between Canticles and either of
the other two. In his later books, Maspero has tacitly withdrawn his
assertion of close Egyptian similarity, and it would be well if an equally
frank withdrawal were made by the advocates of a close Theocritan parallel.

Some of the suggested resemblances between the Hebrew and Greek Songs are
perhaps interesting enough to be worth examining in detail. In Idyll i. 24,
the goatherd offers this reward to Thyrsis, if he will but sing the song of

I'll give thee first
To milk, ay, thrice, a goat; she suckles twins,
Yet ne'ertheless can fill two milkpails full.

It can hardly be put forward as a remarkable fact that the poet should
refer to so common an incident in sheep-breeding as the birth of twins. Yet
the twins have been forced into the dispute, though it is hard to conceive
anything more unlike than the previous quotation and the one that follows
from Canticles (iv. 2):

Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes,
That are newly shorn,
Which are come up from the washing,
Whereof every one hath twins,
And none is bereaved among them.

It is doubtful whether the Hebrew knows anything at all of the twin-bearing
ewes; the penultimate line ought rather to be rendered (as in the margin of
the Revised Version) "thy teeth ... which are all of them in pairs." But,
however rendered, the Hebrew means this. Theocritus speaks of the richness
of the goat's milk, for, after having fed her twins, she has still enough
milk to fill two pails. In Canticles, the maiden's teeth, spotlessly white,
are smooth and even, "they run accurately in pairs, the upper corresponding
to the lower, and none of them is wanting" (Harper).

Even more amusing is the supposed indebtedness on one side or the other in
the reference made by Theocritus and Canticles to the ravages of foxes in
vineyards. Theocritus has these beautiful lines in his first Idyll (lines
44 _et seq._):

Hard by that wave-beat sire a vineyard bends
Beneath its graceful load of burnished grapes;
A boy sits on the rude fence watching them.
Near him two foxes: down the rows of grapes
One ranging steals the ripest; one assails
With wiles the poor lad's scrip, to leave him soon
Stranded and supperless. He plaits meanwhile
With ears of corn a right fine cricket-trap,
And fits it in a rush: for vines, for scrip,
Little he cares, enamored of his toy.

How different the scene in Canticles (ii. 14 _et seq_.) that has been
quoted above!

Take us the foxes,
The little foxes,
That spoil the vineyards,
For our vineyards are in blossom!

Canticles alludes to the destruction of the young shoots, Theocritus
pictures the foxes devouring the ripe grapes. (Comp. also Idyll v. 112.)
Foxes commit both forms of depredation, but the poets have seized on
different aspects of the fact. Even were the aspects identical, it would be
ridiculous to suppose that the Sicilian or Judean had been guilty of
plagiarism. To-day, as of old, in the vineyards of Palestine you may see
the little stone huts of the watchers on the lookout for the foxes, or
jackals, whose visitations begin in the late spring and continue to the
autumn. In Canticles we have a genuine fragment of native Judean folk-song;
in Theocritus an equally native item of every season's observation.

So with most of the other parallels. It is only necessary to set out the
passages in full, to see that the similarity is insignificant in relation
to the real differences. One would have thought that any poet dealing with
rustic beauty might light on the fact that a sunburnt skin may be
attractive. Yet Margoliouth dignifies this simple piece of observation into
a _theory_! "The theory that swarthiness produced by sun-burning need not
be disfiguring to a woman" is, Margoliouth holds, taken by Theocritus from
Canticles. Graetz, as usual, reverses the relation: Canticles took it from
Theocritus. But beyond the not very recondite idea that a sunburnt maid may
still be charming, there is no parallel. Battus sings (Idyll x. 26 _et

Fair Bombyca! thee do men report
Lean, dusk, a gipsy: I alone nut-brown.
Violets and pencilled hyacinths are swart,
Yet first of flowers they're chosen for a crown.
As goats pursue the clover, wolves the goat,
And cranes the ploughman, upon thee I dote!

In Canticles the Shulammite protests (i. 5 _et seq_.):

I am black but comely,
O ye daughters of Jerusalem!
[Black] as the tents of Kedar,
[Comely] as the curtains of Solomon.
Despise me not because I am swarthy,
Because the sun hath scorched me.
My mother's sons were incensed against me,
They made me the keeper of the vineyards,
But mine own vineyard I have not kept!

Two exquisite lyrics these, of which it is hard to say which has been more
influential as a key-note of later poetry. But neither of them is derived;
each is too spontaneous, too fresh from the poet's soul.

Before turning to one rather arrestive parallel, a word may be said on
Graetz's idea, that Canticles uses the expression "love's arrows." Were
this so, the symbolism could scarcely be attributed to other than a Greek
original. The line occurs in the noble panegyric of love cited before, with
which Canticles ends, and in which the whole drama culminates. There is no
room in this eulogy for Graetz's rendering, "Her arrows are fiery arrows,"
nor can the Hebrew easily mean it. "The flashes thereof are flashes of
fire," is the best translation possible of the Hebrew line. There is
nothing Greek in the comparison of love to fire, for fire is used in common
Hebrew idiom to denote any powerful emotion (comp. the association of fire
with jealousy in Ezekiel xxxix. 4).

Ewald, while refusing to connect the Idylls with Canticles, admitted that
one particular parallel is at first sight forcible. It is the comparison of
both Helen and Shulammith to a horse. Margoliouth thinks the Greek
inexplicable without the Hebrew; Graetz thinks the Hebrew inexplicable
without the Greek. In point of fact, the Hebrew and the Greek do not
explain each other in the least. In the Epithalamium (Idyll xviii. 30)
Theocritus writes,

Or as in a chariot a mare of Thessalian breed,
So is rose-red Helen, the glory of Lacedemon.

The exact point of comparison is far from clear, but it must be some
feature of beauty or grace. Such a comparison, says Margoliouth, is
extraordinary in a Greek poet; he must have derived it from a non-Greek
source. But it has escaped this critic and all the commentaries on
Theocritus, that just this comparison is perfectly natural for a Sicilian
poet, familiar with several series of Syracusan coins of all periods, on
which appear chariots with Nike driving horses of the most delicate beauty,
fit figures to compare to a maiden's grace of form. Theocritus, however,
does not actually compare Helen to the horse; she beautifies or sets off
Lacedemon as the horse sets off the chariot. Graetz, convinced that the
figure is Greek, pronounces the Hebrew unintelligible without it. But it is
quite appropriate to the Hebrew poet. Having identified his royal lover
with Solomon, the poet was almost driven to make some allusion to Solomon's
famed exploit in importing costly horses and chariots from Egypt (I Kings
x. 26-29). And so Canticles says (i. 9):

I have compared thee, O my love,
To a team of horses, in Pharaoh's chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of pearls,
Thy neck with chains of gold.

The last couplet refers to the ornaments of the horse's bridle and neck.
Now, to the Hebrew the horse was almost invariably associated with war. The
Shulammite is elsewhere (vi. 4) termed "terrible as an army with banners."
In Theocritus the comparison is primarily to Helen's beauty; in Canticles
to the Shulammite's awesomeness,

Turn away thine eyes from me,
For they have made me afraid.

These foregoing points of resemblance are the most significant that have
been adduced. And they are not only seen to be each unimportant and
inconclusive, but they have no cumulative effect. Taken as wholes, as was
said above, the Idylls and Canticles are the poles asunder in their moral
attitude towards love and in their general literary treatment of the theme.
Of course, poets describing the spring will always speak of the birds;
Greek and Hebrew loved flowers, Jew and Egyptian heard the turtle-dove as a
harbinger of nature's rebirth; sun and moon are everywhere types of warm
and tender feelings; love is the converter of a winter of discontent into a
glorious summer. In all love poems the wooer would fain embrace the wooed.
And if she prove coy, he will tell of the menial parts he would be ready to
perform, to continue unrebuked in her vicinity. Anacreon's lover (xx) would
be water in which the maid should bathe, and the Egyptian sighs, "Were I
but the washer of her clothes, I should breathe the scent of her." Or the
Egyptian will cry, "O were I the ring on her finger, that I might be ever
with her," just as the Shulammite bids her beloved (though in another
sense) "Place me as a seal on thine hand" (Cant. viii. 6). Love intoxicates
like wine; the maiden has a honeyed tongue; her forehead and neck are like
ivory. Nothing in all this goes beyond the identity of feeling that lies
behind all poetical expression. But even in this realm of metaphor and
image and symbolism, the North-Semitic _wasf_ and even more the Hebraic
parallels given in other parts of the Bible are closer far. Hosea xiv. 6-9
(with its lilies, its figure of Israel growing in beauty as the olive tree,
"and his smell as Lebanon"), Proverbs (with its eulogy of faithful wedded
love, its lips dropping honeycomb, its picture of a bed perfumed with
myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon, the wife to love whom is to drink water from
one's own well, and she the pleasant roe and loving hind)--these and the
royal Epithalamium (Ps. xlv), and other Biblical passages too numerous to
quote, constitute the real parallels to the imagery and idealism of

The only genuine resemblance arises from identity of environment. If
Theocritus and the poet of Canticles were contemporaries, they wrote when
there had been a somewhat sudden growth of town life both in Egypt and
Palestine. Alexander the Great and his immediate successors were the most
assiduous builders of new cities that the world has ever seen. The charms
of town life made an easy conquest of the Orient. But pastoral life would
not surrender without a struggle. It would, during this violent revolution
in habits, reassert itself from time to time. We can suppose that after a
century of experience of the delusions of urban comfort, the denizens of
towns would welcome a reminder of the delights of life under the open sky.
There would be a longing for something fresher, simpler, freer. At such a
moment Theocritus, like the poet of Canticles, had an irresistible
opportunity, and to this extent the Idylls and the Song are parallel.

But, on the other hand, when we pass from external conditions to intrinsic
purport, nothing shows better the difference between Theocritus and
Canticles than the fact that the Hebrew poem has been so susceptible of
allegorization. Though the religious, symbolical interpretation of the Song
be far from its primary meaning, yet in the Hebrew muse the sensuous and
the mystical glide imperceptibly into one another. And this is true of
Semitic poetry in general. It is possible to give a mystical turn to the
quatrains of Omar Khayyam. But this can hardly be done with Anacreon. There
is even less trace of Semitic mysticism in Theocritus than in Anacreon.
Idylls and Canticles have some similarities. But these are only skin deep.
In their heart of hearts the Greek and Judean poets are strangers, and so
are their heroes and heroines.

No apology is needed for the foregoing lengthy discussion of the Song of
Songs, seeing that it is incomparably the finest love poem in the Hebrew,
or any other language. And this is true whatever be one's opinion of its
primary significance. It was no doubt its sacred interpretation that
imparted to it so lasting a power over religious symbolism. But its human
import also entered into its eternal influence. The Greek peasants of
Macedonia still sing echoes from the Hebrew song. Still may be heard, in
modern Greek love chants, the sweet old phrase, "black but comely," a
favorite phrase with all swarthy races; "my sister, my bride" remains as
the most tender term of endearment. To a certain extent the service has
been repaid. Some of the finest melodies to which the Synagogue hymns, or
Piyyutim, are set, are the melodies to _Achoth Ketannah_, based on
Canticles viii. 8, and _Berach Dodi_, a frequent phrase of the Hebrew book.
The latter melody is similar to the finer melodies of the Levant; the
former strikingly recalls the contemporary melodies of the Greek
Archipelago. To turn a final glance at the other side of the indebtedness,
we need only recall that Edmund Spenser's famous Marriage Ode--the
Epithalamium--the noblest marriage ode in the English language, and
Milton's equally famous description of Paradise in the fourth book of his
Epic, owe a good deal to direct imitation of the Song of Songs. It is
scarcely an exaggeration to assert that the stock-in-trade of many an
erotic poet is simply the phraseology of the divine song which we have been
considering so inadequately. It did not start as a repertoire; it has ended
as one.

We must now make a great stride through the ages. Between the author of the
Song of Songs and the next writer of inspired Hebrew love songs there
stretches an interval of at least fourteen centuries. It is an oft-told
story, how, with the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish desire for song
temporarily ceased. The sorrow-laden heart could not sing of love. The
disuse of a faculty leads to its loss; and so, with the cessation of the
desire for song, the gift of singing became atrophied. But the decay was
not quite complete. It is commonly assumed that post-Biblical Hebrew poetry
revived for sacred ends; first hymns were written, then secular songs. But
Dr. Brody has proved that this assumption is erroneous. In point of fact,
the first Hebrew poetry after the Bible was secular not religious. We find
in the pages of Talmud and Midrash relics and fragments of secular poetry,
snatches of bridal songs, riddles, elegies, but less evidence of a
religious poetry. True, when once the medieval burst of Hebrew melody
established itself, the Hebrew hymns surpassed the secular Hebrew poems in
originality and inspiration. But the secular verses, whether on ordinary
subjects, or as addresses to famous men, and invocations on documents, at
times far exceed the religious poems in range and number. And in many ways
the secular poetry deserves very close attention. A language is not living
when it is merely ecclesiastical. No one calls Sanskrit a living language
because some Indian sects still pray in Sanskrit. But when Jewish poets
took to using Hebrew again--if, indeed, they ever ceased to use it--as the
language of daily life, as the medium for expressing their human emotions,
then one can see that the sacred tongue was on the way to becoming once
more what it is to-day in many parts of Palestine--the living tongue of

It must not be thought that in the Middle Ages there were two classes of
Hebrew poets: those who wrote hymns and those who wrote love songs. With
the exception of Solomon ibn Gabirol--a big exception, I admit--the best
love songs were written by the best hymn writers. Even Ibn Gabirol, who, so
far as we know, wrote no love songs, composed other kinds of secular
poetry. One of the favorite poetical forms of the Middle Ages consisted of
metrical letters to friends--one may almost assert that the best Hebrew
love poetry is of this type--epistles of affection between man and man,
expressing a love passing the love of woman. Ibn Gabirol wrote such
epistles, but the fact remains that we know of no love verses from his
hand; perhaps this confirms the tradition that he was the victim of an
unrequited affection.

Thus the new form opens not with Ibn Gabirol, but with Samuel ibn Nagrela.
He was Vizier of the Khalif, and Nagid, or Prince, of the Jews, in the
eleventh century in Spain, and, besides Synagogue hymns and Talmudic
treatises, he wrote love lyrics. The earlier hymns of Kalir have, indeed, a
strong emotional undertone, but the Spanish school may justly claim to have
created a new form. And this new form opens with Samuel the Nagid's pretty
verses on his "Stammering Love," who means to deny, but stammers out
assent. I cite the metrical German version of Dr. Egers, because I have
found it impossible to reproduce (Dr. Egers is not very precise or happy in
his attempt to reproduce) the puns of the original. The sense, however, is
clear. The stammering maid's words, being mumbled, convey an invitation,
when they were intended to repulse her loving admirer.

Wo ist mein stammelnd Lieb?
Wo sie, die wrz'ge, blieb?
Verdunkelt der Mond der Sterne Licht,
Ueberstrahlt den Mond ihr Angesicht!
Wie Schwalbe, wie Kranich, die
Bei ihrer Ankunft girren,
Vertraut auf ihren Gott auch sie
In ihrer Zunge Irren.

Mir schmollend rief sie "Erzdieb,"
Hervor doch haucht sie "Herzdieb"--
Hin springe ich zum Herzlieb.
"Ehrloser!" statt zu wehren,
"Her, Loser!" lsst sie hren;
Nur rascher dem Begehren
Folgt' ich mit ihr zu kosen,
Die lieblich ist wie Rosen.

This poem deserves attention, as it is one of the first, if not actually
the very first, of its kind. The Hebrew poet is forsaking the manner of the
Bible for the manner of the Arabs. One point of resemblance between the new
Hebrew and the Arabic love poetry is obscured in the translation. In the
Hebrew of Samuel the Nagid the terms of endearment, applied though they are
to a girl, are all in the masculine gender. This, as Dr. Egers observes, is
a common feature of the Arabic and Persian love poetry of ancient and
modern times. An Arab poet will praise his fair one's face as "bearded"
with garlands of lilies. Hafiz describes a girl's cheeks as roses within a
net of violets, the net referring to the beard. Jehudah Halevi uses this
selfsame image, and Moses ibn Ezra and the rest also employ manly figures
of speech in portraying beautiful women. All this goes to show how much,
besides rhyme and versification, medieval Hebrew love poetry owed to Arabic
models. Here, for instance, is an Arabic poem, whose author, Radhi Billah,
died in 940, that is, before the Spanish Jewish poets began to write of
love. To an Arabic poet Laila replaces the Lesbia of Catullus and the Chloe
of the Elizabethans. This tenth century Arabic poem runs thus:

Laila, whene'er I gaze on thee,
My altered cheeks turn pale;
While upon thine, sweet maid, I see
A deep'ning blush prevail.

Laila, shall I the cause impart
Why such a change takes place?--
The crimson stream deserts my heart
To mantle on thy face.

Here we have fully in bloom, in the tenth century, those conceits which
meet us, not only in the Hebrew poets of the next two centuries, but also
in the English poets of the later Elizabethan age.

It is very artificial and scarcely sincere, but also undeniably attractive.
Or, again, in the lines of Zoheir, addressed by the lover to a messenger
that has just brought tidings from the beloved,

Oh! let me look upon thine eyes again,
For they have looked upon the maid I love,

we have, in the thirteenth century, the very airs and tricks of the
cavalier poets. In fact, it cannot be too often said that love poetry, like
love itself, is human and eternal, not of a people and an age, but of all
men and all times. Though fashions change in poetry as in other ornament,
still the language of love has a long life, and age after age the same
conceits and terms of endearment meet us. Thus Hafiz has these lines,

I praise God who made day and night:
Day thy countenance, and thy hair the night.

Long before him the Hebrew poet Abraham ibn Ezra had written,

On thy cheeks and the hair of thy head
I will bless: He formeth light and maketh darkness.

In the thirteenth century the very same witticism meets us again, in the
Hebrew _Machberoth_ of Immanuel. But obviously it would be an endless task
to trace the similarities of poetic diction between Hebrew and other poets:
suffice it to realize that such similarities exist.

Such similarities did not, however, arise only from natural causes. They
were, in part at all events, due to artificial compulsion. It is well to
bear this in mind, for the recurrence of identical images in Hebrew love
poem after love poem impresses a Western reader as a defect. To the
Oriental reader, on the contrary, the repetition of metaphors seemed a
merit. It was one of the rules of the game. In his "Literary History of
Persia" Professor Browne makes this so clear that a citation from him will
save me many pages. Professor Browne (ii, 83) analyzes Sharafu'd-Din Rami's
rhetorical handbook entitled the "Lover's Companion." The "Companion"
legislates as to the similes and figures that may be used in describing the
features of a girl.

"It contains nineteen chapters, treating respectively of the hair, the
forehead, the eyebrows, the eyes, the eyelashes, the face, the down on
lips and cheeks, the mole or beauty-spot, the lips, the teeth, the mouth,
the chin, the neck, the bosom, the arm, the fingers, the figure, the
waist, and the legs. In each chapter the author first gives the various
terms applied by the Arabs and Persians to the part which he is
discussing, differentiating them when any difference in meaning exists;
then the metaphors used by writers in speaking of them, and the epithets
applied to them, the whole copiously illustrated by examples from the

No other figures of speech would be admissible. Now this "Companion"
belongs to the fourteenth century, and the earlier Arabic and Persian
poetry was less fettered. But principles of this kind clearly affected the
Hebrew poets, and hence there arises a certain monotony in the songs,
especially when they are read in translation. The monotony is not so
painfully prominent in the originals. For the translator can only render
the substance, and the substance is often more conventional than the
nuances of form, the happy turns and subtleties, which evaporate in the
process of translation, leaving only the conventional sediment behind.

This is true even of Jehudah Halevi, though in him we hear a genuinely
original note. In his Synagogue hymns he joins hands with the past, with
the Psalmists; in his love poems he joins hands with the future, with
Heine. His love poetry is at once dainty and sincere. He draws
indiscriminately on Hebrew and Arabic models, but he is no mere imitator. I
will not quote much from him, for his best verses are too familiar. Those
examples which I must present are given in a new and hitherto unpublished
translation by Mrs. Lucas.


Fair is my dove, my loved one,
None can with her compare:
Yea, comely as Jerusalem,
Like unto Tirzah fair.

Shall she in tents unstable
A wanderer abide,
While in my heart awaits her
A dwelling deep and wide?

The magic of her beauty
Has stolen my heart away:
Not Egypt's wise enchanters
Held half such wondrous sway.

E'en as the changing opal
In varying lustre glows,
Her face at every moment
New charms and sweetness shows.

White lilies and red roses
There blossom on one stem:
Her lips of crimson berries
Tempt mine to gather them.

By dusky tresses shaded
Her brow gleams fair and pale,
Like to the sun at twilight,
Behind a cloudy veil.

Her beauty shames the day-star,
And makes the darkness light:
Day in her radiant presence
Grows seven times more bright

This is a lonely lover!
Come, fair one, to his side,
That happy be together
The bridegroom and the bride!

The hour of love approaches
That shall make one of twain:
Soon may be thus united
All Israel's hosts again!


_To her sleeping Love_

Awake, my fair, my love, awake,
That I may gaze on thee!
And if one fain to kiss thy lips
Thou in thy dreams dost see,
Lo, I myself then of thy dream
The interpreter will be!


Ophrah shall wash her garments white
In rivers of my tears,
And dry them in the radiance bright
That shines when she appears.
Thus will she seek no sun nor water nigh,
Her beauty and mine eyes will all her needs supply.

These lovers' tears often meet us in the Hebrew poems. Ibn Gabirol speaks
of his tears as fertilizing his heart and preserving it from crumbling into
dust. Mostly, however, the Hebrew lover's tears, when they are not tokens
of grief at the absence of the beloved, are the involuntary confession of
the man's love. It is the men who must weep in these poems. Charizi sings
of the lover whose heart succeeds in concealing its love, whose lips
contrive to maintain silence on the subject, but his tears play traitor and
betray his affection to all the world. Dr. Sulzbach aptly quotes parallels
to this fancy from Goethe and Brentano.

This suggestion of parallelism between a medieval Hebrew poet and Goethe
must be my excuse for an excursion into what seems to me one of the most
interesting examples of the kind. In one of his poems Jehudah Halevi has
these lines:


So we must be divided! Sweetest, stay!
Once more mine eyes would seek thy glance's light!
At night I shall recall thee; thou, I pray,
Be mindful of the days of our delight!
Come to me in my dreams, I ask of thee,
And even in thy dreams be gentle unto me!

If thou shouldst send me greeting in the grave,
The cold breath of the grave itself were sweet;
Oh, take my life! my life, 'tis all I have,
If I should make thee live I do entreat!
I think that I shall hear, when I am dead,
The rustle of thy gown, thy footsteps overhead.

It is this last image that has so interesting a literary history as to
tempt me into a digression. But first a word must be said of the
translation and the translator. The late Amy Levy made this rendering, not
from the Hebrew, but from Geiger's German with obvious indebtedness to Emma
Lazarus. So excellent, however, was Geiger's German that Miss Levy got
quite close to the meaning of the original, though thirty-eight Hebrew
lines are compressed into twelve English. Literally rendered, the Hebrew of
the last lines runs:

Would that, when I am dead, to mine ears may rise
The music of the golden bell upon thy skirts.

This image of the bell is purely Hebraic; it is, of course, derived from
the High Priest's vestments. Jehudah Halevi often employs it to express
melodious proclamation of virtue, or the widely-borne voice of fame. Here
he uses it in another context, and though the image of the bell is not
repeated, yet some famous lines from Tennyson's "Maud" at once come into
one's mind:

She is coming, my own, my sweet;
Were it ever so light a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.

It is thus that the lyric poetry of one age affects, or finds its echo in,
that of another, but in this particular case it is, of course, a natural
thought that true love must survive the grave. There is a mystical union
between the two souls, which death cannot end. Here, again, we meet the
close connection between love and mysticism, which lies at the root of all
deep love poetry. But we must attend to the literary history of the thought
for a moment longer. Moses ibn Ezra, though more famous for his Synagogue
hymns, had some lyric gifts of a lighter touch, and he wrote love songs on
occasion. In one of these the poet represents a dying wife as turning to
her husband with the pathetic prayer, "Remember the covenant of our youth,
and knock at the door of my grave with a hand of love."

I will allude only to one other parallel, which carries us to a much
earlier period. Here is an Arab song of Taubah, son of Al-Humaiyir, who
lived in the seventh century. It must be remembered that it was an ancient
Arabic folk-idea that the spirits of the dead became owls.

Ah, if but Laila would send me a greeting down
of grace, though between us lay the dust and flags of stone,
My greeting of joy should spring in answer, or there should cry
toward her an owl, ill bird that shrieks in the gloom of graves.

C.J.L. Lyall, writing of the author of these lines, Taubah, informs us
that he was the cousin of Laila, a woman of great beauty. Taubah had loved
her when they were children in the desert together, but her father refused
to give her to him in marriage. He led a stormy life, and met his death in
a fight during the reign of Mu'awiyah. Laila long survived him, but never
forgot him or his love for her. She attained great fame as a poetess, and
died during the reign of 'Abd-al-Malik, son of Marwan, at an advanced age.
"A tale is told of her death in which these verses figure. She was making a
journey with her husband when they passed by the grave of Taubah. Laila,
who was travelling in a litter, cried, By God! I will not depart hence till
I greet Taubah. Her husband endeavored to dissuade her, but she would not
hearken; so at last he allowed her. And she had her camel driven up the
mound on which the tomb was, and said, Peace to thee, O Taubah! Then she
turned her face to the people and said, I never knew him to speak falsely
until this day. What meanest thou? said they. Was it not he, she answered,
who said

Ah, if but Laila would send a greeting down
of grace, though between us lay the dust and flags of stone,
My greeting of joy should spring in answer, or there should cry
toward her an owl, ill bird that shrieks in the gloom of graves.

Nay, but I have greeted him, and he has not answered as he said. Now, there
was a she-owl crouching in the gloom by the side of the grave; and when it
saw the litter and the crowd of people, it was frightened and flew in the
face of the camel. And the camel was startled and cast Laila headlong on
the ground; and she died that hour, and was buried by the side of Taubah."

The fascination of such parallels is fatal to proportion in an essay such
as this. But I cannot honestly assert that I needed the space for other
aspects of my subject. I have elsewhere fully described the Wedding Odes
which Jehudah Halevi provided so abundantly, and which were long a regular
feature of every Jewish marriage. But, after the brilliant Spanish period,
Hebrew love songs lose their right to high literary rank. Satires on
woman's wiles replace praises of her charms. On the other hand, what of
inspiration the Hebrew poet felt in the erotic field beckoned towards
mysticism. In the paper which opens this volume, I have written
sufficiently and to spare of the woman-haters. At Barcelona, in the age of
Zabara, Abraham ibn Chasdai did the best he could with his misogynist
material, but he could get no nearer to a compliment than this, "Her face
has the shimmer of a lamp, but it burns when held too close" ("Prince and
Dervish," ch. xviii). The Hebrew attacks on women are clever, but
superficial; they show no depth of insight into woman's character, and are
far less effective than Pope's satires.

The boldest and ablest Hebrew love poet of the satirical school is Immanuel
of Rome, a younger contemporary of Dante. He had wit, but not enough of it
to excuse his ribaldry. He tells many a light tale of his amours; a pretty
face is always apt to attract him and set his pen scribbling. As with the
English dramatists of the Restoration, virtue and beauty are to Immanuel
almost contradictory terms. For the most part, wrinkled old crones are the
only decent women in his pages. His pretty women have morals as easy as the
author professes. In the second of his _Machberoth_ he contrasts two girls,
Tamar and Beriah; on the one he showers every epithet of honor, at the
other he hurls every epithet of abuse, only because Tamar is pretty, and
Beriah the reverse. Tamar excites the love of the angels, Beriah's face
makes even the devil fly. This disagreeable pose of Immanuel was not
confined to his age; it has spoilt some of the best work of W.S. Gilbert.
The following is Dr. Chotzner's rendering of one of Immanuel's lyrics. He
entitles it


At times in my spirit I fitfully ponder,
Where shall I pass after death from this light;
Do Heaven's bright glories await me, I wonder,
Or Lucifer's kingdom of darkness and night?

In the one, though 'tis perhaps of ill reputation,
A crowd of gay damsels will sit by my side;
But in Heaven there's boredom and mental starvation,
To hoary old men and old crones I'll be tied.

And so I will shun the abodes of the holy,
And fly from the sky, which is dull, so I deem:
Let hell be my dwelling; there is no melancholy,
Where love reigns for ever and ever supreme.

Immanuel, it is only just to point out, occasionally draws a worthier
character. In his third Machbereth he tells of a lovely girl, who is
intelligent, modest, chaste, coy, and difficult, although a queen in
beauty; she is simple in taste, yet exquisite in poetical feeling and
musical gifts. The character is the nearest one gets in Hebrew to the best
heroines of the troubadours. Immanuel and she exchange verses, but the path
of flirtation runs rough. They are parted, she, woman-like, dies, and he,
man-like, sings an elegy. Even more to Immanuel's credit is his praise of
his own wife. She has every womanly grace of body and soul. On her he
showers compliments from the Song of Songs and the Book of Proverbs. If
this be the true man revealed, then his light verses of love addressed to
other women must be, as I have hinted, a mere pose. It may be that his wife
read his verses, and that his picture of her was calculated to soothe her
feelings when reading some other parts of his work. If she did read them,
she found only one perfect figure of womanliness in her husband's poems,
and that figure herself. But on the whole one is inclined to think that
Immanuel's braggartism as to his many love affairs is only another aspect
of the Renaissance habit, which is exemplified so completely in the similar
boasts of Benvenuto Cellini.

Be this as it may, it is not surprising to find that in the _Shulchan
Aruch_ (_Orach Chayyim_, ch. 317, Section 16), the poems of Immanuel are
put upon the Sabbath Index. It is declared unlawful to read them on
Saturdays, and also on week-days, continues the Code with gathering anger.
Those who copy them, still more those who print them, are declared sinners
that make others to sin. I must confess that I am here on the side of the
Code. Immanuel's _Machberoth_ are scarcely worthy of the Hebrew genius.

There has been, it may be added, a long struggle against Hebrew love songs.
Maimonides says ("Guide," iii. 7): "The gift of speech which God gave us to
help us learn and teach and perfect ourselves--this gift of speech must not
be employed in doing what is degrading and disgraceful. We must not imitate
the songs and tales of ignorant and lascivious people. It may be suitable
to them, but it is not fit for those who are bidden, Ye shall be a holy
nation." In 1415 Solomon Alami uses words on this subject that will lead me
to my last point. Alami says, "Avoid listening to love songs which excite
the passions. If God has graciously bestowed on you the gift of a sweet
voice, use it in praising Him. Do not set prayers to Arabic tunes, a
practice which has been promoted to suit the taste of effeminate men."

But if this be a crime, then the worst offender was none other than the
famous Israel Najara. In the middle of the sixteenth century he added some
of its choicest lyrics to the Hebrew song-book. The most popular of the
table hymns (Zemiroth) are his. He was a mystic, filled with a sense of the
nearness of God. But he did not see why the devil should have all the
pretty tunes. So he deliberately wrote religious poems in metres to suit
Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Spanish, and Italian melodies, his avowed purpose
being to divert the young Jews of his day from profane to sacred song. But
these young Jews must have been exigent, indeed, if they failed to find in
Najara's sacred verses enough of love and passion. Not only was he, like
Jehudah Halevi, a prolific writer of Wedding Odes, but in his most
spiritual hymns he uses the language of love as no Hebrew poet before or
after him has done. Starting with the assumption that the Song of Songs was
an allegory of God's espousal with the bride Israel, Najara did not
hesitate to put the most passionate words of love for Israel into God's
mouth. He was strongly attacked, but the saintly mystic Isaac Luria
retorted that Najara's hymns were listened to with delight in Heaven--and
if ever a man had the right to speak of Heaven it was Luria. And Hebrew
poetry has no need to be ashamed of the passionate affection poured out by
these mystic poets on another beloved, the Queen Sabbath.

This is not the place to speak of the Hebrew drama and of the form which
the love interest takes in it. Woman, at all events, is treated far more
handsomely in the dramas than in the satires. The love scenes of the Hebrew
dramatists are pure to coldness. These dramas began to flourish in the
eighteenth century; Luzzatto was by no means an unworthy imitator of
Guarini. Sometimes the syncretism of ideas in Hebrew plays is sufficiently
grotesque. Samuel Romanelli, who wrote in Italy at the era of the French
Revolution, boldly introduces Greek mythology. It may be that in the
Spanish period Hebrew poets introduced the muses under the epithet
"daughters of Song." But with Romanelli, the classical machinery is more
clearly audible. The scene of his drama is laid in Cyprus; Venus and Cupid
figure in the action. Romanelli gives a moral turn to his mythology, by
interposing Peace to stay the conflict between Love and Fame. Ephraim
Luzzatto, at the same period, tried his hand, not unsuccessfully, at Hebrew
love sonnets.

Love songs continued to be written in Hebrew in the nineteenth century, and
often see the light in the twentieth. But I do not propose to deal with
these. Recent new-Hebrew poetry has shown itself strongest in satire and
elegy. Its note is one of anger or of pain. Shall we, however, say of the
Hebrew race that it has lost the power to sing of love? Has it grown too
old, too decrepid?

And said I that my limbs were old,
And said I that my blood was cold,
And that my kindly fire was fled,
And my poor withered heart was dead,
And that I might not sing of love?

Heine is the answer. But Heine did not write in Hebrew, and those who have
so far written in Hebrew are not Heines. It is, I think, vain to look to
Europe for a new outburst of Hebrew love lyrics. In the East, and most of
all in Palestine, where Hebrew is coming to its own again, and where the
spring once more smiles on the eyes of Jewish peasants and shepherds, there
may arise another inspired singer to give us a new Song of Songs in the
language of the Bible. But we have no right to expect it. Such a rare thing
of beauty cannot be repeated. It is a joy forever, and a joy once for all.




That George Eliot was well acquainted with certain aspects of Jewish
history, is fairly clear from her writings. But there is collateral
evidence of an interesting kind that proves the same fact quite
conclusively, I think.

It will be remembered that Daniel Deronda went into a second-hand book-shop
and bought a small volume for half a crown, thereby making the acquaintance
of Ezra Cohen. Some time back I had in my hands the identical book that
George Eliot purchased which formed the basis of the incident. The book may
now be seen in Dr. Williams's Library, Gordon Square, London. The few words
in which George Eliot dismisses the book in her novel would hardly lead one
to gather how carefully and conscientiously she had read the volume, which
has since been translated into English by Dr. J. Clark Murray. She, of
course, bought and read the original German.

The book is Solomon Maimon's Autobiography, a fascinating piece of
self-revelation and of history. (An admirable account of it may be found in
chapter x of the fifth volume of the English translation of Graetz's
"History of the Jews.") Maimon, cynic and skeptic, was a man all head and
no heart, but he was not without "character," in one sense of the word. He
forms a necessary link in the progress of modern Jews towards their newer
culture. Schiller and Goethe admired him considerably, and, as we shall
soon see, George Eliot was a careful student of his celebrated pages. Any
reader who takes the book up, will hardly lay it down until he has finished
the first part, at least.

Several marginal and other notes in the copy of the Autobiography that
belonged to George Eliot are, I am convinced, in her own handwriting, and I
propose to print here some of her jottings, all of which are in pencil, but
carefully written. Above the Introduction, she writes: "This book might
mislead many readers not acquainted with other parts of Jewish history. But
for a worthy account (in brief) of Judaism and Rabbinism, see p. 150." This
reference takes one to the fifteenth chapter of the Autobiography. Indeed,
George Eliot was right as to the misleading tendency of a good deal in
Maimon's "wonderful piece of autobiography," as she terms the work in
"Daniel Deronda." She returns to the attack on p. 36 of her copy, where she
has jotted, "See infra, p. 150 _et seq._ for a better-informed view of
Talmudic study."

How carefully George Eliot read! The pagination of 207 is printed wrongly
as 160; she corrects it! She corrects _Kimesi_ into "Kimchi" on p. 48,
_Rabasse_ into "R. Ashe" on p. 163. On p. 59 she writes, "According to the
Talmud no one is eternally damned." Perhaps her statement needs some slight
qualification. Again (p. 62), "Rashi, i.e. Rabbi Shelomoh ben Isaak, whom
Buxtorf mistakenly called Jarchi." It was really to Raymund Martini that
this error goes back. But George Eliot could not know it. On p. 140, Maimon
begins, "Accordingly, I sought to explain all this in the following way,"
to which George Eliot appends the note, "But this is simply what the
Cabbala teaches--not his own ingenious explanation."

It is interesting to find George Eliot occasionally defending Judaism
against Maimon. On p. 165 he talks of the "abuse of Rabbinism," in that the
Rabbis tacked on new laws to old texts. "Its origin," says George Eliot's
pencilled jotting, "was the need for freedom to modify laws"--a fine
remark. On p. 173, where Maimon again talks of the Rabbinical method of
evolving all sorts of moral truths by the oddest exegesis, she writes, "The
method has been constantly pursued in various forms by Christian Teachers."
On p. 186 Maimon makes merry at the annulment of vows previous to the Day
of Atonement. George Eliot writes, "These are religious vows--not
engagements between man and man."

Furthermore, she makes some translations of the titles of Hebrew books
cited, and enters a correction of an apparently erroneous statement of fact
on p. 215. There Maimon writes as though the Zohar had been promulgated
after Sabbatai Zebi. George Eliot notes: "Sabbatai Zebi lived long after
the production of the Zohar. He was a contemporary of Spinoza. Moses de
Leon belonged to the fourteenth century." This remark shows that George
Eliot knew Graetz's History, for it is he who brought the names of Spinoza
and Sabbatai Zebi together in two chapter headings in his work. Besides,
Graetz's History was certainly in George Eliot's library; it was among the
Lewes books now at Dr. Williams's. Again, on p. 265, Maimon speaks of the
Jewish fast that falls in August. George Eliot jots on the margin, "July?
Fast of Ninth Ab."

Throughout passages are pencilled, and at the end she gives an index to the
parts that seem to have interested her particularly. This is her list:

Talmudic quotations, 36.
Polish Doctor, 49.
The Talmudist, 60.
Prince R. and the Barber, 110.
Talmudic Method, 174.
Polish Jews chiefly Gelehrte, 211.
Zohar, 215.
Rabbinical Morality, 176.
New Chasidim, 207.
Elias aus Wilna, 242.
Angels (?), 82.
Tamuz, II., 135.

It is a pleasure, indeed, to find a fresh confirmation, that George Eliot's
favorable impression of Judaism was based on a very adequate acquaintance
with its history. Sir Walter Scott's knowledge of it was, one cannot but
feel, far less intimate than George Eliot's, but his poetic insight kept
him marvellously straight in his appreciation of Jewish life and character.



English politics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries maintained a
closer association with literature than is conceivable in the present age.
England has just witnessed a contest on fundamental issues between the two
Houses of Parliament. This recalls, by contrast rather than by similarity,
another conflict that divided the Lords from the Commons in and about the
year 1645. The question at issue then was the respective literary merits of
two metrical translations of the Psalms.

Francis Rous was a Provost of Eton, a member of the Westminster Assembly of
Divines, and representative of Truro in the Long Parliament. This "old
illiterate Jew," as Wood abusively termed him, had made a verse translation
of the Psalms, which the House of Commons cordially recommended. The House
of Lords, on the other hand, preferred Barton's translation, and many other
contemporaneous attempts were made to meet the growing demand for a good
metrical rendering--a demand which, by the way, has remained but
imperfectly filled to the present time. Would that some Jewish poet might
arise to give us the long-desired version for use, at all events, in our
private devotions! In April, 1648, Milton tried his hand at a rendering of
nine Psalms (lxxx.-lxxxviii.), and it is from this work that we can see how
Milton pronounced Hebrew. Strange to say, Milton's attempt, except in the
case of the eighty-fourth Psalm, has scanty poetical merit, and, as a
literal translation, it is not altogether successful. He prides himself on
the fact that his verses are such that "all, but what is in a different
character, are the very words of the Text, translated from the original."
The inserted words in italics are, nevertheless, almost as numerous as the
roman type that represents the original Hebrew. Such conventional mistakes
as Rous's _cherubims_ are, however, conspicuously absent from Milton's more
scholarly work. Milton writes _cherubs_.

Now, in the margin of Psalms lxxx., lxxxi., lxxxii., and lxxxiii., Milton
inserts a transliteration of some of the words of the original Hebrew text.
The first point that strikes one is the extraordinary accuracy of the
transliteration. One word appears as _Jimmotu_, thus showing that Milton
appreciated the force of the dagesh. Again, _Shiphtu-dal_, _bag-nadath-el_
show that Milton observed the presence of the Makkef. Actual mistakes are
very rare, and, as Dr. Davidson has suggested, they may be due to
misprints. This certainly accounts for _Tishphetu_ instead of _Tishpetu_
(lxxxii. 2), but when we find _Be Sether_ appearing as two words instead of
one, the capital _S_ is rather against this explanation, while _Shifta_ (in
the last verse of Psalm lxxxii.) looks like a misreading.

It is curious to see that Milton adopted the nasal intonation of the
_Ayin_. And he adopted it in the least defensible form. He invariably
writes _gn_ for the Hebrew _Ayin_. Now _ng_ is bad enough, but _gn_ seems a
worse barbarism. Milton read the vowels, as might have been expected from
one living after Reuchlin, who introduced the Italian pronunciation to
Christian students in Europe, in the "Portuguese" manner, even to the point
of making little, if any, distinction between the _Zere_ and the _Sheva_.
As to the consonants, he read _Tav_ as _th_, _Teth_ as _t_, _Qof_ as _k_,
and _Vav_ and _Beth_ equally as _v_. In this latter point he followed the
"German" usage. The letter _Cheth_ Milton read as _ch_, but _Kaf_ he read
as _c_, sounded hard probably, as so many English readers of Hebrew do at
the present day. I have even noted among Jewish boys an amusing affectation
of inability to pronounce the _Kaf_ in any other way. The somewhat
inaccurate but unavoidable _ts_ for _Zadde_ was already established in
Milton's time, while the letter _Yod_ appears regularly as _j_, which
Milton must have sounded as _y_. On the whole, it is quite clear that
Milton read his Hebrew with minute precision. To see how just this verdict
is, let anyone compare Milton's exactness with the erratic and slovenly
transliterations in Edmund Chidmead's English edition of Leon Modena's
_Riti Ebraici_, which was published only two years later than Milton's
paraphrase of the Psalms.

The result, then, of an examination of the twenty-six words thus
transliterated, is to deepen the conviction that the great Puritan poet,
who derived so much inspiration from the Old Testament, drew at least some
of it from the pure well of Hebrew undefiled.



As a "Concluding Part" to "The Myths of Plato," Professor J.A. Stewart
wrote a chapter on the Cambridge Platonists of the seventeenth century, his
object being to show that the thought of Plato "has been, and still is, an
important influence in modern philosophy."

It was a not unnatural reaction that diverted the scholars of the
Renaissance from Aristotle to Plato. The medieval Church had been
Aristotelian, and "antagonism to the Roman Church had, doubtless, much to
do with the Platonic revival, which spread from Italy to Cambridge." But,
curiously enough, the Plato whom Cambridge served was not Plato the
Athenian dialectician, but Plato the poet and allegorist. It was, in fact,
Philo, the Jew, rather than Plato, the Greek, that inspired them.

"Philo never thought of doubting that Platonism and the Jewish Scriptures
had real affinity to each other, and hardly perhaps asked himself how the
affinity was to be accounted for." Philo, however, would have had no
difficulty in accounting for it; already in his day the quaint theory was
prevalent that Athens had borrowed its wisdom from Jerusalem. The
Cambridge Platonists went with Philo in declaring Plato to be "the Attic
Moses." Henry More (1662) maintained strongly Plato's indebtedness to
Moses; even Pythagoras was so indebted, or, rather, "it was a common fame
[report] that Pythagoras was a disciple of the Prophet Ezekiel." The
Cambridge Platonists were anxious, not only to show this dependence of
Greek upon Hebraic thought, but they went on to argue that Moses taught,
in allegory, the natural philosophy of Descartes. More calls Platonism
the soul, and Cartesianism the body, of his own philosophy, which he
applies to the explanation of the Law of Moses. "This philosophy is the
old Jewish-Pythagorean Cabbala, which teaches the motion of the Earth and
Pre-existence of the Soul." But it is awkward that Moses does not teach
the motion of the earth. More is at no loss; he boldly argues that,
though "the motion of the earth has been lost and appears not in the
remains of the Jewish Cabbala, this can be no argument against its once
having been a part thereof." He holds it as "exceedingly probable" that
the Roman Emperor "Numa was both descended from the Jews and imbued with
the Jewish religion and learning."

Thus the Cambridge Platonists of the seventeenth century are a very
remarkable example of the recurrent influence exercised on non-Jews by
certain forms of Judaism that had but slight direct effect on the Jews
themselves. Indirectly, the Hellenic side of Jewish culture left its mark,
especially in the Cabbala. It would be well worth the while of a Jewish
theologian to make a close study of the seventeenth century alumni of
Cambridge, who were among the most fascinating devotees of ancient Jewish
wisdom. Henry More was particularly attractive, "the most interesting and
the most unreadable of the whole band." When he was a young boy, his uncle
had to threaten a flogging to cure him of precocious "forwardness in
philosophizing concerning the mysteries of necessity and freewill." In 1631
he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, "about the time when John Milton
was leaving it," and he may almost be said to have spent the rest of his
life within the walls of the college, "except when he went to stay with his
'heroine pupil,' Anne, Viscountess Conway, at her country seat of Ragley in
Warwickshire, where his pleasure was to wander among the woods and glades."
He absolutely refused all preferment, and when "he was once persuaded to
make a journey to Whitehall, to kiss His Majesty's hands, but heard by the
way that this would be the prelude to a bishopric, he at once turned back."
Yet More was no recluse. "He had many pupils at Christ's; he loved music,
and used to play on the theorbo; he enjoyed a game at bowls, and still more
a conversation with intimate friends, who listened to him as to an oracle;
and he was so kind to the poor that it was said his very chamber-door was a
hospital for the needy." But enough has been quoted from Overton's
biography to whet curiosity about this Cambridge sage and saint. More well
illustrates what was said above (pp. 114-116)--the man of letters is truest
to his calling when he has at the same time an open ear to the call of



The founder and moving spirit of this unique little Society is Miss Helena
Frank, whose sympathy with Yiddish literature has been shown in several
ways. Her article in the _Nineteenth Century_ ("The Land of Jargon,"
October, 1904) was as forcible as it was dainty. Her rendering of the
stories of Perez, too, is more than a literary feat. Her knowledge of
Yiddish is not merely intellectual; though not herself a Jewess, she
evidently enters into the heart of the people who express their lives and
aspirations in Yiddish terms. Young as she is, Miss Frank is, indeed, a
remarkable linguist; Hebrew and Russian are among her accomplishments. But
it is a wonderful fact that she has set herself to acquire these other
languages only to help her to understand Yiddish, which latter she knows
through and through.

Miss Frank not long ago founded a Society called by the title that heads
this note. The Society did not interest itself directly in the preservation
of Yiddish as a spoken language. It was rather the somewhat grotesque fear
that the rle of Yiddish as a living language may cease that appealed to
Miss Frank. The idea was to collect a Yiddish library, encourage the
translation of Yiddish books into English, and provide a sufficient supply
of Yiddish books and papers for the patients in the London and other
Hospitals who are unable to read any other language. The weekly _Yiddishe
Gazetten_ (New York) was sent regularly to the London Hospital, where it
has been very welcome.

In the Society's first report, which I was permitted to see, Miss Frank
explained why an American Yiddish paper was the first choice. In the first
place, it was a good paper, with an established reputation, and at once
conservative and free from prejudice. America is, moreover, "intensely
interesting to the Polish _Yid_. For him it is the free country _par
excellence_. Besides, he is sure to have a son, uncle, or brother there--or
to be going there himself. 'Vin shterben in vin Amerika kn sich keener
nisht araus drehn!' ('From dying and from going to America, there is no
escape!')" Miss Frank has a keen sense of humor. How could she love Yiddish
were it not so? She cites some of the _Yiddishe Gazetten's_ answers to
correspondents. This is funny: "The woman has the right to take her clothes
and ornaments away with her when she leaves her husband. But it is a
question if she ought to leave him." Then we have the following from an
article by Dr. Goidorof. He compares the Yiddish language to persons whose
passports are not in order--the one has no grammar, the others have no

And both the Jewish language and the Jewish nation hide their faulty
passports in their wallets, and disappear from the register of nations
and languages--no land, no grammar!

"A pretty conclusion the savants have come to!" (began the Jewish
nation). "You are nothing but a collection of words, and I am nothing but
a collection of people, and there's an end to both of us!"

"And Jargon, besides, they said--to which of us did they refer? To me or
to you?" (asks the Jewish language, the word _jargon_ being unknown to

"To you!" (answers the Jewish nation).

"No, to you!" (protests the Jewish language).

"Well, then, to both of us!" (allows the Jewish nation). "It seems we are
both a kind of Jargon. Mercy on us, what shall we do without a grammar
and without a land?"

"Unless the Zionists purchase a grammar of the Sultan!" (romances the
Jewish language).

"Or at all events a land!" (sighs the Jewish nation).

"You think that the easier of the two?" (asks the Jewish language,

And at the same moment they look at one another and laugh loudly and

This is genuine Heinesque humor.



A book by Professor J.C. Oman, published not long ago, contains a clear
and judicially sympathetic account of Hinduism. The sordid side of Indian
asceticism receives due attention; the excesses of self-mortification,
painful posturings, and equally painful impostures are by no means slurred
over by the writer. And yet the essential origin of these ascetic practices
is perceived by Professor Oman to be a pure philosophy and a not ignoble
idealism. And if Professor Oman's analysis be true, one understands how it
is that, though there have always been Jewish ascetics, at times of
considerable numbers and devotion, yet asceticism, as such, has no
recognized place in Judaism. Jewish moralists, especially, though not
exclusively, those of the mystical or Cabbalistic schools, pronounce
powerfully enough against over-indulgence in all sensuous pleasures; they
inculcate moderation and abstinence, and, in some cases, where the pressure
of desire is very strong, prescribe painful austerities, which may be
paralleled by what Professor Oman tells us of the Sadhus and Yogis of
India. But let us first listen to Professor Oman's analysis (p. 16):

"Without any pretence of an exhaustive analysis of the various and
complex motives which underlie religious asceticism, I may, before
concluding this chapter, draw attention to what seem to me the more
general reasons which prompt men to ascetic practices: (1) A desire,
which is intensified by all personal or national troubles, to propitiate
the Unseen Powers. (2) A longing on the part of the intensely religious
to follow in the footsteps of their Master, almost invariably an ascetic.
(3) A wish to work out one's own future salvation, or emancipation, by
conquering the evil inherent in human nature, i.e. the flesh. (4) A
yearning to prepare oneself by purification of mind and body for entering
into present communion with the Divine Being. (5) Despair arising from
disillusionment and from defeat in the battle of life. And lastly, mere
vanity, stimulated by the admiration which the multitude bestow on the

With regard to his second reason, we find nothing of the kind in Judaism
subsequent to the Essenes, until we reach the Cabbalistic heroes of the
Middle Ages. The third and the fourth have, on the other hand, had power
generally in Jewish conduct. The fifth has had its influence, but only
temporarily and temperately. Ascetic practices, based on national and
religious calamity, have, for the most part, been prescribed only for
certain dates in the calendar, but it must be confessed that an excessive
addiction to fasting prevails among many Jews. But it is when we consider
the first of Professor Oman's reasons for ascetic practices that we
perceive how entirely the genius of Judaism is foreign to Hindu and most
other forms of asceticism. To reach communion with God, the Jew goes along
the road of happiness, not of austerity. He serves with joy, not with
sadness. On this subject the reader may refer with great profit to the
remarks made by the Reverend Morris Joseph, in "Judaism as Creed and Life,"
p. 247, onwards, and again the whole of chapter iv. of book iii. (p. 364).
Self-development, not self-mortification, is the true principle; man's
lower nature is not to be crushed by torture, but to be elevated by
moderation, so as to bear its part with man's higher nature in the service
of God.

What leads some Jewish moralists to eulogize asceticism is that there is
always a danger of the happiness theory leading to a materialistic view of
life. This is what Mr. Joseph says, and says well, on the subject (p. 371):

"And, therefore, though Judaism does not approve of the ascetic temper,
it is far from encouraging the materialist's view of life. It has no
place for monks or hermits, who think they can serve God best by
renouncing the world; but, on the other hand, it sternly rebukes the
worldliness that knows no ideal but sordid pleasures, no God but Self. It
commends to us the golden mean--the safe line of conduct that lies midway
between the rejection of earthly joys and the worship of them. If
asceticism too often spurns the commonplace duties of life, excessive
self-indulgence unfits us for them. In each case we lose some of our
moral efficiency. But in the latter case there is added an inevitable
degradation. The man who mortifies his body for his soul's sake has at
least his motive to plead for him. But the sensualist has no such
justification. He deliberately chooses the evil and rejects the good.
Forfeiting his character as a son of God, he yields himself a slave to
unworthy passions.

"It is the same with the worldly man, who lives only for sordid ends,
such as wealth and the pleasures it buys. He, too, utterly misses his
vocation. His pursuit of riches may be moral in itself; he may be a
perfectly honest man. But his life is unmoral all the same, for it aims
at nothing higher than itself."

Thus Professor Oman's fascinating book gives occasion for thought to many
whose religion is far removed from Hinduism. But there is in particular one
feature of Hindu asceticism that calls for attention. This is the Hindu
doctrine of Karma, or good works, which will be familiar to readers of
Rudyard Kipling's "Kim." Upon a man's actions (Karma is the Sanskrit for
action) in this life depends the condition in which his soul will be

"In a word, the present state is the result of past actions, and the
future depends upon the present. Now, the ultimate hope of the Hindu
should be so to live that his soul may be eventually freed from the
necessity of being reincarnated, and may, in the end, be reunited to the
Infinite Spirit from which it sprang. As, however, that goal is very
remote, the Hindu not uncommonly limits his desire and his efforts to the
attainment of a 'good time' now, and in his next appearance upon this
earthly stage" (p. 108).

We need not go fully into this doctrine, which, as the writer says
elsewhere (p. 172), "certainly makes for morality," but we may rather
attend to that aspect of it which is shown in the Hindu desire to
accumulate "merits." The performance of penances gives the self-torturer
certain spiritual powers. Professor Oman quotes this passage from Sir
Monier Williams's "Indian Epic Poetry" (note to p. 4):

"According to Hindu theory, the performance of penances was like making
deposits in the bank of Heaven. By degrees an enormous credit was
accumulated, which enabled the depositor to draw on the amount of his
savings, without fear of his drafts being refused payment. The power
gained in this way by weak mortals was so enormous that gods, as well as
men, were equally at the mercy of these all but omnipotent ascetics, and
it is remarkable that even the gods are described as engaging in penances
and austerities, in order, it may be presumed, not to be undone by human

Now, if for penance we substitute Mitzvoth, we find in this passage almost
the caricature of the Jewish theory that meets us in the writings of German
theologians. These ill-equipped critics of Judaism put it forward seriously
that the Jew performs Mitzvoth in order to accumulate merit (Zechuth), and
some of them even go so far as to assert that the Jew thinks of his Zechuth
as irresistible. But when the matter is put frankly and squarely, as
Professor Monier Williams puts it, not even the Germans could have the
effrontery to assert that Judaism teaches or tolerates any such doctrine.
Whatever man does, he has no merit towards God: that is Jewish teaching.
Yet conduct counts, and somehow the good man and the bad man are not in the
same case. Judaism may be inconsistent, but it is certainly not base in its
teaching as to conduct and retribution. "Be not as servants who minister in
the hope of receiving reward"-this is not the highest level of Jewish
doctrine, it is the average level. Lately I have been reading a good deal
of mystical Jewish literature, and I have been struck by the repeated use
made of the famous Rabbinical saying of Antigonos of Socho just cited. One
wonders whether, after all, justice is done to the Hindus. One sees how
easily Jewish teaching can be distorted into a doctrine of calculated
Zechuth. Are the Hindus being misjudged equally? Certainly, in some cases
this must be so, for Professor Oman, with his remarkably sympathetic
insight, records experiences such as this more than once (p. 147). He is
describing one of the Jain ascetics, and remarks:

"His personal appearance gave the impression of great suffering, and his
attendants all had the same appearance, contrasting very much indeed with
the ordinary Sadhus of other sects. And wherefore this austere rejection
of the world's goods, wherefore all this self-inflicted misery? Is it to
attain a glorious Heaven hereafter, a blessed existence after death? No!
It is, as the old monk explained to me, only to escape rebirth--for the
Jain believes in the transmigration of souls--and to attain rest."

Other ascetics gave similar explanations. Thus (p. 100):

"The Christian missionary entered into conversation with the Hermit (a
Bairagi from the Upper Provinces), and learned from him that he had
adopted a life of abstraction and isolation from the world, neither to
expiate any sin, nor to secure any reward. He averred that he had no
desires and no hopes, but that, being removed from the agitations of the
worldly life, he was full of tranquil joy."



It is scarcely accurate to assert, as is sometimes done, that the most
characteristic of the Purim pranks of the past were children of the Ghetto,
and came to a natural end when the Ghetto walls fell. In point of fact,
most of these joys originated before the era of the Ghetto, and others were
introduced for the first time when Ghetto life was about to fade away into

Probably the oldest of Purim pranks was the bonfire and the burning of an
effigy. Now, so far from being a Ghetto custom, it did not even emanate
from Europe, the continent of Ghettos; it belongs to Babylonia and Persia.
This is what was done, according to an old Geonic account recovered by
Professor L. Ginzberg:

"It is customary in Babylonia and Elam for boys to make an effigy
resembling Haman; this they suspend on their roofs, four or five days
before Purim. On Purim day they erect a bonfire, and cast the effigy into
its midst, while the boys stand round about it, jesting and singing. And
they have a ring suspended in the midst of the fire, which (ring) they
hold and wave from one side of the fire to the other."

Bonfires, it may be thought, need no recondite explanation; light goes with
a light heart, and boys always love a blaze. Dr. J.G. Frazer, in his
"Golden Bough," has endeavored, nevertheless, to bring the Purim bonfire
into relation with primitive spring-tide and midsummer conflagrations,
which survived into modern carnivals, but did not originate with them. Such
bonfires belonged to what has been called sympathetic or homeopathic magic;
by raising an artificial heat, you ensured a plentiful dose of the natural
heat of the sun. So, too, the burning of an effigy was not, in the first
instance, a malicious or unfriendly act. A tree-spirit, or a figure
representing the spirit of vegetation, was consumed in fire, but the spirit
was regarded as beneficent, not hostile, and by burning a friendly deity
the succor of the sun was gained. Dr. Frazer cites some evidence for the
early prevalence of the Purim bonfire; he argues strongly and persuasively
in favor of the identification of Purim with the Babylonian feast of the
Sacaea, a wild, extravagant bacchanalian revel, which, in the old Asiatic
world, much resembled the Saturnalia of a later Italy. The theory is
plausible, though it is not quite proven by Dr. Frazer, but it seems to me
that whatever be the case with Purim generally, there is one hitherto
overlooked feature of the Purim bonfire that does clearly connect it with
the other primitive conflagrations of which mention was made above.

This overlooked feature is the "ring." No explanation is given by the Gaon
as to its purpose in the tenth century, and it can hardly have been used to
hold the effigy. Now, in many of the primitive bonfires, the fire was
produced by aid of a revolving wheel. This wheel typifies the sun. Waving
the "ring" in the Purim bonfires has obviously the same significance, and
this apparently inexplicable feature does, I think, serve to link the
ancient Purim prank with a long series of old-world customs, which, it need
hardly be said, have nothing whatever to do with the Ghetto.

Then, again, the most famous of Purim parodies preceded the Ghetto period.
The official Ghetto begins with the opening of the sixteenth century,
whereas the best parodies belong to a much earlier date, the fourteenth
century. Such parodies, in which sacred things are the subject of harmless
jest, are purely medieval in spirit, as well as in date. Exaggerated
praises of wine were a foil to the sobriety of the Jew, the fun consisting
in this conscious exaggeration. The medieval Jew, be it remembered, drew no
severe line between sacred and profane. All life was to him equally holy,
equally secular. So it is not strange that we find included in sacred
Hebrew hymnologies wine-songs for Purim and Chanukah and other Synagogue
feasts, and these songs are at least as old as the early part of the
twelfth century. For Purim, many Synagogue liturgies contain serious
additions for each of the eighteen benedictions of the Amidah prayer, and
equally serious paraphrases of Esther, some of them in Aramaic, abound
among the Genizah fragments in Cambridge. Besides these, however, are many
harmlessly humorous jingles and rhymes which were sung in the synagogue,
admittedly for the amusement of the children, and for the child-hearts of
adult growth. For them, too, the Midrash had played round Haman, reviling
him, poking fun at him, covering him with ridicule rather than execration.
It is true that the earliest ritual reference to the wearing of masks on
Purim dates from the year 1508, just within the Ghetto period. But this
omission of earlier reference is surely an accident, In the Babylonian
Sacaea, cited above, a feature of the revel was that men and women
disguised themselves, a slave dressed up as king, while servants personated
masters, and vice versa. All these elements of carnival exhilaration are
much earlier than the Middle Ages. Ghetto days, however, originated,
perhaps, the stamping of feet, clapping of hands, clashing of mallets, and
smashing of earthenware pots, to punctuate certain passages of the Esther
story and of the subsequent benediction.

My strongest point concerns what, beyond all other delights, has been
regarded as the characteristic amusement of the festival, viz. the Purim
play. We not only possess absolutely no evidence that Purim plays were
performed in the Ghettos till the beginning of the eighteenth century, when
the end of the Ghettos was almost within sight, but the extant references
imply that they were then a novelty. Plays on the subject of Esther were
very common in medieval Europe during earlier centuries, but these plays
were written by Christians, not by Jews, and were performed by monks, not
by Rabbis. Strange as it may seem, it is none the less the fact that the
Purim play belongs to the most recent of the Purim amusements, and that its
life has been short and, on the whole, inglorious.

Thus, without pressing the contention too closely, Purim festivities do not
deserve to be tarred with the Ghetto brush. Is it, then, denied that Purim
was more mirthfully observed in Ghetto days than it is at the present day?
By no means. It is unquestionable that Purim used to be a merrier
anniversary than it is now. The explanation is simple. In part, the change
has arisen through a laudable disinclination from pranks that may be
misconstrued as tokens of vindictiveness against an ancient foe or his
modern reincarnations. As a second cause may be assigned the growing and
regrettable propensity of Jews to draw a rigid line of separation between
life and religion, and wherever this occurs, religious feasts tend towards
a solemnity that cannot, and dare not, relax into amusement. This tendency
is eating at the very heart of Jewish life, and ought to be resisted by all
who truly understand the genius of Judaism.

But the psychology of the change goes even deeper. The Jew is emotional,
but he detests making a display of his feelings to mere onlookers. The
Wailing Wall scenes at Jerusalem are not a real exception--the facts are
"Cooked," to meet the demands of clamant tourists. The Jew's sensitiveness
is the correlative of his emotionalism. While all present are joining in
the game, each Jew will play with full abandonment to the humor of the
moment. But as soon as some play the part of spectators, the Jew feels his
limbs growing too stiff for dancing, his voice too hushed for song. All
must participate, or all must leave off. Thus, a crowd of Italians or
Southern French may play at carnival to-day to amuse sight-seers in the
Riviera, but Jews have never consented, have never been able, to sport that
others might stand by and laugh at, and not with, the sportsmen. In short,
Purim has lost its character, because Jews have lost their character, their
disposition for innocent, unanimous joyousness. We are no longer so closely
united in interests or in local abodes that we could, on the one hand,
enjoy ourselves as one man, and, on the other, play merry pranks, without
incurring the criticism of indifferent, cold-eyed observers. Criticism has
attacked the authenticity of the Esther story, and proposed Marduk for
Mordecai, and Istar for Esther. But criticism of another kind has worked
far more havoc, for its "superior" airs have killed the Purim joy. Perhaps
it is not quite dead after all.



The jubilee of the introduction of the Penny Post into England was not
reached till 1890. It is difficult to realize the state of affairs before
this reform became part of our everyday life. That less than three-quarters
of a century ago the scattered members of English families were, in a
multitude of cases, practically dead to one another, may incline one to
exaggerate the insignificance of the means of communication in times yet
more remote. Certainly, in ancient Judea there were fewer needs than in the
modern world. Necessity produces invention, and as the Jew of remote times
rarely felt a strong necessity to correspond with his brethren in his own
or other countries, it naturally followed that the means of communication
were equally _extempore_ in character. It may be of interest to put
together some desultory jottings on this important topic.

The way to Judea lies through Rome. If we wish information whether the Jews
knew anything of a regular post, we must first inquire whether the Romans
possessed that institution. According to Gibbon, this was the case.
Excellent roads made their appearance wherever the Romans settled; and "the
advantage of receiving the earliest intelligence and of conveying their
orders with celerity, induced the Emperors to establish throughout their
extensive dominions the regular institution of posts. Houses were
everywhere erected at the distance only of five or six miles; each of them
was constantly provided with forty horses, and by the help of these relays
it was easy to travel a hundred miles a day along the Roman roads. The use
of the posts was allowed to those who claimed it by an Imperial mandate;
but, though originally intended for the public service, it was sometimes
indulged to the business or con-veniency of private citizens." This
statement of Gibbon (towards the end of chapter ii) applies chiefly, then,
to official despatches; for we know from other sources that the Romans had
no public post as we understand the term, but used special messengers
(_tabellarius_) to convey private letters.

Exactly the same facts meet us with reference to the Jews in the earlier
Talmudic times. There were special Jewish letter-carriers, who carried the
documents in a pocket made for the purpose, and in several towns in
Palestine there was a kind of regular postal arrangement, though many
places were devoid of the institution. It is impossible to suppose that
these postal conveniences refer only to official documents; for the Mishnah
(_Sabbath_, x, 4) is evidently speaking of Jewish postmen, who, at that
time, would hardly have been employed to carry the despatches of the
government. The Jewish name for this post was _B-Davvar_, and apparently
was a permanent and regular institution. From a remark of Rabbi Jehudah
(_Rosh ha-Shanah_, 9b), "like a postman who goes about everywhere and
carries merchandise to the whole province," it would seem that the Jews had
established a parcels-post; but unfortunately we have no precise
information as to how these posts were managed.

Gibbon's account of the Roman post recalls another Jewish institution,
which may have been somehow connected with the _B-Davvar_. The official
custodian of the goat that was sent into the wilderness on the Day of
Atonement was allowed, if he should feel the necessity--a necessity which,
according to tradition, never arose--to partake of food even on the
fast-day. For this purpose huts were erected along the route, and men
provided with food were stationed at each of these huts to meet the
messenger and conduct him some distance on his way.

That the postal system cannot have been very much developed, is clear from
the means adopted to announce the New Moon in various localities. This
official announcement certainly necessitated a complete system of
communication. At first, we are told (_Rosh ha-Shanah_, ii, 2), fires were
lighted on the tops of the mountains; but the Samaritans seem to have
ignited the beacons at the wrong time, so as to deceive the Jews. It was,
therefore, decided to communicate the news by messenger. The mountain-fires
were prepared as follows: Long staves of cedar-wood, canes, and branches of
the olive-tree were tied up with coarse threads or flax; these were lighted
as torches, and men on the hills waved the brands to and fro, upward and
downward, until the signal was repeated on the next hill, and so forth.
When messengers were substituted for these fire signals, it does not appear
that they carried letters; they brought verbal messages, which they seem to
have shouted out without necessarily dismounting from the animals they
rode. Messages were not sent every month, but only six times a year; and a
curious light is thrown on the means of communication of the time, by the
legal decision that anyone was to be believed on the subject, and that the
word of a passing merchant who said that "he had heard the New Moon
proclaimed," was to be accepted unhesitatingly. Nowadays, busy men are
sometimes put out by postal vagaries, but they hardly suffer to the extent
of having to fast two days. This calamity is recorded, however, in the
Jerusalem Talmud, as having, on a certain occasion, resulted from the delay
in the arrival of the messengers announcing the New Moon.

Besides the proclamation of the New Moon, other official documents must
have been despatched regularly. "Bills of divorce," for instance, needed
special messengers; the whole question of the legal position of messengers
is very intimately bound up with that of conveying divorces. This, however,
seems to have been the function of private messengers, who were not in the
strict sense letter-carriers at all. It may be well, in passing, to recall
one or two other means of communication mentioned in the Midrash. Thus we
read how Joshua, with twelve thousand of his warriors, was imprisoned, by
means of witchcraft, within a sevenfold barrier of iron. He resolves to
write for aid to the chief of the tribe of Reuben, bidding him to summon
Phineas, who is to bring the "trumpets" with him. Joshua ties the message
to the wings of a dove, or pigeon, and the bird carries the letter to the
Israelites, who speedily arrive with Phineas and the trumpets, and, after
routing the enemy, effect Joshua's rescue. A similar idea may be found in
the commentary of Kimchi on Genesis. Noah, wishing for information, says
Kimchi, sent forth a raven, but it brought back no message; then he sent a
dove, which has a natural capacity for bringing back replies, when it has
been on the same way once or twice. Thus kings train these birds for the
purpose of sending them great distances, with letters tied to their wings.
So we read (_Sabbath_, 49) in the Talmud that "a dove's wings protect it,"
i.e. people preserve it, and do not slay it, because they train it to act
as their messenger. Or, again, we find arrows used as a means of carrying
letters, and we are not alluding to such signals as Jonathan gave to David.
During the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Emperor had men placed
near the walls of Jerusalem, and they wrote the information they obtained
on arrows, and fired them from the wall, with the connivance, probably, of
the philo-Roman party that existed within the doomed city.

In earlier Bible times, there was, as the Tell-el-Amarna bricks show, an
extensive official correspondence between Canaan and Egypt, but private
letter-writing seems not to have been resorted to; messages were
transmitted orally to the parties concerned. This fact is well illustrated
by the story of Joseph. He may, of course, have deliberately resolved not
to communicate with his family, but if letter-writing had been usual, his
brothers would naturally have asked him--a question that did not suggest
itself to them--why he had never written to tell his father of his
fortunes. When Saul desired to summon Israel, he sent, not a letter, but a
mutilated yoke of oxen; the earliest letter mentioned in the Bible being
that in which King David ordered Uriah to be placed in the forefront of the
army. Jezebel sends letters in Ahab's name to Naboth, Jehu to Samaria. In
all these cases letters were used for treacherous purposes, and they are
all short. Probably the authors of these plots feared to betray their real
intention orally, and so they committed their orders to writing, expecting
their correspondents to read between the lines. It is not till the time of
Isaiah that the references to writing become frequent. Intercourse between
Palestine on the one hand and Babylon and Egypt on the other had then
increased greatly, and the severance of the nation itself tended to make
correspondence through writing more necessary. When we reach the age of
Jeremiah, this fact makes itself even more strongly apparent. Letters are
often mentioned by that prophet (xxix. 25, 29), and a professional class of
Soferim, or scribes, make their appearance. Afterwards, of course, the
Sofer became of much higher importance; he was not merely a professional
writer, but a man learned in the Law, who spread the knowledge of it among
the people. Later, again, these functions were separated, and the Sofer
added to his other offices that of teacher of the young. Nowadays, he has
regained his earlier and less important position, for the modern Sofer is
simply a professional writer. In the time of Ezekiel (ix. 2) the Sofer went
abroad with the implements of his trade, including the inkhorn, at his
side. In the Talmud, the scribe is sometimes described by his Latin title
_libellarius_ (_Sabbath_,11a). The Jews of Egypt, as may be seen from the
Assouan Papyri, wrote home in cases of need in the time of Nehemiah; and in
the same age we hear also of "open letters," for Sanballat sends a missive
of that description by his servant; and apparently it was by means of a
similar letter that the festival of Purim was announced to the Jews (Esther
ix., where, unlike the other passages quoted, the exact words of the letter
of Mordecai are not given). The order to celebrate Chanukah was published
in the same way, and, indeed, the books of the Apocrypha contain many
interesting letters, and in the pages of Josephus the Jews hold frequent
intercourse in this way with many foreign countries. In the latter cases,
when the respective kings corresponded, the letters were conveyed by
special embassies.

One might expect this epistolary activity to display itself at an even more
developed stage in the records of Rabbinical times. But this is by no means
the case, for the Rabbinical references to letters in the beginning of the
common era are few and far between. Polemic epistles make their appearance;
but they are the letters of non-Jewish missionaries like Paul. This form of
polemical writing possessed many advantages; the letters were passed on
from one reader to another; they would be read aloud, too, before
gatherings of the people to whom they were addressed. Maimonides, in later
times, frequently adopted this method of communicating with whole
communities, and many of the Geonim and other Jewish authorities followed
the same plan. But somehow the device seems not to have commended itself to
the earliest Rabbis. Though we read of many personal visits paid by the
respective authorities of Babylon and Palestine to one another, yet they
appear to have corresponded very rarely in writing. The reason lay probably
in the objection felt against committing the Halachic, or legal, decisions
of the schools to writing, and there was little else of consequence to
communicate after the failure of Bar-Cochba's revolt against the Roman

It must not be thought, however, that this prohibition had the effect we
have described for very long. Rabbi Gamaliel, Rabbi Chananiah, and many
others had frequent correspondence with far distant places, and as soon
as the Mishnah acquired a fixed form, even though it was not immediately
committed to writing, the recourse to letters became much more common.
Pupils of the compilers of the Mishnah proceeded to Babylon to spread its
influence, and they naturally maintained a correspondence with their
chiefs in Palestine. Rab and Samuel in particular, among the Amoraim,
were regular letter-writers, and Rabbi Jochanan replied to them. Towards
the end of the third century this correspondence between Judea and
Babylon became even more active. Abitur and Abin often wrote concerning
legal decisions and the doings of the schools, and thereby the
intellectual activity of Judaism maintained its solidarity despite the
fact that the Jewish people was no longer united in one land. In the
Talmud we frequently read, "they sent from there," viz. Palestine.
Obviously these messages were sent in writing, though possibly the bearer
of the message was often himself a scholar, who conveyed his report by
word of mouth. Perhaps the growth of the Rabbi's practice of writing
responses to questions--a practice that became so markedly popular in
subsequent centuries--may be connected with the similar habit of the
Roman jurists and the Christian Church fathers, and the form of response
adopted by the eighth century Geonim is reminiscent of that of the Roman
lawyers. The substance of the letters, however, is by no means the same;
the Church father wrote on dogmatic, the Rabbi on legal, questions.
Between the middle of the fourth century and the time of the Geonim, we
find no information as to the use of letters among the Jews. From that
period onwards, however, Jews became very diligent letter-writers, and
sometimes, for instance in the case of the "Guide of the Perplexed" of
Maimonides, whole works were transmitted in the form of letters. The
scattering of Israel, too, rendered it important to Jews to obtain
information of the fortunes of their brethren in different parts of the
world. Rumors of Messianic appearances from the twelfth century onwards,
the contest with regard to the study of philosophy, the fame of
individual Rabbis, the rise of a class of travellers who made very long
and dangerous journeys, all tended to increase the facilities and
necessities of intercourse by letter. It was long, however, before
correspondence became easy or safe. Not everyone is possessed of the
postmen assigned in Midrashim to King Solomon, who pressed demons into
his service, and forced them to carry his letters wheresoever he willed.
Chasdai experienced considerable difficulty in transmitting his famous
letter to the king of the Chazars, and that despite his position of
authority in the Spanish State. In 960 a letter on some question of
Kasher was sent from the Rhine to Palestine--proof of the way in which
the most remote Jewish communities corresponded.

The question of the materials used in writing has an important bearing on
our subject. Of course, the ritual regulations for writing the holy books,
the special preparation of the parchment, the ink, the strict rules for the
formation of the letters, hardly fall within the province of this article.
In ancient times the most diverse substances were used for writing on.
Palm-leaves (for which Palestine of old was famous) were a common object
for the purpose, being so used all over Asia. Some authorities believe that
in the time of Moses the palm leaf was the ordinary writing-material.
Olive-leaves, again, were thick and hard, while carob-leaves (St. John's
bread), besides being smooth, long, and broad, were evergreen, and thus
eminently fitted for writing. Walnut shells, pomegranate skins, leaves of
gourds, onion-leaves, lettuce-heads, even the horns of cattle, and the
human body, letters being tattooed on the hands of slaves, were all turned
to account. It is maintained by some that leather was the original
writing-material of the Hebrews; others, again, give their vote in favor of
linen, though the Talmud does not mention the latter material in connection
with writing. Some time after Alexander the Great, the Egyptian papyrus
became common in Palestine, where it probably was known earlier, as Jewish
letters on papyrus were sent to Jerusalem from the Fayyum in the fifth
century B.C.E. Even as late as Maimonides, the scrolls of the Law were
written on leather, and not on parchment, which is now the ordinary
material for the purpose. That the Torah was not to be written on a
vegetable product was an assumed first principle. The Samaritans went so
far as to insist that the animal whose hide was needed for so holy a
purpose, must be slain Kasher. Similarly with divorce documents. A Get on
paper would be held legal _post factum_, though it is not allowed to use
that material, as it is easily destroyed or mutilated, and the use of paper
for the purpose was confined to the East. Some allowed the Book of Esther
to be read from a paper copy; other authorities not only strongly objected
to this, but even forbade the reading of the Haftarah from paper. Hence one
finds in libraries so many parchment scrolls containing only the Haftarahs.
The Hebrew word for letter, Iggereth, is of unknown origin, though it is
now commonly taken to be an Assyrian loan-word. It used to be derived from
a root signifying to "hire," in reference to the "hired courier," by whom
it was despatched. Other terms for letter, such as "book," "roll," explain
themselves. Black ink was early used, though it is certain that it was
either kept in a solid state, like India ink, or that it was of the
consistency of glue, and needed the application of water before it could be
used. For pens, the iron stylus, the reed, needle, and quill (though the
last was not admitted without a struggle) were the common substitutes at
various dates.

We must now return to the subject with which we set out, and make a few
supplementary remarks with regard to the actual conveyance of letters. In
the Talmud (_Baba Mezia,_ 83b) a proverb is quoted to this effect, "He who
can read and understand the contents of a letter, may be the deliverer
thereof." As a rule, one would prefer that the postman did not read the
correspondence he carries, and this difficulty seems to have stood in the
way of trusting letters to unknown bearers. To remove this obstacle to free
intercourse, Rabbenu Gershom issued his well-known decree, under penalty of
excommunication, against anyone who, entrusted with a letter to another,
made himself master of its contents. To the present day, in some places,
the Jewish writer writes on the outside of his letter, the abbreviation
[Hebrew: beth-cheth-daleth-resh-''-gimel], which alludes to this injunction
of Rabbenu Gershom. Again, the Sabbath was and still is a difficulty with
observant Jews. Rabbi Jose ha-Cohen is mentioned in the Talmud (_Sabbath_,
19a) as deserving of the following compliment. He never allowed a letter of
his to get into the hands of a non-Jew, for fear he might carry it on the
Sabbath, and strict laws are laid down on the subject. That Christians in
modern times entrusted their letters to Jews goes without saying, and even
in places where this is not commonly allowed, the non-Jew is employed when
the letter contains bad news. Perhaps for this reason Rabbenu Jacob Tarn
permitted divorces to be sent by post, though the controversy on the
legality of such delivery is, I believe, still undecided.

Besides packmen, who would often be the medium by which letters were
transmitted, there was in some Jewish communities a special class that
devoted themselves to a particular branch of the profession. They made it
their business to seek out lost sons and deliver messages to them from
their anxious parents. Some later Jewish authorities, in view of the
distress that the silence of absent loved ones causes to those at home, lay
down the rule that the duty of honoring parents, the fifth commandment,
includes the task of corresponding when absent from them. These peripatetic
letter-carriers also conveyed the documents of divorce to women that would
otherwise be in the unpleasant condition of being neither married nor
single. Among the most regular and punctual of Jewish postmen may be
mentioned the bearers of begging letters and begging books. There is no
fear that _these_ will not be duly delivered.

Our reference to letters of recommendation reminds us of an act, on the
part of a modern Rabbi, of supererogation in the path of honesty. The post
is in the hands of the Government, and, accordingly, the late Rabbi
Bamberger of Wurzburg, whenever he gave a Haskamah, or recommendation,
which would be delivered by hand, was wont to destroy a postage stamp, so
as not to defraud the Government, even in appearance. With this remarkable
instance of conscientious uprightness, we may fitly conclude this notice,
suggested as it has been by the modern improvements in the postal system,
which depend for their success so largely on the honesty of the public.



Dr. Johnson said, "It is easier to know that a cake is bad than to make a
good one." I had a tiny quantity of material which, by dint of much
rolling, I might have expanded into a broad, flat, unsubstantial whole; I
preferred, however, to make of my little piece of dough a little cake,
small and therefore less pretentious. I am afraid that even in this
concentrated form it will prove flavorless and indigestible, but the cook
must be blamed, not the material.

I have no intention to consider the various operations connected with the
preparation of unleavened Passover cakes: the kneading, the ingredients,
the curious regulations regarding the water used, such precautions as
carefully watching the ovens. Those who are inclined to connect some of
these customs with the practices of non-Jewish peoples will find some
interesting facts on all theses topics; but what I wish to speak of now is
the shape and form of Passover cakes.

The Christian emblems that figure in the celebration of the Eucharist, or
Lord's Supper, were probably derived from the ceremonies of the Passover
eve. The bread employed in the Eucharist is with some Christian sects
unleavened, and, indeed, leavened cakes seem to have been introduced solely
as a protest against certain so-called Judaizing tendencies. The Latin
Church still contends for the propriety of employing unleavened bread, and
from the seventh century unleavened bread was used at Rome and leavened
bread at Constantinople. From the earliest times, however, the Eucharistic
loaves were invariably round in shape, there being, indeed, a supposed
edict by Pope Zephyrinus (197-217) to that effect. It is passing strange
that Bona, an ecclesiastical writer, derived this roundness from the shape
of the coins Judas received for betraying his master. But though there is
no distinct enactment either in the Talmud or in any of the later codes as
to what the form of the Matzoth must be, these have been from time
immemorial round also. Some Minhagim are more firmly rooted than actual
laws, and this custom is one of them. In one of his cartoons, Picard has an
illustration which is apparently that of a squarish Matzah; this may,
however, be only a case of defective drawing. It is true that in Roumania
square Matzoth are used, but in the controversy raised by the introduction
of Matzah-making machines, the opponents of the change argued as though no
other than a round shape were conceivable. Kluger, for instance, never
seems to have realized that his weightiest objection to the use of the
machine would be obviated by making the Matzoth square or rectangular. When
it was first proposed to introduce Matzah machines in London, the
resistance came chiefly from the manufacturers, and not from the
ecclesiastical authorities. The bakers refused categorically to make square
Matzoth, declaring that if they did so, their stock would be unsalable.
Even to the present day no square Matzoth are baked in London; those
occasionally seen there are imported from the Continent. The ancient
Egyptians made their cakes round, and the Matzoth are regarded
Midrashically as a memorial of the food which the Egyptian masters forced
on their Israelite slaves. A round shape is apparently the simplest
symmetrical form, but beyond this I fancy that the round form of the
Passover bread is partly due to the double meaning of Uggoth Matzoth. The
word Uggoth signifies cakes baked in the sand or hot embers; but Uggah also
means a "circle." To return, however, to the Eucharistic wafers.

A further point of identity, though only a minute detail, can be traced in
the regulation that the Eucharistic oblate from which the priest
communicated was, in the ninth century, larger than the loaves used by the
people. So the Passover cakes (Shimmurim) used by the master of the house,
and particularly the middle cake, pieces of which were distributed, were
made larger than the ordinary Matzoth. Picard (1723) curiously enough
reverses this relation, and draws the ordinary Matzoth much larger and
thicker than the Shimmurim. The ordinary Matzoth he represents as thick
oval cakes, with a single coil of large holes, which start outwards from
the centre. Picard speaks of Matzoth made in different shapes, but he gives
no details.

In the Middle Ages, and, indeed, as early as Chrysostom (fourth century),
the Church cakes were marked with a cross, and bore various inscriptions.
In the Coptic Church, for example, the legend was "Holy! holy! holy is the
Lord of hosts." Now, in a Latin work, _Roma subterranea_, about 1650, a
statement is made which seems to imply that the Passover cakes of the Jews
were also marked with crosses. What can have led to this notion? The origin
is simple enough. The ancient Romans, as Aringhus himself writes, and as
Virgil, Horace, and Martial frequently mention, made their loaves with
cross indentations, in order to facilitate dividing them into four parts:
much as nowadays Scotch scones are baked four together, and the central
dividing lines give the fourfold scone the appearance of bearing a cross
mark. It may be that the Jews made their Passover cakes, which were thicker
than ours and harder to break, in the same way. But, besides, the small
holes and indentations that cover the surface of the modern Matzah might,
if the Matzah be held in certain positions, possibly be mistaken for a
cross. These indentations are, I should add, very ancient, being referred
to in the Talmud, and, if I may venture a suggestion, also in the Bible, I
Kings xiv. 3, and elsewhere, Nekudim being cakes punctuated with small

We can carry the explanation a little further. The three Matzoth Shimmurim
used in the Haggadah Service were made with especial care, and in medieval
times were denominated Priest, Levite, Israelite, in order to discriminate
among them. Picard, by an amusing blunder, speaks of a _gateau des
lvites;_ he, of course, means the middle cake. From several authorities it
is clear that the three Matzoth were inscribed in some cases with these
three words, in others with the letters _Alef, Beth, Gimmel_, in order to
distinguish them. A rough _Alef_ would not look unlike a cross. Later on,
the three Matzoth were distinguished by one, two, three indentations
respectively, as in the Roman numerals; and even at the present day care is
sometimes taken, though in other ways, to prevent the Priest, Levite, and
Israelite from falling into confusion. I do not know whether the stringent
prohibition, by the _Shulchan Aruch_, of "shaped or marked cakes" for use
on Passover, may not be due to the fact that the Eucharistic cakes used by
Christians were marked with letters and symbols. Certain it is that the
prohibition of these "shaped" cakes is rather less emphatic in the Talmud
than in the later authorities, who up to a certain date are never weary of
condemning or at least discouraging the practice. The custom of using these
cakes is proved to be widespread by the very frequency of the prohibitions,
and they were certainly common in the beginning of the sixteenth century,
from which period seems to date the custom of making the Matzoth very thin,
though the thicker species has not been entirely superseded even up to the
present day. In the East the Matzoth are still made very thick and
unpalatable. They cannot be eaten as they are; they are either softened, by
being dipped in some liquid, or they are ground down to meal, and then
remade into smaller and more edible cakes.

The Talmud mentions a "stamp" in connection with "shaped cakes," which
Buxtorf takes for _Lebkuchen_, and Levy for scalloped and fancifully-edged
cakes. The Geonim, however, explain that they were made in the forms of

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