Skip to main content

Full text of "Jewish Ethical Wills"

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



436 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 



JEWISH ETHICAL WILLS. 

What for want of a better term may be called Ethical 
Wills (niNTi2), or, in other words, the express directions of 
fathers to their children and of aged teachers to their 
disciples, constitute an important branch of Jewish ethical 
literature. The value of these wills was recognised by 
Zunz, who, in order to illustrate the elevated ethical tone 
of mediaeval Judaism, quotes passages from three of these 
documents. Yet the extent of this literature has, I believe, 
hitherto been far from duly estimated. The most complete 
bibliography is, and must continue to be, very defective. 
Wills of this class are not always come-at-able, being often 
hidden away in unexpected places. Besides, rapid additions 
to the series are being constantly made in modern times. 
For there are fashions even in death, and the ethical will 
is a Jewish fashion now much honoured in the observance. 
True, the main lines of thought remain identical, and there 
is a strong tendency towards monotonous uniformity in the 
later representatives of the class. Yet, even if the thoughts 
are not new, the modes of expressing them are often fresh 
and original, even now, when all that is said has already 
been said before. Here is a fine passage in which a 
nineteenth century father transforms a Midrashic idea into 
a philosophy : — 

Every father is bound to leave an exhortation for his children, to 
instruct them in the fear of God, and in the manner of his worship. 
Even if a man were himself quite perfect, he has not done all his 
duty by perfecting himself ; for, unless he strongly feels the impulse 
to perfect others, he cannot be himself perfect, inasmuch as he has 
overlooked the command, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' 
Nor can he have walked in the ways of God, whose attribute of 
goodness makes others good. If this be so with regard to those who 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 437 

are not related to a man, much more does it apply to the case of his 
own sons and daughters who are a part of himself, for in setting them 
right he is setting himself right. 

One can almost read between the lines of this "counsel 
of perfection " a pronounced antipathy to the Hegelianism 
which at the moment bade fair to swamp the Universities 
of Europe. Aaron ben Abraham, the author of this will 
(1819), hardly maintains this same high level throughout, 
yet one other remark of his may be cited, because it is true 
in itself, and moreover shows how modern circumstances 
do to some extent tinge the directions of Jewish fathers to 
their children : — 

Enthusiasm is a virtue, but it must be kept under control ; it 
must not be suffered to become habitual and mechanical. For if a 
man be enthusiastic from habit, he runs as much risk of being carried 
wildly to do wrong as of being led to do right, his enthusiasm, and 
not he, being the master of his will. 

Similar brilliant flashes of originality relieve the im- 
pression of sameness which a casual inspection of the later 
ethical wills is apt to leave. Nor do I wish to imply that 
the earlier specimens are quite free from the same imputa- 
tion. From the middle of the eleventh century onwards, 
the Jewish ethical wills begin to be largely composed of 
moral maxims derived from the Talmud and other 
Rabbinical literature. But though the jewels be more or 
less identical, the setting varies very considerably ; and I 
fancy that in ethical literature generally it will be found 
that original thought displays itself in form rather than in 
substance. Besides, it is a point of considerable interest to 
observe what passages of the Talmud were the favourites 
of individual Jews. The Talmud is so rich in ethical 
maxims that there was little opportunity left for inde- 
pendent creation. Similarly the Midrash, with its wealth 
of fantastic imagery and poetical beauty, is partially re- 
sponsible for the stunting of poetical originality among 
Jews. Their whole efforts were directed towards imita- 
tion ; and invention, at first unnecessary, ended by being 



438 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

impossible. With ethics, however, the process commenced 
later than with poetry, and from the Jewish ethical wills 
might very easily be gathered many fine thoughts finely 
expressed, which bear all the marks of pronounced 
originality. 

It is a serious problem to decide what value to attach to 
death-bed utterances. Nicolas, the author of Testamenta 
Vetmta, writing, it is true, of wills of another class, 
maintains that " the corporal suffering under which a man 
often labours when he makes his last testament ; the 
solemn invocation with which it commences ; the asso- 
ciations which it cannot fail to excite ; and, above all, the 
recollection that the important document will not see the 
light until he is removed from that sphere where alone 
falsehood can be successful or vice be triumphant — tend 
to render the statements in wills of unquestionable 
veracity." Yet men have been known to leave by will 
property that they never possessed, and the question of 
credibility becomes intensified when the bequests deal with 
moral rather than material treasures. Men may feel dis- 
posed to act up to their character at the last ; they would 
fain have the curtain fall on an effective tableau. The 
recorded sayings of great men at the brink of the grave 
are quoted and re-quoted as forming the key to character. 
This is hardly true without qualification. They are the 
key, not to character, but to the person's conception of his 
own character — a vastly different affair. Self-portraiture, 
to be faithful, must not be self-conscious. A man who has 
been a hypocrite all his life is not more likely to be dis- 
playing his real self when death is nigh, for he has the less 
chance of being found out. When Antonio de Montezinos, 
otherwise Aaron Levi, repeatedly asserted on his death-bed, 
in 1644, that he had met native Jews in South America 
who were the descendants of the Ten Tribes, and more 
aboriginal than the Indians, he was no more correct in his 
assertion than when he repeated the same fable at earlier 
periods. It was natural that so emotional an enthusiast as 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 439 

Manasseh ben Israel should seize upon Antonio's statement 
as the basis of his Messianic fantasies, and build " Israel's 
Hope " upon this unstable foundation. 1 

But these objections lose their weight when applied to 
the wills with which we are now dealing. In the Biblical 
and Talmudical periods, it is true, the dying father sum- 
moned his children and addressed to them words of 
counsel. But the Jewish testaments of a more formal 
character were for the greater part of an altogether 
different origin. They were very rarely dictated imme- 
diately before the death of their authors, and only excep- 
tionally emanated literally from the sick-room. Mostly 
they were written calmly in old age, when death was in 
the course of nature not far distant, or they were composed 
at times when their authors were about to start on Ions 
and dangerous journeys, and felt but scanty hope of ever 
again beholding their families. The Gaon Elijah of Wilna 
sent his will as a letter to his household when on the point 
of setting out for Palestine, and at a much earlier date 
Joseph Ibn Caspi acted in parallel fashion. A native of 
Provence, where the streams of Jewish law and Arabian 
philosophy came to a feeble confluence, Ibn Caspi pro- 
ceeded from Argentines to Egypt in 1312, with the object 
of studying in the school of his intellectual master, 
Maimonides. He thought that where the tree had grown 
he would find its fruit. But he was disappointed in this 
hope, and turned his face homewards. In 1332 we find 
him in Valencia, where he formed the intention of 
journeying southward, having heard that there were great 
scholars in Fez. Perchance he might at last discover a 
teacher or a companion in his studies, or when his thoughts 
were more sanguine he even dreamt of finding a disciple. 
Before leaving Valencia he despatched to his son a noble 
letter containing his ethical will, for he feared that death 
might overtake him before he had ended his long and 

1 Graetz, GeseliifMe, x. 97. 



440 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

wearisome search after congenial minds. Perhaps he felt 
less isolated when he had taken steps to ensure that his 
son at least would, on growing to maturity, possess the 
means of gaining an insight into his father's heart. These 
instances are the rule ; it is entirely exceptional for the 
will to have been produced immediately before death. A 
pathetic interest attaches to the testament of Masus ben 
Judah Loeb, who in the opening lines complains of his 
weakness with a foreboding all too soon realised. Before 
he had formally closed the document death surprised him, 
and he left his work complete in its very incompleteness. 1 
So far, however, is this from being more than an unusual 
phenomenon, that several testaments bear clear traces of 
having been composed many years before the authors' 
deaths. Some of them, indeed, must have been written 
piecemeal, for it is otherwise hard to account for the repe- 
tition of the same sentiments that will often recur in the 
body of one single document. Occasionally it is stated in 
so many words that the author added and super-added 
ethical codicils. 2 The length of others, again, precludes the 
supposition that they could have been hastily compiled ; 
some being formal treatises of considerable proportions. 
Where, for instance, the writer employs the alphabetical 
arrangement, we often find two or even three such ethical 
alphabets, the implication being that all but the first series 
were afterthoughts. Judah Ibn Tibbon even concludes 
with a distinct promise of adding to his counsels for his 
son if opportunity served. 

Of these testaments, some were obviously written for 
publication, 3 and with a passionate eagerness for post- 

1 Israel Luepsehuetz also appears to have been interrupted by death, for 
he intended to address each of his children individually, and does not do 
so. 

2 The testament of Solomon Kluger really consists of four separate 
documents. Sometimes (see e.g. the Prague edition, 1783, of S. Hurwitz's 
testament) a will is printed to fill up a vacant space in another hook. 

3 Naphtali Cohen, Abraham Danzig, and some others, expressly direct 
that their testaments were to be printed. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 441 

humous reputation, betray a striving after effect and 
halachic ingenuity. But most of them are charmingly 
simple and naive. They were intended for the absolutely 
private use of children and relatives, or of some beloved 
disciple who held the dearest place in his master's regard 
The publication of many of these documents must natur- 
ally be quite accidental, and a large number of them — 
apart from those irreparably lost — still lie unprinted in the 
possession of the authors' families, or among the MS. 
treasures of public and private libraries. From time to 
time the latter are printed, as e.g., two very important 
testaments by Judah and Jacob Asheri, which Mr. 
Schechter 1 edited from a British Museum MS. in 1885. 
Historically considered, these are among the most valuable 
in the whole collection. 

Accident, however, is not the only decisive circumstance 
in the printing or non-printing of ethical testaments. To 
some children, the last directions of a father are sacred ; 
to give them to the world would be to profane them. To 
others, the very sincerity and excellence of their fathers' 
counsels is a motive for allowing others to share in a 
treasure which they feel it selfish to hoard up for their 
own exclusive use. Intended for them alone, they publish 
them " in order to give merit to many." In the case of 
distinguished men, of famous scholars and Kabbis of 
repute, pressure has often been brought to bear to induce 
publication on the part of the surviving members of the 
family. Both of these courses have their justification. In 
a sense, ethical testaments are private communications 
which ought not to be published without sufficient reason. 
Indeed, in printing hitherto inedited mNTO, I feel almost 
as though engaged in the desecration of the dead. But it 
is no mummified and shapeless skeleton that is unrolled, it 
is a fresh and animate form, speaking with a living voice, 

1 It is impossible for me adequately to thank Mr. Schechter for the 
help he has rendered me. Without his assistance this Essay would not 
have been written ; but I am solely responsible for the mistakes. 



442 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

I can, I repeat, sympathise with those who have refused 
to give to the world private and confidential communica- 
tions. But their privacy and naivete add to their value 
and their interest. They are the clearest revelation of the 
man's innermost feelings, for he mostly had no reason to 
think that his words would be revealed at all. I have 
sometimes gained a deeper insight into an author's opinions 
by reading his testament than from all his other published 
writings. Joseph Ibn Caspi never so ably enunciated his 
conception of the rights of philosophy nor so unanswer- 
ably enforced them as in his last will and testament. 
Alexander Suesskind nowhere else so clearly manifested 
the stern sensitiveness of his otherwise gentle disposition, 
which restrained him from fondling his own children. " I 
never kissed my children nor took them in my arms," he 
says, " so as not to accustom them to silly talk, such as 
people are in the habit of addressing to the young." Was 
there ever a more naive self-revelation than this ? On the 
other hand, Naphtali Cohen's simple and perfect affection 
for his wife comes out very clearly in his ethical will. 
This Rabbi of Posen, who died in 1719, addresses her as 
follows : — 

My beloved Esther, once from our great love we clasped hands 
and mutually promised that when either of us two died, the other 
would pray to die soon afterwards, that we might quit the world 
together. But this wish was not right, and you have my pardon if 
you live a hundred years. I altogether undo our compact. If you 
die first, which God forbid, you must do the same. I ask you not to 
marry again, though I know I need not say it ; but I add the words 
out of my overwhelming love for you. 

It would be hard, again, to find a more bitter, and, at the 
same time, pathetic expression of an isolation verging on 
misanthropy than is contained in Saul Hirschel's short 
and striking testament. In their respective wills, too, we 
realise Judah Asheri's honourable reluctance to accept a 
salary for his services as Rabbi.; Eleazar the Levite's pet 
aversion to slander and gossip, together with his pro- 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 443 

nounced taste for cleanliness ; Jacob Asheri's and Abraham 
Danzig's fondness for dinim — though in this they but reflect 
the tendency of their published works ; Ibn Tibbon's keen 
affection for his books, and relish for literary style ; the 
pseudonymous Judah Ohasid's piety, that o'erleaps itself 
and falls into superstition ; S. Kluger's unparalleled 
honesty, that induced him to order the restoration to their 
owners of all the books he had borrowed ; and more gene- 
rally, the devotion of the Spanish school to intellectual 
culture, with a certain display of cold indifference to the 
ordinary affairs of life, and on the other hand, the predilec- 
tion of the warmer and more human German school for 
practical morals and the common concerns of everyday 
existence. These, and a host of other deep-seated convic- 
tions and quaint turns of thought, of curious habits, and 
equally curious aversions, are revealed in these ethical 
wills, which may seem, from their designation, to offer so 
profitless and arid a field for inquiry. There is thus no 
need for further explanation why so many of these little 
documents — "small in quantity, but great in quality," to 
use the favourite motto inscribed on their Hebrew title- 
pages — have enjoyed a wide popularity. Some of them, 
especially those that give a conventional presentation of 
Judaism, have been again and again printed, and new 
editions are not only constantly appearing, but in some 
cases these exhortations have been added to the Prayer- 
book as supplementary devotional exercises. 1 

But whatever the passing indications of contemporary 
manners, whatever the unexpected touches regarding men 

1 So popular must these testaments have become that we even find 
them made the subject of jargon novels. HNIIV D1JH3NS DJTI (Wilna, 
1887) turns on the story of a son who was bidden by his father to adopt 
a holy and religious life, and to spend his years in performing religious 
offices and good deeds ; and the moral is to enforce the importance of 
obeying such testamentary mandates. In the Midrash nTOin mCPJ? a 
father orders his eon, Quaker-like, not to take an oath under any 
circumstances, and the adventures of the son consequent on this prohibi- 
tion are narrated (Jellinek, Beth Hamidrasli, I., 72). 



444 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

and things — and these testaments are a rich mine for the 
whole range of Jewish minhagim or customs — important 
though these features clearly are, the chief interest in 
ethical wills is, as their name implies, an ethical interest. 
Zunz quotes a remark of Prof. Hirt, who patronisingly 
cast a glance at the fourteenth century testament of 
Asheri, and declared that the ethical principles enunciated 
by this Jew were superior to what one might have ex- 
pected even from the Christians of his age. I cannot help 
thinking that this surprised utterance merely puts into 
words a delusion shared by many besides Hirt ; yet as a 
matter of fact, it is hard to speak calmly of the magni- 
tude and purity of Jewish ethical literature. To attempt 
adequately to characterise it lays one open to the charge 
of prejudiced exaggeration. Our ethical literature belongs 
to no one period. In some branches of Jewish literature 
there are unhappily, in the ages following the close of the 
Talmud, wide chasms hewn out by the constraining 
hand of circumstance. Often the wedge was forged from 
within, often in an external workshop. There have been 
comparatively long periods during which the Jews pro- 
duced neither poets nor philosophers, neither imaginative 
writers nor historians; long and dark periods, during 
which the light of science was obscured, and the refine- 
ments of literary style and culture obliterated or ignored. 
These gaps are inexpressibly sad, but they would have 
been sadder still in their practical effects, but that they 
were all bridged over by a broad and solid structure 
against which the friction of internal faction and the 
stress of external storm were equally powerless. There is 
hardly any " local colouring " in the arches of this ethical 
bridge, there is absolutely no variation in its high 
moral level. Whether the particular moralist be philo- 
sopher or " Stock - Talmudist," whether he hail from 
a country in which the Jew was persecuted, or from one in 
which he was free ; whether he wrote at a time of general 
enlightenment or at a period of wide ignorance ; whether 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 445 

the inspiring fount of his thought were Aristotle or Hegel, 
though the details will reflect differences in environment, 
though the style of expression varies with prevailing taste, 
though the abstract conception of Judaism often changes, 
yet the Jewish code of morality is without variation, 
and the noblest ideals form that code. In all the ethical 
testaments that I have read I do not recollect to have come 
across a sordid thought or hateful sentiment; intellectually, 
even religiously, some are low, morally all are high. In 
these confidential pronouncements may, I think, be sought 
and found a most effective theoretical vindication of the 
Jewish character. The conventional idea of the Jew receives 
a severe blow from the perusal of these pure utterances. 
This point is well illustrated by what may be termed the 
burlesque testaments, two or three of which may here be 
alluded to. In 1703 was printed a will supposed to emanate 
from Haman. He bids his children to abstain from giving 
charity as it is not profitable, and to avoid robbing the 
poor because they possess nothing worth stealing. Canaan, 
the son of Ham, who is himself the type of unfilial 
irreverence, is again brought on the stage in the Talmud 
as the spokesman of equally detestable thoughts. " Five 
things Canaan ordered his sons : Love one another; love 
robbery; love deceit; hate your masters; never speak the 
truth." 1 Revenge, as in the Hamiliar legend, is the motive 
of the testament of Amalek's ancestress. " The cause of 
the hatred of Amalek was the outcome of the commands 
of Timna, sister of Lotan, to her offspring. She was 
anxious to marry one of the seed of Abraham, but none 
would accept her. She accordingly became the concubine 
of Eliphaz, son of Esau (who was of Abraham's race), and 
bare Amalek. She told him all that had occurred, and 
directed him with a binding oath to retain this hatred for 
Israel eternally." 2 Thus, both positively and negatively, 



1 Pesachim, 113 a. 

2 An otherwise unknown Midrash in the "NOT) "VH¥ 75 !>. 



446 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the Jewish ethical testaments can be subjected to the most 
minute moral tests. As I have mentioned burlesque testa- 
ments, it may be interesting if I allude to the Hebrew will 
in which Aristotle announces to his pupil, Alexander the 
Great, a complete revolution in his opinions. He is dying, 
he writes, and before the letter reaches its destination the 
author will be no more. Let Alexander destroy all his 
(Aristotle's) works, and be no longer led astray by false ideas. 
" If it lay in my power I would collect all my writings and 
destroy them, for God has opened my eyes, and I now see 
that the Law of Moses is the only truth " {Chain of Tra- 
dition, 83). Perhaps this may be paralleled by the closing 
words of Chaucer's Parson's Tale, in which the poet 
professes to recant his "worldly vanities," by which he 
probably meant the Troilus. Maimonides too was credited 
with a similar recantation of his philosophy. The tendency 
in every age is to make the views of great authorities 
square with current popular views, and if that be an 
impossible reconciliation, so much the worse for the great 
authorities. 

The earliest extant ethical will, written as an independent 
document, is that composed about 1050 by Eleazar ben 
Isaac of "Worms, commonly known as Eleazar the Great. 1 
The eleventh and twelfth centuries supply few ex- 
amples, but from the thirteenth century onwards there 
is no dearth of mNY)2. It is possible that the renewed 
popularity of these testaments among Jews may have been 
due to Mohammedan influence. The Arabs held ethical 
wills (included under the general designation Wasaya) in 
such high esteem, that some were falsely ascribed by them 
to revered sages, like Lokman, and even to the foremost 
Greek philosophers. 2 A similar process, that of wrongly 

1 An interesting article on the subject of Ethical Wills was published 
by Dr. Neubauer, in the Jewish Chronicle, December 4th, 1885. Some 
striking contrasts between this testament of Eleazar and a Christian 
poem of the 13th century are to be found in Giidemann's Cultur, etc., 1880, 
page 121. 

2 See Steinschneider (Preface to Testament of Ibn, Tibbon), and 
D'Herbelot (Bill. Orient., sub voce Vassaia.) 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 447 

placing the names of the patriarchs at the head of wills 
grew tip among the Jews, and thus we find a pseud- 
epigraphic testament of Naphtali, 1 as well as the Christian 
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The view that 
Mohammedan impulse aided in popularising the ethical 
will among mediaeval Jewish writers is supported by the 
fact that among the first to resume the fashion were Jewish 
philosophers of the Spanish school, who had intimate 
relations with Mohammedan civilisation. Among Christians 
on the other hand I find no clear indication that the 
fashion ever became popular. 2 Still the clergy often 
from their death-beds gave parting precepts to their 
brethren. From the earliest instances I may cite the 
case of Bishop Egwin, who, "before his exit, called together 
his monks and other disciples, and having exhorted them 
to perseverance in the way of truth and perfection, and to 
despise the transitory felicity of this world," died in 717. 
Abbot Gildas, immediately before his demise, for seven 
days gave moral and religious exhortations to his disciples 
and the death of Joachim de Flore was preceded by a 
similar function in the little convent of San Martino. In 
the preambles of many Christian wills — in England the 
custom, I believe, became less general in the eighteenth 
century — may be found declarations of faith, charitable 
bequests, legacies to provide poor maidens with marriage 
dowries, and directions as to burial, such as frequently 
occur in Jewish ethical testaments. 

But I have advisedly spoken of the resumption by Jews 
of the fashion in the 'eleventh century, for the earlier 
Jewish literature proves that from an ancient date the 
ethical will was a well-established institution amonsr 
the Hebrews. The Bible contains many such counsels. 

1 This, as Dr. Berliner informs me, is now published in the Jerusalem 
edition of the nfo»n. 

2 Poems, however, containing rules of morals and of etiquette were 
current. See e.g. Dr. Furnivall's interesting Babees Booh and Dr. 
Biilbring's introduction to Defoe's English Gentleman. 

VOL. III. F F 



448 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Prominently among these may be mentioned the blessings 
of Jacob, the dying requests of Joseph to his brethren, the 
addresses of Moses to the people of Israel, the advice of 
David to his son Solomon, the restriction laid by Jonadab, 
the son of Rechab, upon his children against the use 
of wine, and his exhortation to dwell in tents, and the 
injunction of the prophet of Bethel on his sons : " When 
I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man 
of God is buried ; lay my bones beside his bones " (1 Kings 
xiii. 31). In several of these passages the verb used is some 
form of ni2 (lit. " to command"), and in later times there 
has been a tendency to interpret the verb in a restricted 
sense, so that m2, comes to mean " to give a nsns," i.e., 
to leave an ethical will. When Isaiah prophesies the death 
of Hezekiah, he bids him "jrpab 12, and the meaning may be, 
" Give your household directions for their conduct after 
your death." There can be little doubt that this is the 
signification of Deut. xxxii. 46, when Moses says, "Set 
your heart upon all the words which I testify unto you 
this day, which ye shall command your children." Even 
more striking in this connection is a passage in Genesis 
(xviii. 19), where God says of Abraham, " For I have 
known him in order that he may command his children 
and his household after him that they may keep the way 
of the Lord." The latter text, in particular, has been made 
the basis of an actual rubric, to be found in modern Jewish 
codes, enjoining on every father, as a bounden duty, to 
leave moral exhortations for his children's guidance. This 
feeling is well brought out in the following Midrash : 
"Jacob felt that his end was near, and besought the 
divine mercy ; ' Ruler of the world !' he prayed, 'take not 
my soul until I have exhorted my children.' And his wish 
was granted." 1 

1 "I came very near dying suddenly in the bath, and I was with 
difficulty revived and rescued fromt he sad fate of passing away without 

nNllX or confession." (Joel Shamariah.) " Love to one's children is 
shown by leaving them a testament," says the Orchath Zadikim. Cf. 
Ma'bar Yaboh, Oh. viii. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 449 

The Apocrypha still further develops the ethical testa- 
ment. The dying address of Mattathias to his five sons, 
recorded in the First Book of the Maccabees, introduces no 
new features ; but another book of the Apocrypha deserves 
more attention, viz., that containing the story of Tobit. 
The fourth chapter of that book is in itself a complete and 
beautiful ethical will. Here the nNT)2 has reached its 
highest development, and, unless I am gravely mistaken, 
Tobit's directions to his son, who is about to leave him in 
search of fortune and of a wife, have inspired the writers of 
many a later testament. Thus, besides being intrinsically 
one of the noblest in Jewish literature, the fourth chapter 
of Tobit is in truth the earliest specimen of the Jewish 
ethical testament, if by that term be understood the 
elaborate form which post-Talmudic authors have so suc- 
cessfully cultivated. 

The death-scenes in the Talmud, in the course of which 
many fine ethical precepts occur, are too numerous for me to 
quote them all at length. Rabbi Akiba laid upon his son 
seven injunctions, which are a fair summary of practical 
wisdom •} — "Dwell not in the highest part of the town to 
study Torah. Dwell not in a place whose governors are 
scholars. Do not return home unexpectedly, and much less 
should you pay sudden visits to your friends. Go not 
about with bare feet. Rise early and eat — in the summer 
because of the heat, in winter because of the cold. Make 
your Sabbath as a week-day (in respect of food), rather 
than accept help from others. Exert yourself together 
with him on whom the hour smiles." The same Rabbi also 
laid five injunctions on R. Simon ben Yochai, when con- 
fined in prison : — " Teach me Torah, my master," said he to 
Akiba. " Nay," he replied. "If you do not," said Simon, 
" I will tell my father, and he will denounce you to the 
Government." " My son," said Akiba, " more ardently than 
the calf desires to suck, the heifer desires to suckle it." 

1 Pesacliim, 112. 
F F 2 



450 The Jeicish Quarterly Review. 

" Then," cried Simon, " who is it that is in danger ? Is it 
not the calf ?" And Akiba acceded to his request. Rabbi 
when about to die, called for his sons and for the wise 
men of Israel, and bade the latter not to mourn for him too 
long. Akabya ben Mahalalel differed from contemporary 
authorities in four points of law, and, despite offers of 
honour and position, refused to abandon his views. After 
his death a stone was placed on his coffin to mark the ban 
under which he had lived. On his death-bed he summoned 
his son, and said : — " My son, follow the majority in those 
four points." " But, my father, why did you yourself not 
do so ? " " Because I derived my opinions from many 
authorities, and, therefore, maintained my tradition just as 
my opponents did. You, however, have only the solitary 
view of your father to guide you ; hence you must discard 
it, and adopt the decision of the majority." " My father, 
speak on my behalf to thy comrades." " No, my son ! I 
will not plead for you. Your own acts must bring you 
whether honour or disgrace." 1 Eleazar ben Azariah was 
visited by Akiba and other Rabbis near his death. He 
discoursed on matters of the Law, prophesied Akiba's fate, 
and, pronouncing on a legal point the verdict, " Pure," " his 
soul departed in purity." 2 In old age many a Rabbi was 
asked to give some reasonable explanation of his longevity. 
All offer moral or religious explanations. " I never slept in 
the house of learning." " I never laughed at a companion's 
mishap." " I never used nicknames." " Never did I seek 
honour at the cost of another's disgrace." " I never lay 
down to rest while an angry word had been left unpar- 

1 Uduyoth, v. 7. A later parallel is related of Isaac Albalia, who, when 
near his end, ordered his young son, Barueh, to betake himself to Isaac 
Alfasi, with whom he had differed. " Ask him to bury our quarrel, and 
to teach thee. I know that he will accept the charge." The father's 
confidence was well placed, for Alfasi received his opponent's son with 
cordiality. (Juehasin, ed. Philipowski, 214, and fl?3pn "ED of Abraham 
ben David, ed. Neubauer, p. 77.) 

2 Sanlieclrin, 68a. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 451 

doner!" 1 Said R. Joshua ben Levi to his sons, " Be very 
careful to show respect to an old man who from stress (of 
age or trouble) has forgotten his learning." 2 

As I have previously remarked, the earliest ethical testa- 
ment after the close of the Talmud is the eleventh-century 
work of Eleazar ben Isaac, of Worms, and, appropriately 
enough, it borrows largely from the sayings of the Rabbis. 
Some of the less familiar of his precepts are here cited : — 

" Think not of evil ; for evil-thinking leads to evil-doing. . . . 
Take particular heed of cleanliness. Purify thy body, the dwelling- 
place of thy soul. . . . Do not talk in the college during the 
lecture, but listen to the words of the wise. Despise no man ; for 
many pearls may be found in a poor man's cloak. ... Be zealous 
in visiting the sick, for sympathy will lighten his sickness ; but stay 
not too long, for his malady is heavy enough without thee. Enter 
cheerfully, and speak cheerfully. ... Be ever ready to follow 
the dead to the grave. For him who does a kindness for nothing 
God shows unrequited favours. . . . Relieve the poor secretly, 
not openly ; feed them at thy table, but do not watch them while 
they eat. . . . My son, prepare for thine own journey, and light 
the lamp to show thee the way. Leave it not to those who come 
after thee ; perhaps they will be unable. ... Be not too much 
dreaded in thine own house, for this is the cause of many evils. . . . 
Talk not during the meal, not even words of Torah. . . . Do not 
reveal thy secrets to thy wife. ... Be faithful to every one. 
. . . Eat herbs rather than beg ; beg only of God. . . . Put 
thy sins in one scale and thy penitence in another : they will balance. 
Add confession and prayer, and they will turn the balance in thy favour. 
. . . Sleep not with the light of the moon on thy face, especially 
when the moon is new. . . . Give of all thy food a portion to 
God. Let God's portion be the best, and give it to the poor. 1 ' 

If it be genuine, the testament of Maimonides to his son 
Abraham comes next in chronological sequence. The latter 

1 Mcgilla 20-7. Dr. Lerner kindly suggested this application of the 
passage. Of. also Kethuboth WSa, B. Bathra 147, D^Om nSD Chs. 20 
and 22. T. Jer. Kilaim, 14. Many interesting statements bearing on the 
last moments of different Rabbis occur in the Aboth de Rabbi Nathan. 
See Chs. xiv\, xviii. xix. (end), xxv., Additions to ed. Schechter, pp. 158 
and D. 

8 Beraohoth 8b. Very interesting is JBerachoth 28b. 



452 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

portion of this composition looks very much like a spurious 
attempt to account for the fact that Maimonides makes 
little or no reference to Rashi and the French school in his 
works. It consists of a strong denunciation of this school, 
and recommends that exclusive attention be devoted to the 
commentaries of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides ; but the earlier 
section of the testament is less unworthy of the great 
philosopher, and accordingly I offer a few extracts from 
it :— 

Fear the Lord but love him also ; for fear only restrains a man 
from sin, while love stimulates him to good. . . . Accustom 
yourselves to habitual goodness, for a man's character is what habit 
makes it. . . . The perfection of the body is a necessary ante- 
cedent to the perfection of the soul, for health is the key that 
unlocks the inner chamber. "When I bid you attend to your 
bodily and moral welfare, my object is to open for you the gates of 
heaven. . . . Measure your words, for the more your words the 
more your errors. Ask for explanations of what you do not under- 
stand, but let it be done at a fitting moment and in fitting language. 
. . . Speak in refined language, with clear utterance and gentle 
voice. Speak aptly to the subject as one who wishes to learn and to 
find the truth, not as one whose aim is to quarrel and to conquer. 
. . . Learn in your youth, when your food is prepared by others, 
while heart is still free and unencumbered with cares, ere the memory 
is weakened. For the time will come when you will be willing to 
learn but will be unable. Even if you be able, you will labour much 
for little result ; for your heart will lag behind your lips and when it 
does keep pace, it will soon forget. ... If you find in the Law 
or the Prophets or the Sages a hard saying which you cannot under- 
stand, which appears subversive of some principle of the religion, or 
altogether absurd, stand fast by your faith and attribute the fault to 
your own want of intelligence. Despise not your religion because 
you are unable to understand one difficult matter. . . . Love 
truth and uprightness — the ornaments of the soul — and cleave to 
them ; prosperity so obtained is built on a sure rock. Keep firmly 
to your word ; let not a legal contract or witnesses be more binding 
than your verbal promise even privately made. Disdain reservations 
and subterfuges, sharp practices and evasions. Woe to him who 
builds his house thereon ! . . . Bring near those that are far 
off, humble yourselves to the lowly and show them the light of your 
countenance. In your joys make the desolate share, but put no one 
to the blush by your gifts. ... I have seen the white become 



Jewish Ethical Wilk. 453 

black, the low brought still lower, families driven into exile, princes 
deposed from their high estate, cities ruined, assemblies dispersed, 
the pious humiliated, the honourable held lightly and despised — 
all on account of quarrelsomeness. Glory in forbearance, for in that 
is true strength and victory. . . Speech, which distinguishes man 
from beasts, was a loving gift which man uses best in thinking, and 
thanking and praising God. Ungrateful would we be to return evil 
for good and to utter slanders or falsehoods. . . Eat not 
excessively nor ravenously. Work before you eat and rest after- 
wards. From a man's behaviour at a public meal you can discern 
his character. Often have I returned hungry and thirsty to my 
house, because I was afraid when I saw the disgraceful conduct of 
those around me. . . The total abstinence from wine is good, 
but I will not lay this on you as an injunction. Yet break wine's 
power with water, and drink it for nourishment, not for mere enjoy- 
ment. ... At gambling the player always loses. If he indeed 
wins money, he is weaving a spider's web round himself. . . . 
Dress as well as your means will allow, but spend on your food less 
than you can afford. . . Honour your wives, for they are your 
honour. "Withhold not discipline from them, and let them not 
rule over you. 

Judah Ibn Tibbon, the father of Jewish translators, adopts 
in his last injunctions to his son a tone of affectionate 
querulousness. A father is not always the best teacher of 
his children ; his very love may make him unjust and even 
cruel. He expects so much, he is so nervously anxious ; 
and his impatience contrasts unfavourably with that of a 
more indulgent because less interested instructor. Judah 
does not go so far as this, but his intense love for his son 
probably accounts for his peevishness without necessarily 
justifying it. Sobieski was asked in extremity to make a 
will but he laughed the suggestion to scorn. "The mis- 
fortune of royalty," said the King, "is, that we are not 
obeyed while we are alive ; can it be expected then that 
we should be obeyed after we are dead ? " Ibn Tibbon 
justified his testamentary injunctions from the very reverse 
argument. "Though thou didst not follow me when I 
was near, obey me when I am far from thee." He 
then proceeds to give a series of counsels well deserving 
of reproduction in full; but a few specimen passages 



454 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

must suffice. The first of my quotations is worthy of 
Ruskin. 

Avoid bad society, make thy books thy companions, let thy book- 
cases and shelves be thy gardens and pleasure-grounds. Pluck the 
fruit that grows therein, gather tbe roses, the spices and the myrrh. 
If thy soul be satiate and weary, change from garden to garden, from 
furrow to furrow, from sight to sight. Then will thy desire renew 
itself and thy soul be satisfied with delight. . . In all that thou 
dost, take counsel with a friend on whose affection and prudence thou 
canst rely. . . Contend not with men, and meddle not in a 
quarrel that is not thine . . Let not the greatest prospect of 
gain blind thee to danger ; be not as the bird that sees the grains but 
not the net. . . Read every week the Sabbath portion in Arabic 
to become familiar with Arabic terms. . . Honour thyself, thy 
household and thy children, by providing proper clothing as far as 
thy means allow, for it is unbecoming in a man, when he is not at 
work, to go shabbily dressed. Withhold from thy belly, and put it 
on thy back. ... At thy wedding, thou wast honoured for my 
sake ; endeavour henceforth to merit honour for thine own. . . . 
Thou mayst accept fees from the rich, but heal the poor gratuitously. 
Examine thy drugs and medicinal herbs regularly once a week, and do 
not apply a remedy which thou hast not thoroughly tested. . . If 
thou writest aught, revise it afterwards, for slips creep in, even 
into a short letter. Be careful as to grammatical accuracy in the 
conjugations and genders, for a man's mistakes are ever quoted against 
him. Endeavour to cultivate a concise and elegant style ; attempt no 
rhymes, unless your versification is perfect. Use no unusual con- 
structions or foreign words. Improve thy handwriting, for beauty 
of handwriting, the excellence of pen, paper and ink are an index of 
the writer's worth. Thou hast seen books in my handwriting and 
knowest how the son of R. Jacob thy master expressed his admira- 
tion in thy presence. ... Be careful in thy diet. It is a disgrace 
for a physician to suffer himself from intemperance. Shall a man 
be able to cure others and not be able to heal himself? All 
thy sickness has been due to eating unwholesome food. Jonadab 
restrained his sons from many pleasures ; I only forbid thee what is 
injurious. . . . Honour thy wife, for she is intelligent and 
modest. She is an excellent housewife and no spendthrift. If thou 
hast to give an order or utter reproof let thy words be gently 
spoken. . . Be not indifferent to any ailment that comes upon 
thee or thy children ; do not say that it is a trifle ; but apply imme- 
diate remedies. . . Take particular care of thy books ; cover 
thy shelves with a fine covering, guard them against damp and mice. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 455 

Have a complete list of them written out, and examine thy Hebrew 
books once a month, thy Arabic books every two months and bound 
volumes ouce a quarter. If a book is lent to any one make a memoran- 
dum of it before it leaves thy house, and when it is returned cancel the 
entry. Every Passover and Tabernacles call in all books out on loan 
. Enquire after thy sisters in all thy letters and send thy love 
to them. Read this testament once a day, morning or evening. Take 
no note of anything that men may say against me, but be silent. 

Ibn Tibbon's testament, written about 1190, concludes 
with a long poetical summary in which chief prominence is 
given to ethical and religious rules of conduct. Samue , 
let it be added, gained considerable reputation as a trans- 
lator, but neither he nor his father was exactly famous for 
litei'ary style. Maimonides, it is true, spoke well of both, 
yet one can hardly help regretting that the creation of a 
Hebrew philosophic terminology was not undertaken by 
the great master himself. 

Moses ben Nachman's testament, which is in the form of 
a letter to his son, belongs to the middle of the thirteenth 
century. It was not intended exclusively for private use, 
and, moreover, its brevity has tended to popularise it. But 
it well deserves its position in the regard of its readers for 
its unaffeeted, if exaggerated, eulogy of humility. Unlike 
Ibn Tibbon, Nachmanides was content to enjoin on his son 
the duty of perusing the letter once every week. 

Accustom yourself to speak gently to all men at all times, and 
thus you will avoid anger, which leads to so much sin. . . . 
Humility is the first of virtues ; for if you think how lowly is man, 
how great is God, you will fear him and avoid sinfulness. On the 
humble man rests the divine glory ; the man that is haughty to others 
denies God. Look not boldly at one whom you address. . . . 
Regard every one as greater than thyself. . . . Remember always 
that you stand before God, both when you pray and when you con- 
verse with others. . . . Think before you speak. . . . Act as 
I have bidden you, and your words, and deeds, and thoughts, will be 
honest, and your prayers pure and acceptable before God. 

The fourteenth century presents us with several impor- 
tant testaments, one of which is here published in the 
original Hebrew for the first time. The Asheri family, in 



456 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the older members of which filial affection seems to have 
been strong, provide three of these ethical wills. The Ways 
of Life, by Asher ben Yechiel, the famous Posek father of 
famous Posekim, has this especial interest, that it displays 
in one and the same man a whole-hearted devotion to the 
legal side of Judaism concurrently with a full appreciation 
of the importance of its ethical teachings. Asheri was not 
the only Jew who was at once lawyer and moralist. A 
son of Germany, he transplanted his country with him to 
Spain, but though an involuntary exile, his tribulation 
bears far from bitter fruit in his testament. The lesson of 
humility and self -surrender which Nachmanides and Asheri 
inculcate, was being taught at this period by a sterner 
teacher than they, viz., deadly persecution. Yet Eleazar 
ben Samuel, whose testament will shortly be given in full, 
a man who lived and died in the very thick of the dire 
persecutions that followed the Black Death, utters no word 
of anger against the persecutors, but counsels his children 
to deal with Jew and non-Jew alike in a spirit of honesty 
and friendliness. 

Asheri 's testament consists of 132 maxims, which in 
some editions are arranged in daily and weekly portions. 
It contains a summary of ethics, and, therefore, quotation 
must be unsatisfactory. 

Avoid with utmost rigour pride, hypocrisy, falsehood, mockery, 
slander and anger. . . . Do not perform the law because of the 
reward, nor avoid sin because of the punishment, but serve God from 
love. . . Sleep not overmuch, but rise with the birds. . . Rejoice 
not excessively, for remember how frail your life is. . . . 
Look not at him who is richer, but at him who is poorer ; look not at 
him who is less wise, but at him who is wiser and better than you. 
. . . Be not hasty to reply to offensive utterances ; raise not 
your hand against another even if he curse your father and mother in 
your presence. . . . Give no cause for resentment to a non-Jew, 
for there is none of them who has not his hour, and their wrath lasts 
for ever. . . . Associate not with an evil man, a sinner, a man of 
passionate temper, or a fool, lest disgrace come also upon thee. . . . 
Do not in secret what you would be ashamed to do in public, and 
say not, Who will see me ? Work to gain your livelihood ; trust 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 457 

to the help of no man. Trust not in your wealth, for wealth 
raises envious enemies. Be not unkind or disrespectful to 
your wife ; if you put her off from you with your left hand, 
draw her to you again, with your right hand forthwith. . . . 
Utter naught but the truth ; be faithful to all men, even to non- 
Jews. 

The testament of Asheri's son Judah, written like some 
of the others in rhymed prose, is an important historical 
document, which, given to the world by Mr. Schechter, has 
already been turned to account by Giidemann, and probably 
by others. Yet, as its value is rather historical than 
ethical, I must refrain, however reluctantly, from citing 
lengthy extracts from this very remarkable piece of auto- 
biography. He exhorts his sons, not because they are 
worse than their contemporaries, but because he would have 
them like those of former generations. "Better is open 
rebuke than silent love." He tells how in infancy he 
suffered from a disease of the eye, and was nearly healed 
by a Jewish woman who rescued him from total blindness, 
but died before the cure was fully effected. Driven by 
persecution to Toledo, his father became Rabbi there, and 
Judah succeeded to the office twenty-three years later. 
When in doubt as to accepting the post, he opened the 
Scriptures at 1 Chron. xvii. 2, and followed the favourable 
omen. 

My parents, by reason of the weakness of my eyes, left me to do 
my will ; they never chastised or rebuked me. How, then, shall I 
rebuke others? ... I cannot sternly address my children to 
their face, lest I make them blush, but my heart impels me to 
write this letter for them to read once a month. . . . Why do 
you not walk in the ways of your fathers ? why is the fear of God 
not constantly before your eyes. . . You mix with unfit com- 
panions, you do not honour your parents. . . "What have I left 
undone that a father could do ? You have been fed and tended ; you 
have many books, and all my thoughts were for you. . . You 
were not brought into the world to eat and drink, and to dress in fine 
clothes. . . Head aloud passages from ethical books regularly, 
but with the intention of practising what you read. . . Never 
utter a falsehood. There was a man in our family (Eliakim) who 



458 The Jewish Quarterly Reviea: 

was always held up as a model for truth. . . Play no games 
for money, for gambling is robbery. . . Avoid scandal, for it 
leads to many sins. Most men are scandal-mongers. Neither praise 
overmuch, for that invites depreciatory retorts. 1 . . Eschew 
pride. A sage was asked, Why do you invariably show respect to all 
men ? He replied, In every one I recognise some quality higher than 
mine. If he is old, I say he has done more good than I ; if richer, he 
has done more charity ; if he be younger than I, he has sinned less, 
if poorer, he has suffered more ; if he be wise I honour him for his 
wisdom, if he be not wise, then I am the more culpable if I act 
wrongly. . . . Let jour children marry within our family. The 
women of our family are accustomed to the ways of scholar?, and 
help them to prosecute their studies. They have no luxurious tastes, 
and do not worry their husbands with extravagant expenditure, and 
children mostly resemble their mothers. . . . My father intro- 
duced in Germany the custom of giving an exact tithe for the poor, 
and in Toledo he and his children entered into a formal compact to 
continue the practice. ... I am very sorry to take a salary from 
the congregation ; I would do without it if I could, but if God be 
with me, and I can repay the debts incurred through the failure of 
my partners in business, I may afterwards live without salary, or with 
only a very little, and the rest might be devoted to educational and 
religious objects. This would be better than allowing the congrega- 
tion not to pay me at all, for I should better use the money in this 
way than they. 

The testament of his brother, Jacob Asheri, is shorter and 
less interesting. He repeats some of his brother's counsels. 
Like his father, he bids his children avoid excessive talk ; 
strangely enough he forbids the casting of lots, though Judah 
Asheri, as we have just seen, himself performed an act, 
" if not of divination, yet as a sign." " Do not," says 
Jacob Asheri, " indulge in bodily pleasures except to the 
extent necessary for keeping yourselves healthy for the 
service of God." It is strange to find the author of the 
Turim counselling his sons not to go in for needless discus- 
sion of legal difficulties. It should have been stated above 
that both these testaments belong to the first half of the 

1 " Too much magnifying of men or matter doth irritate contradiction, 
and procure envy and scorn." (Bacon on Praise), 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 459 

fourteenth century. Asheri and both his sons seem to 
have died within a period of twenty years (1327-1349). 

The circumstances under which the testament of Joseph 
Ibn Caspi was written in Elul, 1332, have already been 
alluded to. Ibn Caspi stands at the opposite pole to the 
Asheri family ; to him philosophy was everything, while 
they were proudly indifferent to it. Ibn Caspi's testament 
is controversial, but only in the sense that the presentation 
of a view warmly upheld by some and violently disliked 
by others necessarily deals with polemics. Ibn Caspi 
writes in no bigoted spirit; it would have been a poor 
recommendation of philosophy to a young and eager mind 
had the father, himself a distinguished advocate of intel- 
lectual culture, betrayed narrowness, or written in a 
vindictive spirit. He was too securely in the right not to 
treat with indulgence views he held to be wrong. To 
those who argued that the end of life was the performance 
of the " commandments " Ibn Caspi here replies : " True, 
but then to acquire philosophical insight is the first of these 
commandments." It was a narrowing of Judaism to make 
Aristotle's works in Maimonised form the only road to it, 
and Ibn Caspi's testament inevitably would restrict the 
number of those who could serve God with truth, for the 
ordinary mortal is not a philosopher. But he never meant 
to assert a " categorical imperative." He merely claimed 
for himself the right to obey the law because his reason 
justified his faith, while he left to others the right to serve 
God without a philosophical basis for their faithfulness. 
Not to believe, but to rationally know that God is, that he 
is one, to love him and to fear him, are the fundamental 
principles of Judaism. What, then, becomes of the rest of 
the laws ? All must be kept, for " you cannot observe these 
four truly without observing all the other laws of God." 
The ceremonies are profitable both in themselves and for 
their relation to the fundamental principles. The practical 
precepts enable man's intellect to assert itself, and aid him to 
know God. He counsels his son to read the halachie works 



460 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

of the codifiers Maimonides and Alfasi, but does not attach 
much importance to familiarity with abstruse points of 
Rabbinical law. It is no intellectual or spiritual deficiency 
to be ignorant of these technical points, or of the law- 
regulating disputes in which one is never involved. Alto- 
gether he writes with a lucidity not always associated with 
metaphysics, and with a freedom which proves that he was 
writing for no unfriendly eyes. 

How can I know God, and that he is one, unless I know what 
knowing means, and what constitutes unity ? Why should the«e 
things be left to non-Jewish philosophers? Why should Aristotle 
retain sole possession of treasures that he stole from Solomon ? l 
. . . No one really knows the true meaning of loving God and 
fearing him, unless he is acquainted with natural science and meta- 
physics, for we love not God as a man loves his wife and children, 
nor fear him as we would a mighty man. I do not say that all men 
can reach this intellectual height, but I maintain that it is the degree 
of highest excellence, though those who stand below it may still be 
good. Try thou, my son, to attain this degree ; yet be not hasty in 
commencing metaphysical studies, . . and constantly read moral 
books. . . When you are twenty marry a wife of good family, 
beautiful in body and character. Look not for a wealthy dowry, as 
money is only the means to obtain bread to eat and garments to wear. 
. . . My son, keep from those sciolists to whom philosophy is the 
handmaid of scoffing. You will prove yourself the better philosopher 
the more you study the Torah. . . I will confess to you, my 
son, that though in my youth I learnt a great portion of the Talmud. 
I did not acquire a knowledge of all the poseMm, and now that I am 
old I have often to consult, in the matter of ritual law, Rabbis 
younger than I am. Why should I be ashamed of this ? Can one 
man be skilled in every work ? If I want a golden bowl I go to a 
goldsmith, and do not blush that he is better able to make it than 
T am. Once I had guests and a family party, when the luckless hand- 
maiden put a butter spoon into the meat dish. As I knew not the ritual 
law, hungry and thirsty I went impatiently to the Eabbi. He was 
seated at his meal eating and drinking wine with his wife and children. 
I waited at his door until the shades of evening fell, and my soul was 
near to leave me. He told me the law and I returned home, where 
my guests and the poor were waiting for me. I related what had 
occurred, for I did not conceal that I am unskilled in law, though I 

1 See Mind, July, 1888, and Graetz's Monatssehrift, 1860. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 461 

have skill in other branches. Is not the faculty of expounding the 
knowledge and unity of God of as great weight as familiarity with 
the law concerning a small butter spoon ? I say nothing against 
those who devote themselves to these halachic matters, but what have 
the four " commandments of the heart " done that they should be 
depreciated, or even tabooed ? . . . I am asking you to adopt 
many views that you cannot yet understand. Believe me for the 
present; in time you will appreciate the reasons for things. Let us 
make a pledge together. You do all that I bid you, and I undertake 
that you will enjoy an angelic existence in the world to come. The 
end of all is, Fear God and keep his commandments, but understand 
that the latter include not merely practical but also intellectual 
duties. 

A quarter of the century after the above was written 
there died at Mayence Eleazar the Levite, on the first day 
of the New Year festival. He was buried on the following- 
day, viz., the 2nd of Tishri, 1357. There are several reasons 
why I proceed to give a full translation of Eleazar 's testa- 
ment. It is far more representative of its class than any of 
those from which I have previously quoted. It will give 
the reader, who may be unfamiliar with the general 
character of these testaments, a fair impression of the 
ordinary Jewish ethical will. Eleazar was no great Rabbi, 
he was a Chazan, and evidently as simple as he was a pure- 
minded man. Most of the later testaments are variations 
on one and the same theme, and this of Eleazar, just 
because of its lack of brilliance or originality, and because 
it is merely an ordinary specimen of the whole class, may 
best serve as a type of them all. 1 

These are the things which my sons and daughters shall do at my 
request. They shall go to the house of prayer morning and evening ; 
they must be careful in the Tephillah and the Shema. Immediately 
after the conclusion of the prayers they shall occupy themselves a 
little with the law, the Psalms, or with deeds of charity. Their 
business must be conducted honestly, their dealings must be straight- 

1 Dr. Berliner has an interesting article on this testament in the 
Jiklisclw Presse, 1870, p. 90, etc. My translation was made from a dif- 
ferent MS., viz., that contained in the Bodleian Library. Dr. Berliner 
supplies some valuable references in his article. 



462 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

forward with Jews or non-Jews. They must be gentle, and prompt 
to accede to every honourable request that is made of them. They 
must not talk more than is necessary, and they will thus avoid slander 
and scoffing. They shall give in charity an exact tithe of their pro- 
perty, and shall never turn away a poor man empty-handed, but they 
shall give him what they can, be it much or little. If he asks for a 
lodging over night and they know him not, they shall supply him with 
money that he pay an inn-keeper. Thus shall they satisfy the 
demands of the poor in every way that is possible. 

My daughters must respect their husbands exceedingly, and they 
must be always amiable to them ; husbands must honour their wives 
more than themselves. 

If they can by any means contrive it, let them live in communities 
and not in isolation from other Jews, so that my sons and daughters 
may learn Judaism. Even if compelled to beg for the money to pay 
a teacher, do not let the young go without this instruction. Marry 
your children, not too old, to members of respectable families ; let not 
my sons hunt after money by making a low match for that object ; 
but if the family is of low origin only on the side of the mother it 
does not matter, because Jews always count their descent from the 
father's side. Let them be careful early on every Friday to prepare 
everything before the Sabbath begins, while the day is still great, and 
in winter they shall light the fire before it be dark, in order not to 
profane the Sabbath. The women must prepare nice candles in honour 
of the Sabbath. . . As to gambling games, I earnestly entreat my 
children never to play at them, except on Festivals, and the women 
on new moons, but without money. 1 My daughters ought not to laugh 
and speak much with strangers, nor to dance. They ought always to 
be at home, and not be gadding about. They must not stand at the 
door (to see what their neighbours are doing). Most strongly I beg, 
most strictly I command, that the daughters of my house be not, God 
forbid, without work to do, for idleness leads to sin, but they must 
spin, or cook, or sew. 

I earnestly beg my children 2 to be tolerant and humble to every man, 
as I was all my life. They must quarrel with none, but seek peace 
With all their might. Even if they lose money thereby, they must 
bear their loss and forgive, for God has many ways to sustain men. 
If any one slanders you do not retaliate by counter-offence, but excuse 
your calumniators and ask people to be silent about it, and you 

1 The MS. is here defective. 

2 Dr. Berliner's MS. refers this only to the daughters; the Bodl. MS. 
reads " "33." 



Jeivish Ethical Wills. 463 

yourselves set the example of reticence. Be upright in business 
affairs, and be not avaricious after other people's wealth. 

Now, my sons and daughters, eat and drink only as much as neces- 
sary, as our good parents did, who ate moderately. The regular 
adoption of this course leads to habits of temperance. Be content 
and happy in your lot. Eat no large and expensive dinners. Our 
teachers have said, " Method in expenditure is half the cost." But 
accustom yourselves and wives, your sons and daughters always to 
wear nice and clean clothes, that God and men may love and honour 
you. Spend a little more than you can afford in this way, but you 
must not adopt non-Jewish fashions of dress. Never change the 
fashions of your fathers in your attire, and let your cloaks be broad 
without a buckle attached. Accustom yourselves to speak without 
making vows ' or swearing to the truth of your assertions, for the 
breach of vows leads to many ills. Do not say "Gott" unneces- 
sarily, but speak always of the " Creator, blessed be He," and never 
promise anything without the proviso, ''if God wills." Thank God 
for everything. ... Be not as dumb cattle that utter no word of 
gratitude, but thank God for his bounties at the time they occur, 
and in your prayers let the memory of these personal favours warm 
your hearts and prompt to especial fervour during the utterance of 
the communal thanks. When words of gratitude occur in the liturgy 
pause to silently reflect on the goodness of God to you that day. Be 
very particular to keep your houses clean and tidy ; I always 
made a point of it, for every injurious condition and sickness and 
poverty are to be found in houses that are unclean. Be careful with 
the blessings ; accept no divine gift without immediately ut'ering your 
thanks. Study the Torah, because it helps the formation of a noble 
character. Do not scoff, for it begins in chastisement and ends in de- 
struction. Judge every man charitably and use your best effort to find 
a favourable explanation of conduct however suspicious. On Sabbaths 
and holidays seek to make happy poor unfortunate widows, and orphans 
ought always to be at your tables. Avoid gossip, for it leads to slander, 
hypocrisy and falsehood, all of which are vices abominable in the 
sight of the Lord. And as you speak no scandal, so listen to none, 
for if there where no customers there would be no mongers. Accept 
no invitations to dinner parties except for purposes of TWO, such as 
weddings and funerals ; and play no games for money, neither with 
dice nor with anything else. Be one of the first in the Synagogue, 
do not speak during prayers, but repeat the responses and after the 
service do acts of kindness which are equivalent to studying the law. 
I beg of you, my sons, my daughters, and my wife, and the whole 

1 /.<?., say "T13 ^Vetc. 
VOL. III. G G 



464 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

congregation, let there be no funeral oration in my honour. Do not 
carry me on a bier, but wash me clean, comb my hair as in my life- 
time, in order that I may go clean to my eternal resting-place, just as 
I used to go every Friday evening to the Synagogue. Drag me to 
my grave, and stop every four cubits, that I may get pardon. Put 
me in the ground at the right hand of my father, and even if it be 
a little too narrow, I am sure that my father loves me well enough 
to submit to the inconvenience and to draw me in unto him. If not, 
put me on his left, or near my mother or grandmother ; and if that 
be not possible, bury me at the side of my daughter. 

In striking contrast to the simplicity of the foregoing 
testament is the elaborate " Letter of Advice " which 
Solomon Alami dispatched to a pupil from Portugal. As 
he himself pathetically tells us, he was a participant in the 
sufferings in 1391, and his testament, written twenty-four 
years later (in beautiful rhymed prose), gives a very in- 
teresting account of the condition of contemporary 
Judaism. Fly without hesitation, he says, when expatria- 
tion is the only means of securing religious freedom ; have 
no regard to your worldly affairs, or to your property, but go 
forth. 1 Besides the ordinary virtues, among them chastity 
and continence, Alami strongly inculcates the necessity of 
decorum in prayer. He laments the low esteem in which 
the Rabbis were held ; and declares that Jews preferred 
educating their children for the meanest trade rather than 
devote them to the ministry, so low had it fallen in public 
opinion. People talked and laughed in Synagogue and 
ignored the Rabbi's exhortations, who, in fact, often failed 
to denounce abuses. "See how the leading men of the 
congregation either doze or talk in Synagogue during the 
sermon, while the women babble. It is not so in Churches ; 
Christian men and women listen with wrapt attention 

1 " If you should, God forbid," says Alexander Suesskind to his sons 
" ever actually come to the necessity of becoming martyrs for your faith, 
from which God deliver you and WYlpn DJ? ?D, meet death with the com- 
pletest joy, so that God will receive you in the worlds above, and will 
say : ' Behold what a noble being I created ; he spared not his body but 
bore chastisement or my honour, and gave up his life for the sanctifica" 
tion of my name 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 465 

while their preachers address them. Christians are dumb, 
but Jews are deaf when the clergy reprove them." In 
prayer one should pray not for his own needs, but on be- 
half of the afflicted ; and return good for evil. 

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. 

Similarly, he deprecates all attempts to foist Greek 
philosophy on to the Bible. 1 He strongly upholds the 
dignity of labour, but he also lays considerable stress on 
the minor amenities of social intercourse. One must not 
point, nor stroke one's beard, in company. He enunciates 
many minute rules for behaviour at meals ; enjoining his 
pupil not to be the first to begin to eat, not to swallow his 
food ravenously, and to be tidy in his dress and ways. 
Though he condemns luxurious expenditure in dress and 
jewellery, he nevertheless keenly feels the hardship of the 
enforced wearing of a distinctive Jewish attire. He 
strikes a local note when he deprecates undue considera- 
tion for descent. Family pride is a poor substitute for 
personal merit ; it is a reliance on buried predecessors who 
lie in their graves. The whole of Alami's " Letter " de- 
serves translation, but I could not find space for more than 
the foregoing summary. 

The Jewish ethical testaments are written in Hebrew. 
To this general statement there is hardly an exception. In 
later times some of the most widely read have been ren- 
dered into German or jargon, such as those of Asher ben 
Yechiel, Nachmanides, Elijah Wilna, Alexander Suesskind, 
Judah Chasicl, Naphtali Cohen and Moses Sofer. Ibn 
Tibbon's testament, together with that of Maimonides, were 
translated into English, but rather as literary curiosities 
than for devotional use. 2 The testament of the late Chief 

1 Comp. and contrast the loth century ^IDi! 1SD of Ephraim of 
Modena (Lyck, 1871). 

2 Israel Luepschuetz bids his sons immediately after the week of 

G G 2 



466 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Babbi, Dr. N. Adler, was recently published in abstract in 
English, but it was presumably composed in Hebrew. 
About two years ago the ethical will of a certain Harris 
Hershfield was published in Kansas City in the vernacular. 
An undated, but evidently modern, Jewish Testament in 
Provencal French verse, is possessed by the Library of the 
British Museum. But so far back as 1410 the will of Don 
Judah, 1 a Jewish native of Alba de Tonnes, was written 
in Spanish, being dictated by the author from his death 
bed. It appears that one of his sons was wounded in the 
massacre of 1391. 

Good and honourable is the man who in his last days and in old 
age dies to live. G-od grant it to me ; my hope was always in his 
love. . . . Do not bury me upright or lying down, but a strong 
chair shall be placed in the grave and my body must be seated thereon 
facing the east towards the rising sun. 

Another ethical will was dictated in the same manner by 
the dying testator, and is thus given in the words of the 
bystanders. In 1653 Nathaniel Trabotti lay on his death- 
bed in Modena, and when after a long sleep he awoke, the 
spirit of God inspired him, and he called his pupils round 
his bed, and was to them like a king on his throne. He 
summoned the heads of the congregation, and, having 
washed his face and hands and sanctified himself as an 
angel of God, said : "lam 86 years old, and I know that 
the owner of the trust is coming to seek it back from me. 
If I have sometimes rebuked you harshly, forgive me. I 
did it only to turn you from sin." Then they wept and 
said, " We know it, and our sins are many. Forgive us for 
the trials we have caused you." " Fear not," he replied ; 

mourning to translate his testament for the benefit of his daughters, and 
this is not the only instance. .Isaac Levinson wished his will translated 
into Russian, but that was for legal purposes. 

1 Mr. Joseph Jacobs called my attention to this testament. See, 
Amador de log Sios, II., p. 615. A full translation of the will was kindly 
made for me by Mrs. Isaac Benoliel. I have to thank Dr. Friedlander for 
bringing Trabotti's testament under my notice. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 467 

" purify your hearts, remove hatred and passion. Support 
the study of the Law, be merciful to the poor, and open 
wide your storehouses to them. . . My sight was 
weak, and you have all come to my house to study to save 
me from the trouble of walking to and fro to the College. 
After my death let the study be conducted in the Syna- 
gogue. . . Appoint an officer to go every Friday to 
announce to all Jewish merchants that the Sabbath is 
nigh, that they may shut their shops. . . Let not 
the men who idly frequent places of amusement to play 
dice, or games with the cards which they always carry in 
their pockets, let them not mention the name of God, as is 
their wont. If they act honestly and speak the truth with 
heart and lip, and do not use the divine name wantonly, 
their sins will be forgiven. . . Those who have 
bought all the mitzvoth for the whole year must pay the 
amount forthwith to the treasurer. If they refuse they 
must be brought before the civil courts." 

Nathaniel then called for Abraham Gratiano, whom he 
wished to succeed him ; he placed his hands on his head 
and " imparted his honour to him." He gave directions for 
the disposal of his property, but the reporter omitted all 
these as of no importance ! The whole of this scene is 
impressive, and would be more so but that it is obviously 
an echo of the Talmudic description of the death of Kabbi. 

The disregard of money, indicated in the preceding 
paragraph, is paralleled in many of the testaments. Masus 
feelingly remarks : — 

Let not your hearts be sore because I cannot leave you any 
inheritance as other fathers do ; but my destiny was not for wealth, 
and for wealth I never strove. Each day's bread to eat, and clothes to 
wear, was all I sought to acquire. Naked I came into the world, 
naked I leave it. Man has other aims, and my testament will teach 
you what they are. 

One point that I have omitted from Trabotti's injunc- 
tions will recall a similar direction given by Eleazar the 
Levite. Trabotti desired that his bier should be roughly 



468 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

dragged to the grave to chastise his body for his sins. But 
the bystanders tearfully entreated him to release them from 
the obligation of dishonouring his remains, and he con- 
sented to withdraw the order. But in many of the testa- 
ments even more violent measures ai*e seriously suggested. 
The coffin is sometimes ordered to be thrown to the ground 
and other indignities to be shown. In order to avoid need- 
less repetitions I will quote the form that these directions 
take in the will of Masus ben Judah Loeb. Masus not 
only carries the idea to an excessive length, but supplies 
the explanation. 

At the time when my body is removed from the bed to lie on the 
ground two shall come, and one shall take my two hands and shall 
seize me round the neck, one hand with outstretched fingers to the 
right, the other to the left. He shall make the fingers meet, and press 
tightly like a cord or cloth, as though carrying out the sentence of 
execution by strangulation. Some men shall seize me by the legs 
roughly, and shall lift me out of the bed, and shall throw me on the 
ground ; typical of death by stoning. They shall drop on my heart 
three drops (neither more nor less) of wax from a lighted candle, to 
symbolise death by burning. 

They shall take a stone and place it as a pillow under my head, and 
my head shall remain on it for some minutes, as though I were to be 
executed with the sword. 

Then shall all say, " If this man during his life has incurred the 
penalty of death by one of the four legal modes of execution let this 
be now taken in place of it, and his sin be pardoned, so that in all it 
be the same as though he had suffered in his life-time." > 

Often the testator directs that his wife and children are 
not to participate in the preparations for the interment ; 
and, moreover, that the sons are not to follow their father's 
funeral. Some command the sho/ar 2 or ram's horn to be 
sounded after the purification of the body, to drive away 

1 Similar directions are also given by Aaron of Karlin, (who repeats the 
order), Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen (who has a curious passage on the 
eubject), Naphtali Cohen and S. Kluger. 

2 Perhaps originally this was merely a public announcement of the 
death. See Moed Katon, 275. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 469 

the " destroying children," who would otherwise come to 
claim inheritance with the true children of the departed. 1 
Many again leave specific directions as to the reading of 
the Mishnah and Talmud during the year of mourning; 
the orders vary very greatly in detail, but the main idea 
is the same. The father, if an author of religious works, 
usually asks his children to read and re-read his books, 
and fain would have the preacher quote passages there- 
from in the funeral oration. But almost without exception 
the testators earnestly entreat that no eulogistic address be 
delivered over their remains. Some urge this self-denying 
ordinance with singular tenacity, and even anxiety. The 
preacher, in the presence of the dead, might be inclined to 
exaggerate the praises of the departed, and thus be guilty 
of falsehood and flattery. This is the chief motive for 
declining the honour of a hesped, but many were equally 
moved by a sincere humility of disposition and a sense of 
their unworthiness. 2 The testament itself was mostly 
ordered to be read at stated intervals daily, weekly, or 
monthly, or four times a year. Fasting on the Yahrzeit, 
or anniversary, of the father's death, is a common Jewish 
practice, and is often enjoined in the testaments. 3 Israel 
Luepschuetz, however, restricts the fast to only half the day, 
" for so my fathers bade me." This statement gives an 
excellent insight into the way in which family traditions 
grow up. The same testator frees his sons from the obliga- 
tion of wearing black, and very thoughtfully tells his 
daughters that they are only to put on mourning if their 
husbands approve. Joel Shamariah, who died on the 1st of 

1 Some are very particular in their directions on this point. Kluger 
repeats the order no less than three times. See Erubin 18ft, and the 
account given in the Travels of Benjamin, II., p. 171. 

2 Aaron of Karlin says that any one that has anything to say in his 
dispraise may say it. 

3 David Altaras orders his children to fast on the following days : — 
(1) the day of his death, (2) at the end of the week of mourning, (3) at 
the end of the month, (4) at the end of the eleventh month, (5) at the end 
of the full year. 



470 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Nisan (" for he was needed in the College on high "), and 
who fasted every day except Sabbaths and festivals, is 
anxious to be buried in the old cemetery by the side of his 
father. Naphtali Cohen wished wax candles to be placed 
on his seat in synagogue during the first year after his 
death, and his wife, " whom I love as myself," is entreated 
to go to his grave and pray for his soul on the day before 
every new moon. Aaron of Karlin desired that no man 
should be buried near him who was not confidently known 
to be one whom he (Aaron) would like to have as a neigh- 
bour. 1 Masus ben Judah pathetically says : — " In my life 
I dwelt in narrow and straitened circumstances ; deal not 
so with me in my death. Inter me not in a narrow grave, 
but enlarge the place of my eternal rest." At times these 
burial orders have utilitarian motives. Solomon Heine 
(1844) enjoined that his funeral was not to take place with- 
in seventy-two hours of his death, in order that life might 
be proved to be extinct. He asks to be buried at eight 
o'clock in the morning, and, despite his enormous wealth, 
without any pomp and ceremony. Among his munificent 
charitable bequests were two each of 4,000 marks — the one 
towards the building of the Church of St. Peter, another 
in aid of the re-building of the Church of St. Nicholas. 
Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen minutely ordered that seven 
square holes should be bored in his coffin, and gives the 
dimension of each, with a diagram. Jonah Landsofer, 
with prophetic foresight as to the indiscretion of modern 
biographers, orders that only those of his papers that were 
so marked were to be published, and even with those the 
editor was to exercise a selective discretion. Samuel 
Aboab, the opponent of Sabbatai Zevi, takes the famous 
utterance of Micah vi. 8 as his text. He orders 
that a scroll of the law shall not be placed on the bier. 
Several even write their own epitaphs, which are of a 



1 Naphtali Cohen begged that no one should take part in preparing 
him for burial but those possessing an affinity with his soul. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 471 

severely simple character. Akiba Eger left his own 
epitaph : " Here lies R. Akiba Eger," but the Posen con- 
gregation converted the conventional " R." into the honour- 
able " Eabbenu." Aaron ben Abraham asks his children 
not to incur much expense in buying a grave to bury him 
among the great, for he did not desire that. So Kluger 
wished to be buried not among the great and wealthy, but 
near the poor. One father 1 urges his son not to postpone 
his marriage until the end of the year of mourning. This 
individual had been throughout his life an ardent match- 
maker. Chayim Vital (1620) ordered his cabbalistic notes 
to be buried with him ; Herrara, on the other hand, left a 
large sum to defray the cost of publishing his own mystical 
writings (1639). 2 Perhaps the most remarkable request is 
that of Saul Hirschel, who died in London in 1 794. He 
had been concerned in a controversy as to the genuine- 
ness of a work (wvn D^at&a) which he was suspected of 
forging, and seems to have lived a rather friendless life. He 
directs that he was to be taken as he was found, and 
buried in his clothes in some forest, or wherever else they 
liked, " provided that it be distant from the graves of other 
men." His wishes were not fulfilled , indeed, his testament 
was not found until after his interment. At peace with men, 
among whom living he had found no peace, he was buried 
with every honour, and his name is still, strangely enough, 
mentioned in the memorial roll of the official Rabbis of 
London. We note other differences of sentiment, as, for 
instance, while one testator wishes his sons to weep bitterly, 
another begs them not to give way to excessive grief. One 
testator orders some sods of treasured Palestinian soil to be 
buried with him ; another that he was to be buried in the 
cerements he always carried with him on his journeys 
wrapped in a black cloth. David Altaras was wise in his 
generation when he bade that no rhymes should be 
engraven on his tombstone. Strangely enough, he also 

1 Book of the Pious, § 505. * Graetz, x. 127, 129. 



472 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

tells us that he never ate meat during Lent, because the 
meat sold was often stale, owing to the Christian butchers 
killing no animals at that period. 

Some of these directions and prohibitions are curious 
enough, but the testament of Judah Chasid, who lived at the 
beginning of the thirteenth century, is a curiosity through- 
out. There can be little doubt that the testament is spurious, 
but whoever be the author it contains a mass of supersti- 
tions, many of them in direct conflict to express statements 
in the Talmud. 1 This would seem to confirm Giidemann's 
hypothesis that the school, from which the Book of the Pious 
(with which Judah Ohasid's testament is usually printed) 
proceeded, was animated by a spirit antagonistic to 
Rabbinism and the Talmud. While it is regrettable enough 
that Judah Chasid's commands found obedient and willing 
executors, the common sense of the Rabbis enabled them to 
triumph over this attempt to foist on to Judaism ex- 
traneous elements of the most pernicious and undesirable 
nature. Ezekiel Landau was actually consulted as to 
whether a man might marry a girl whose father was his 
namesake — an alliance forbidden in Judah Chasid's testa- 
ment, section 22. The response of Landau is a fine piece of 



1 Ezekiel Landau miilO JHIJ question 79 of JJ'TIK. To the passages 
there quoted add Tossefta on Sabbath, which characterises as idolatrous 
the popular objection to "crowing hens." It is strange to note how many 
of Judah Chasid's injunctions are still popularisuperstitionsiin England. 
For Judah Chasid see G-udemann, " Cultur Geschichte," 1880, and the same 
work, p. 2±5, for other testaments. The Jlespoma (T\"W) in general con- 
tain many entries which have an intimate bearing on the testament 
literature. Many of these passages naturally however concern legal 
rather than ethical subjects. See 1011 W "|"0 3G&, where a HNnX by 
the author of HUJ }l"6lB> is quoted. In Joseph Caro's ^3n Dp3N § 7i 
there is a question concerning a DN11X (the writer left a soltano for the 
scribe who wrote the document). In pi"IN HOD ms TY'lt? Part I. § 65, 
the case is considered of a man who "ordered (HIS) that his eldest 
daughter should be married to the son of a certain sage, and that they 
should acquire for her one handmaiden." See also fllinn N"l1p ed. 
Cassel, p. 466 and 36a. These are only a few of the many such that must 
occur in these interesting collections of Rabbinical correspondence. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 473 

indignant and scathing contempt for such puerilities. Yet 
he deals tenderly with Judah Chasid himself. True, said 
Landau, many of the things he forbids are in contradiction 
to the Talmud ; but the author meant his remarks to apply 
exclusively to his own descendants. " By prophetic fore- 
knowledge he saw that certain marriages would not prosper 
if contracted in his family, but he did not mean to apply 
the same rule to Jews in general." Yet Landau's loyalty 
to a great name did not prevent him from denouncing the 
question of his correspondent as unworthy of serious con- 
sideration. 

From many of the testaments, which I cannot hope to 
quote at any length, I have already made some citations in 
the preceding paragraphs. From the sixteenth century 
onwards the number of Jewish ethical wills becomes ever 
greater. These testaments it is unnecessary to arrange in 
chronological order, but the internal history of Judaism 
continues to mirror itself forth in their pages. The con- 
troversy anent the study of philosophy died a natural 
death, or rather solved itself by general indifference. With 
Mendelssohn a new question was brought to a culminat- 
ing point, and Judaism has not yet passed beyond it. 

We may note in some of the later testaments indications 
of the writers' views on the adoption of a pure language, on 
the maintenance of a distinctively Jewish dress, on the use 
of the vernacular in prayer. As the centuries pass, ancient 
custom loses its hold on the people's hearts, and some of 
the testaments betray the anxiety of fathers that their 
children at least shall not displace the old for the new. 
But besides these less important and evanescent matters, 
the durable and fundamental rules of moral conduct con- 
tinue to gain in emphasis, and are enunciated in more 
modern language. The time was, for instance, when, under 
the heading of gambling, dice-playing was denounced; 
from the fifteenth century, card-playing is raised to this 
bad eminence, in the eighteenth, lotteries and betting. 
The latter, which is a characteristically English vice, 



474 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

accordingly recurs in the testament of Leb Norden, an 
English Jew (1741), whose objection to betting was based 
on the consideration that " the gambler evinced a desire to 
become rich contrary to the will of God"; while it also 
involved waste of time, and led inevitably to destruction. 
The denunciations of mere money-making and of usury are 
as vigorous as of yore, and the entreaty to freely pardon 
injuries becomes even more earnestly eloquent. 

Do good to all men, evil to none ; even to the non-Jew in the 
street, even to an enemy who has pursued you with relentless hate. 
If you have an opportunity of revenge, do not avail yourselves of 
it, but load your adversary with favours. Never refuse a favour 
to any person, be he non-Jew, or even an enemy. If your foe is 
seeking your hurt you may prevent him, but you must not injure 
him beyond the point of rendering him powerless to harm you. If an 
opportunity offer of serving him, thank God for the chance, and 
though he has done you the most fearful wrongs, forget the injuries 
you have sustained at his hands. Make yourselves wings like eagles 
to succour him, and refrain from reminding him by a word of his 
former conduct.' 

The same moral is enforced in the testament of Joel 
Shamariah by a piece of practical psychology. 

If any one did aught to injure me, yet I loved him in my heart. 
If I felt inclined to hate him, I at once began to utter praises, so that 
gradually I brought my heart to genuine love of the man who had 
wronged me. 

Fidelity to one's word must be resolutely preserved ; but 
a vow to do wrong may be broken. 

Charity is enforced sometimes quaintly enough, always 
strongly. 

Love thy neighbour as thyself ; hence, when I saw any one ill, I 
dosed him with remedies I had myself tried.' 

No one ever became poor through giving too much in charity. 3 

Be careful with the legacy of money I leave you, for miracles do 

1 Israel Luepschuetz. There is one enemy, however, whom he can 
hardly forgive, that is the censor who wickedly mutilated his works. 

2 Alexander Suesskind. 3 Joel Shamariah. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 475 

not happen every day. But be not a miser when almsgiving is 
concerned." ' 

Saul Wahl, whom legend places on the throne of Poland 
(1630), was presented with a magnificent chain studded 
with jewels, in return for important State services. He 
directed, in his testament, that this chain was to be sold 
and the proceeds distributed among the poor. 

If a beggar comes to you, give him what you can and do not put 
him to shame, for God stands at his right band. 2 

Zechariah, of Porto, who had no desire for fame during 
his lifetime, left behind him a compilation forming an 
index to the texts adapted to the use of darshanim or 
preachers. It belongs to a class of books become obsolete ; 
and would hardly now serve the author's purpose of 
enabling a darshan to see at a glance whether his own 
ideas were original or not! The bulk of his property, which 
seems to have been very large, he bestowed in ways at 
least intended to be charitable. 3 The directions as to alms- 
giving are cast in so generous a mould in these wills 
that it is only rarely that discrimination is counselled. 
Personal service, the invitation of the poor to meals, are, 
as of old, favourite precepts of Jewish fathers. As to 
posthumous reputation, Kluger was so little ambitious of 
it that when directing the publication of his MSS. he said 
that if his executors wished to print his writings as their 
own he did not object ; but he wished them published at all 
hazards. 

Moses Sofer will not have his children read the books of 
Moses of Dessau (Mendelssohn) ; they must never go to 
the theatre ; his daughters are not to read German novels.* 
"Say not that the times have changed, for our Father 
never changes." The Rabbi who is to succeed him must 

1 Leb Norden. 2 Sabbatai Hurwitz. 

3 See TDTOn f|DN Venice, 1675, preface. 

4 Similarly Abraham Danzig ; Jonah Landsofer permits praying in 
German, and says, "Teach your daughters to read books printed in German 
and see that your sons' wives can do likewise." 



476 The Jewish Quarterly Review, 

preach in jargon. Sofer impresses on his daughters and 
his sons' wives that they must not wear low-necked 
dresses, nor even wear false hair. He does not neglect moral 
injunctions, however, and lays particular stress on the folly 
and sinfulness of pride. 

We are the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, pupils of Moses, 
our master, servants of David the king. Our father said, " I am dust 
and ashes," our master asked, " What are me?" our king declared, " I am 
a woim and not a man." The King for whom we hope will reveal 
himself in the guise of a beggar riding on an ass. Whence then 
should we derive pride ? 

Centuries before, Solomon Alami had spoken against the 
"pride of place," which is a subtle and baneful form of the 
vice. 

If you go up to read the law, be called up like everyone else, and 
do not make a fuss about being first or last. 

Abraham Danzig 1 (1738-1821), the author of the popular 
Life of Man (DIM »Ji) and similar works, is as opposed as 
Sofer to the assumption of ordinary attire. With the 
German Jews, he says, things were different, for they 
always dressed like other Germans; hence their example 
was not a precedent for imitation. He enforces quaintly, 
but effectively, the serious calls of life. 

In your business be honest and upright. Do not devote your- 
selves to the acquisition of wealth and to the enjoyment of worldly 
pleasures. If you engage in a pious and honourable life, you need 
not entirely forego these pleasures, but do not make them your first 
thought. A man goes to Leipzig on business : he trades energetically, 
and then buys some ornaments for his wife and children. This 
rejoices them. If, however, he wastes his whole time in buying 
gew-gaws to the neglect of his business, and on returning has only the 
presents to show and no merchandise, his wife slaps his face and says : 
' Fool, what do I want with this rubbish ? Why did you not attend 
to your business ? " 

Virtue is praised and vice blamed ; as the one is conducive, 

1 He particularly asks that his testament shall be printed without 
errors. However this may have been, in the first edition (1821), the second 
edition is disfigured with many misprints. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 477 

the other antagonistic, to the love of God. Tears are 

declared of the utmost efficacy in prayer, and Masus 

laughs to scorn those who -would maintain that people 
cannot cry at will. 

Tears are the only refuge against oppression and suffering. I 
have wept so much that my sight has been dimmed for many years. 

On the other hand, while enjoining his sons to weep 
copiously at their night-prayers, Moses of Prague never- 
theless adds later on : 

Always pray joyfully and be cheerful ; for melancholy is a great 
evil. 

As Francis of Assisi proved in his own character, tears 
are not necessarily associated with austerity. 

The saving power of family concord finds much pro- 
minence. Dissension is heartily condemned, and daughters- 
in-law are especially warned against rivalry and quarreling. 
Brothers and sisters must pay one another attentions, and 
keep one another informed of their good or had fortunes. 
The Gaon Elijah entreats his mother and wife to mutual 
honour and to live in peace during his absence from 
them. 1 

When brother parts from brother or sister, or when you meet, 
always embrace ; but, my sons, kiss your sisters on, the hand, kiss the 
lips only of your brothers. Help one another. . . . Every Nisan 
and Elul write mutual greetings ; on the birthday of each, let all 
the rest send their congratulations. 2 . . . Throughout my life, 
whenever I read my prayers, I felt as though I still stood a child 
before my dear and pious mother, who dictated every word to me. 

The worshipper was to utter an especially fervent "Amen" 
after the prayer daily repeated for peace. This mildness 
and consideration was to be extended by employers to their 
servants. " I never abused, much less did I ever strike a 
servant," says Suesskind ; while others go yet farther : " I 

1 "Honour your mother, and never cause her any sorrow ; and see that 
your wife treats her with respect." (S. Kluger.) 

2 A list of the birthdays of the family follows this injunction of 
Luepschuetz. 



478 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

never asked my servants, Jewish or Christian," says 
Lupschuetz, "to do unpleasant services for me. When 
I was a child and I asked the Jewish servant who was 
sitting at table with us to give me some water, my mother 
rebuked me." 

The head of the family must take an intimate interest 
in the welfare of the whole household. " It is proper to 
address them for half an hour a week on any matter that 
needs exhortation." The following is an amusing piece of 
family advice : — 

My daughters and daughters-in-law, if your husbands are angry, 
go outside and do not return until their rage is over and then reprove 
them." 

The same father, Sheftel Hurwitz, will not permit 
dancing by members of the opposite sexes, even if the 
couple do not touch hands. "If you dance face to face, 
Satan dances between you." 

Alexander Suesskind stands out as a remarkable person- 
ality. To every act of his life, he was impelled by the 
love of God ; no incident however small, but had its place 
in the divine purpose. This is shown in the noble tone of 
his whole testament, which has become deservedly popular, 
as well as in some very curious traits. 

If ever I wanted anything and found that I possessed it and need 
BOt borrow it from others, I thanked God. When I took snuff I did 
likewise because one might be too poor to buy it. I always said God 
is just whenever calamity came on me. Thus did I when I spilt my 
snuff. If I found that though the box fell, none of the snuff dropped 
out, I thanked God with lips filled with joy. If I could not find the 
box I accepted pin pl1¥ the divine judgment, and when an hour later 
I found it, I rejoiced and thanked the Lord ! 

His acute sensibility is further seen in the following 
touching entry : — 

It is a common practice with Jews that when a member of the 
community has died during the night, the beadle when he comes to 
summon us to synagogue, gives only two instead of the usual three 
knocks, as a sign of death. "When he only knocked twice I sighed, 
but when thrice, my heart leapt up with joy ! 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 479 

An almost equal moral sensitiveness marks the sugges- 
tion of Sheftel Hurwitz to keep a written account of one's 
sins in order to ensure due penitence. 1 Sensitiveness of 
another character is shown in the following utterance which 
might easily he paralleled from other ethical wills. 

It is said that at the time of death Satan stands by a man tempting 
him to deny his faith, and a man is weak in his mind at that hour, 
and does not know what he is doing. Therefore I declare that any 
evil thoughts that may enter my mind at that time are not my 
thoughts but are hereby annulled. 

The controversies of the seventeenth century raging 
round the Cabbala and pseudo-messiash, are reflected in 
the testaments of the period. Prophecies and dreams are 
not to be regarded ; astrology is forbidden. The antipathy 
to the new Chassidism led one testator to leave as a 
condition to a charitable bequest, that no member of that 
sect should participate in its benefits. This one can under- 
stand, seeing that some members of the sect were professional 
beggars. 

Decorum in synagogue, on which Alami expressed himself 
so strongly, is a subject that recurs in the later wills. It 
is better not to go to synagogue at all, than to go there and 
talk even concerning matters of Torah. The custom of the 
Sephardim who kept the children in order by overawing 
them is in one instance lauded. The children, small and 
big, were located together, and an overseer stood over them 
to enforce good behaviour with a stick. 2 According to 
another testator, slovenliness in utterance was the cause of 
the continued trials of the Jews, for their prayers were not 
efficacious from being indistinctly enunciated. If necessary, 
to ensure devout attention, the eyes were to be closed 

1 Cf. Howell's Familiar Letters (ed. Jacobs, p. 335). " Before I go to 
bed, I make a scrutiny what peccant humours have reign'd in me that 
day ; and so I reconcile myself to my Creator, and strike a tally in the 
Exchequer of Heaven for my quietus est, ere I close my eyes, and leave no 
burden upon my conscience." 

2 This passage is not actually in the testament, but in the nrD1J\ 
1D1D that precedes. 

VOL. III. H H 



480 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

during prayer ; while one father, following a precept of 
the Book of the Pious, counsels his son to stand on his toes 
to recover his self-possession, and drive away strange 
thoughts. Prayers were not to be mechanical ; private joys 
and sorrows were to be introduced in extemporised thanks- 
giving or in silent, grateful meditation when the communal 
thanks were being expressed. Elijah Wilna in his testa- 
ment, advises his wife and daughter not to go to synagogue 
at all. Pray at home, for in synagogue you cannot avoid 
scandal and frivolity. The daughter might see others 
better dressed than herself, and feel envious, and gossip 
about it when she got home. Elijah felt so keenly the evil 
effects of the habit of scandal-mongering on the character, 
of harsh words and of falsehood, that he enjoined that if 
these offences were committed by his children, the latter 
were to be severely beaten. Yet instruction was to be 
imparted gently ; rough methods were to be avoided, and 
gifts were to be bestowed in order to encourage the 
children to progress. It will be noted that daughters 
receive full attention from their fathers in these 
testaments, though in matters of education, they were not 
placed on a level with the sons. Jonah Landsofer of 
Prague, particularly desires that his daughters and his sons' 
wives should be taught to read German. Marriage must 
not be deferred, yet very early marriages are strongly 
deprecated. Originally, says Jonah, Jews married much 
earlier, but physical development is slower now than in 
ancient times. 

"When you are arranging a marriage between two parties, never 
exaggerate, and always tell the truth. Therefore it was that in the 
first times, none but students of the Law were shadchanim. (match 
makers). 1 

The injunctions as to the choice of a wife are natural^ 
numerous and minute. Moral excellencies are to be sought, 
not beauty or riches. Wealth coming as the bridal dowry, 

1 This is against a statement in the Talmud. Maharil, I may add, was a 
Shadchan, but accepted no fees. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 481 

was esteemed a blessing only in so far as by relieving 
the husband from the need of constant devotion to 
business, it supplied the necessary leisure for "higher 
culture," to use the modern phrase. Children were a loving 
grace of God, in the service of whom they might renew the 
father's own life. 

And in the same way we could follow these moral guides 
into other phases of life, but for the present as in the con- 
ventional three- volume novel, we will stop short with 
the arrangements for marriage. Many of the sentiments 
that I have quoted in the course of the preceding passages 
are of Talmudic origin, and others are the common property 
of Jewish ethical writers of all ages. Perhaps at some 
future date I may carry the enquiry further, and attempt 
to discuss in how far the children practised what the fathers 
preached. Yet it cannot be that so much simple goodness 
thus simply expressed fell in dead words on dead ears ; 
it spoke with a living voice pleading for the right, when 
the grave had claimed its own, echoing the one constant 
refrain — 

" In your virtues show yourselves our sons." 

I. Abkahams. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY. 1 

Aaron of Karlin (Johannisberg ? 1855? 8vo. Also 
Warsaw, 1878, in UWlp "nm). 

Aaron ben Abraham at Rawicz (n2-nrr ~isd, Breslau, 
1830, 4to). 

Aaron Moses, vjs v*ia (Czernitz, date bH-itt?"' 1 ? aifc "o). 

Abraham ben Sabbatai Hurwitz, ^bma *»> isd, 
Prague, 1615, 4to., Amsterdam, 1701. Also orrOH J-vnn). 

1 I have derived a considerable part of the works here enumerated from 
the Catalogues of Zedner, Steinschneider, Neubauer and Ben Jacob (Ozar 
Eituqfarim). 

HH 2 



482 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Abraham Danzig (arras no, Wilna, 1821; Warsaw, 
1841 ; Konigsberg, 1845). 

Adler, Dr. Nathan {Jewish Chronicle, London, Jan. 
1891). 
Akiba Eger. 1 

Alexander Suesskind ben Moses (Grodno, 1794, 8vo. 
Often reprinted). 
Asher ben Yechiel (a^n nimN, Venice, 1578, 32mo.). 
Benjamin (Zeeb Wolf) Fischhof (published in -iipa 
n»3n, ed. 2, Berlin, 1711). 

David ben Solomon Altaras (tp'xT *)"12, Venice, 
1714, 16mo.). 
David Friesenhausen (Vienna, 1820, 8vo.). 
Eleazar ben Isaac (the Great) of Worms (c*n mm«, 
Venice, 1623, 12mo. This is not the same as the O^n n)ITi» 
w"vnrh). 

Eleazar ben Samuel the Levite. The Testament of 
Eleazar will, I hope, appear in the next number of the 
Beview. Portions of the will next in my list will also be 
given. This latter MS. I have now acquired through the 
kindness of Dr. Berliner. Also the testament of Leb 
Norden will probably be published in the July number. 
Elijah, V'anna:: in^s '-iia nNYSi own imbs nsd 
Elijah Wilna (mo ^±> maw, in nannb a^>v isd, 
1856, 8vo.). 

Ezekiel ben Abraham Katzenellenbogen (Amster- 
dam, 1750, 8vo. Second edition, Wilna, 1871). 

Harris Hershfeld (Kansas City Times, Oct. 28th, 1888). 
Isaac Beer Levinson (written 1859. marorn -ibd. 
Warsaw, 1878). 
Isaac Pinto (nana mi, 1844). 
Israel Baalshem (nw mamm W'^n msm idd, 
Zolkiev, 1820, 8vo.). 
Israel ben Eleazar Lesnensis (Derenfort, 1694). 

1 The testament of Akiba Eger I know only from the references in the 
"U>K K2*py "\ nn^in, Berlin, 1862. 



Jewish Ethical Wills. 483 

Israel ben Gedaliah Luepschuetz (bNi2?> mssn, 
1861, 8vo.). 

Jacob Asheri ben w"vnr\ (ed. Schechter, Pressburg, 
1885, 8vo.). 

Jacob of Lissa (published in some Siddurim ?). 

Joel ben Abraham Shemariah (Wilna ? 1800 ? 8vo.). 

Jonah Land-Sofer of Prague (in the cmta -pi, F. 
o/M., 1717, 32mo., by Abraham ben Reuben Deutz. Also 
in TTT'Xp ^»13). 

Joseph Ibn Caspi (noian ~isd, in Eleazar Ashkenazis 
COpt DVB, F. o/M., 1854, 8vo.). 

Judah Asheri (ben u?"«nn. See Jacob Asheri). 

Judah Chasid (see Cat. Bodl., column 1323). 

Judah ben Saul Ibn Tibbon (ed. Steinschneideiy Berlin, 
1852, 8vo.; and Edelmann, London, Qvyitfi "p*T. This is not 
the same work as mentioned above). 

Judah (Don) de Alba de Tormes (1410, Amador de los 
Eios, vol. II., 615-7). 

Juif (Testament d'un Juif de la Ville de Carpentras. 
Modern Provencal French). 

Leb NordeN. The MS. o£ this rw»2 is in the library 
of the Beth Hamidrash, London. 

Masus ben Judah Loeb (1800 ? 4to.). 

Meir, bti^O (MS. Breslau Seminary, No. 16). 

Moses (Chasid) of Prague (D'oia -pi, 1717, and partly 
as -ID1E mas, 1720. Also in Siddurim). 

Moses Maimonedes (see Judah Ibn Tibbon. The First 
edition, which does not contain the first portions, Venice,, 
1544, 8vo.). 

Moses Nachmanides (]"asnn bss mas in :am TnsmaD,. 
by Elijah ben Moses de Vides, 1623, 8vo. Also with Elijah 
Wilna, q.v. ; and in Siddurim C^nn "pT). 

Moses ben Samuel Sofer, nt»» nwis -.2D, Vienna, 
1863, Svo. , Ungvar, 1864). 

Naphtali ben Isaac Cohen (8vo., 1719? Berlin, 
1729, 12mo., Frankfort o/Oder, 1750? Wilna, 1803; 
Warsaw, 1878). 



484 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Nathaniel Trabotti (Berliner-Hoffmann, Magazin, Ber- 
lin, 1887; IV., 11-22). 

Sabbatai (Sheftel) Hurwitz (Frankfort o/Oder, 1690, 
8vo. Also with S31« jnbw, 1783). 

Samuel ben Abraham Aboab (Ghirondi, >bl*ra rvnVin 

Saul ben Zevi Hirschel (written 1794, published in 
Orient, 1844, p. 712). 

Solomon Alami (no in maw, Jellinek, Leipzig, 1854; 
Vienna, 1872). 

Solomon Heine (nana rm. See Isaac Pinto). 

Solomon, son of the Martyr Isaac ben Zadok (MS. Stein- 
schneider, Cat. Heb. MSS. in Lug. Batav. Warn., 59[3]). 

Solomon Kluger (pm \\ah, together with pn'oa >nvw, 
Ungvar, 4to., 1870). 

Selke Lichtenstadt (mi2T lain, "Wilmersdorf, 1719, 
Svo.). 1 

1 Jacob Emden, Chacham Zevi, and one or two others I know, wrote 
rVlNIIX, but I have no information as to publication. The testament of 
Phineas Katzenellenbogen (Bodl. Cat., Neubauer 2315), hardly belongs to 
this series.