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Jewish Beggars in Early 11th c. Palestine

Dr. Ezra Chwat at Giluy Milta B’alma has posted (Heb.) a Genizah fragment that included a recommendation to support a specific poor man. The letter was addressed to the residents of Ramla and was written in the early 11th c. In addition to the description of the beggar, the fragment includes a quote from Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5,

” [נפשו וכל המקיים נפש אחת מיש'[ראל […].”

This line is significant because scholars have argued whether this mishnah should read “וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא” (“And whoever saves a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world.”) or it should not include “מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל” (“Israelite”). Dr. Ezra Chwat thinks that this Geniza fragment may be the earliest textual witness for the version that includes the word “מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל.”

6 Responses to “Jewish Beggars in Early 11th c. Palestine”

  1. 1

    Wow. That is really amazing. The debate over the correct version has a very noticeable implication. From my long-time impressions, when one sees the quote cited by non-orthodox organizations, it usually omits the tribal “mi-yisrael.” Often one sees this when the organization is collecting or agitating for some cause that has nothing to do with Jews, but just a general “do good” type of project. By marked contrast, the orthodox organizations usually include the tribal qualifier.

  2. 2
    Alyssa Gray:

    Very interesting. I’d just like to point out that this quote–with the “m’yisrael”–also appears on B. Bava Batra 11a, in the late (at least that’s what I’ve argued) story of Binyamin Ha-tzaddik. That story is about a selfless tzedakah fund supervisor. My sneaking suspicion is that the reuse of this quote in a later tzedakah letter may be due to its appearance in that story rather than in M. San. 4:5. I haven’t checked all the manuscripts, but the Bava Batra “m’yisrael” is found in Firenze, Paris, and Vatican Ebr. 115. I’ll check further, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s found in all the textual witnesses, since the story is about a Jewish tzedakah fund supervisor and a Jewish woman and her children.

  3. 3
    Mar Gavriel:

    DF: Yes. And when anti-semitic organization quote the line, as they love to, they always include the word “from Israel”.

  4. 4

    Mar gavriel – which organizations are you referring to?

  5. 5
    Mar Gavriel:

    The KKK, isn’t it?

  6. 6

    I dont know. I’ve never seen that line used by anti-semitic organizations, the KKK or otherwise, but by the same token, I’m not on their mailing list. That’s why I was curious to know what you were referring to.




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