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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, [1911], at

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§ 1. Woman: her Characteristics

*39. A Woman spins even while she talks (Meg. 14b; D. 136).

Quoted as a comment on the conversation between David and Abigail, 1 Sam. xxv. A woman does not miss an opportunity of working for her desired ends. Even in the midst of idle chatter she has her mind fixed on what she is aiming at. Abigail, e.g., during her conversation with David, asked him to remember her when he prospered, thus putting into his mind the germ of the idea that she would not be averse to marrying him, should she be free. This proverb is often quoted as meaning that women are industrious (so, e.g., Delitzsch, Jewish Artisan Life), but the context is clearly against this interpretation.

*40. The goose bends its head while walking, but its eyes wander about (Meg. 14b; B. K. 92b); D. 639).

Similar to the preceding proverb.

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*41. Ewe follows ewe; as the acts of the mother so are the acts of the daughter (Kethub. 63a; D. 615).

The proverb is applied in the Talmud to a specific case. The famous Rabbi Akiba had married his wife Rachel [play on the word for "ewe"=Raḥēlā] when he was a poor shepherd. Later on their daughter followed the mother's example by marrying Ben Azzai when he was unknown and poor. Cf. "Behold every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother so is her daughter" (Ezek. xvi. 44).

42. No cow is [considered] a gorer until her calf is a kicker (Gen. R. ch. lxxx. § 1; D. 440).

The mother is judged by the character of her daughter, on the principle "Children are what you make them."

*43. [A descendant] of princes and rulers, she became a prostitute for bargemen (Sanh. 106a; D. 506).

There is no depth of depravity to which a woman cannot sink. (Some render the last word "carpenters.")

*44. What does Schwilnai want among the reeds and bulrushes? (Sanh. 82b; D. 159).

The name occurs only in this connection, and is usually explained as referring to a woman who had become proverbial for her

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gross immorality. The proverb is applied to a woman whose movements give cause for suspicion. (The textual reading is uncertain; cf. Lewin, p. 61.)

*45 A woman of sixty, like a girl of six, runs at the sound of wedding music (Moed K. 9b; D. 177).

Matrimonial matters never lose their interest for women, whatever their age.

46. Pride is unbecoming in women (Meg. 14b; D. 418).

Cf. "Modesty is the beauty of women."

*47. As she slumbers the basket falls (Sanh. 7a; D. 238).

Laziness on the part of a woman is disastrous to the welfare of the home. The figure is of a girl carrying a basket on her head. Cf. "By slothfulness the roof sinketh in; and through idleness of the hands the house leaketh" (Eccles. x. 18).

§ 2. Marriage and the Household

48. Descend a step in taking a wife; ascend a step in choosing a friend (Jeb. 63a; D. 526).

By marrying into a higher rank, one runs the risk of being looked down upon by one's wife and her relatives. Advantage, on the other hand, is to be derived from the association with one's superiors.

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49. I do not want a shoe larger than my foot (Kid. 49a).

I do not want a husband from a rank higher than my own. Cf. "Marry above your match and you get a good master."

50. Haste in buying land; hesitate in taking a wife (Jeb. 63a).

"Marry in haste, repent at leisure."

51. It is better to dwell mated than in widowhood (Jeb. 118b and often; D. 302).

Jastrow renders: "It is better to dwell in grief than in widowhood," i.e. a woman prefers an unhappy married life to single bliss. The ancient Jews held marriage in very high esteem, considering it in fact a religious obligation; and men were exhorted to marry at an early age. From the passage quoted in the comment on Proverb No. 1, it will be seen that the age at which a man should marry is fixed at eighteen, whereas the age for his earning a livelihood is two years later. The explanation is that the bridegroom used to live in the house of his bride's father during the first years of his marriage. On the basis of the Biblical statement "It is not good that man should be alone" (Gen. ii. 18), the Rabbis said, "The unmarried man lives without prosperity, without a helpmate, without happiness or blessing" (Jeb. 62b; Gen. R. ch. xvii. § 2).

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52. If her husband be [as insignificant as] an ant, her seat is placed among the noble women (Jeb. 118b; Keth. 75a; D. 227).

Every woman feels elevated in social status by marriage. To be left unmarried was regarded at that time as the greatest calamity that could befall a woman.

53. Though the husband be a flax-beater, [his wife] will call him to the threshold and sit with him (Jeb. 118b; Keth. 75a; D. 222).

A woman is proud to be seen possessed of a husband, however lowly his position may be.

54. If the husband is a grower of vegetables, she asks for no lentils for the pot (Jeb. 118b; Keth. 75a; D. 226).

A woman will not hesitate to marry a man engaged in the meanest of occupations, in order to avoid the stigma of being unmarried.

*55. If thy wife is short, bend down and whisper to her (B. M. 59a; D. 137).

Never do anything without first consulting her. Even if you deem yourself her superior in intellect, do not stand on your dignity, but ask her advice. It is also said: "Honour your wives, for thus you enrich yourselves" (ibid.). The respect which was felt for the wife may be seen from such sayings as "A man whose first wife dies is as though the Temple had been destroyed in his days" (Sanh. 22a), "Whose wife dies in his lifetime,

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the world becomes dark for him" (ibid.), "He who loves his wife as himself and honours her more than himself…of him Scripture (Job v. 24) saith, "Thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace" (Jeb. 62b).

*56. When our love was strong we slept on the breadth of a sword; but now that our love is not strong, a bed measuring sixty cubits is not sufficient for us (Sanh. 7a; D. 351).

There is an Arabic saying, "The world is too narrow for them who hate each other," which is similar to Ibn Gabirol's "The space of a needle's eye suffices for two friends, whilst the universe itself can scarcely contain two enemies" (Choice of Pearls, ed. Asher, no. 281).

*57. For seven years there was a quarrel between the male and female gnat; for said he to her, Thou didst once see a man from Māhūzā bathing and then wrap himself in towels, and thou didst alight upon him and sting him, but didst not inform me (Hul. 58b; D. p. 11).

Trivial matters are often sufficient to cause serious matrimonial troubles. Māhūzā is the name of a famous town in Babylonia. "Seven," like "sixty," is used for a round number; so also in the Bible, cf. Psalm lxxix. 12; Prov. vi. 31; Matt. xviii. 22.

*58. With her rival and not with a rod (Jeb. 63b; D. 149).

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One can control a wife more readily by working on her feeling of jealousy than by using violence. Cf. "A woman is only envious of her companion's thigh" (Meg. 13a; D. 55).

59. Immorality in the house is like a worm on vegetables (Sot. 3b; D. 273).

It ruins the beauty and stability of the home-life.

*60. He among the full-grown pumpkins and his wife among the young ones (Meg. 12a, b Sot. 10a; D. 41).

Unfaithfulness on the part of the husband leads to his wife's unchastity. The Talmud quotes Job xxxi. 9 f. as a Biblical parallel. Cf. "If the wife sins, the husband is not innocent."

61. Violence in a house is like a worn on vegetables (Sot. 3b; D. 654).

Cf. no. 59 above and no. 101 below.

*62. The talk of the child in the street is that of his father or his mother (Suc. 56b; D. 629).

The child merely repeats what it has heard at home. Be careful what you say before children. Cf. "The child says nothing but what it heard by the fire."

*63. The Passover is celebrated within the house and the chanting is carried outside (Cant. R. to ii. 14; D. 575).

The happiness within a house penetrates

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into the outside world. Cf. "The luck of the house has come, the luck of the world has come" (Gen. R. ch. lxxi. § 9).

*64. The Paschal lamb is as large as an olive and the chanting breaks the roofs (j. Pes. vii. 12; cf. b. Pes. 88b).

There are so many at table participating in the feast that, when the Paschal lamb is shared out, each person receives only as much as the size of an olive. But the greater the company, the greater the sound of jollification. (This proverb and the preceding are in all probability variants of the same saying.)

§ 3. Parentage and Relationship

*65. A father's love is for his children, and the children's love for their children (Sot. 49a; D. 616).

One considers his children before his parents; they occupy the primary position in his thoughts.

66. I want a stick for the hand and a hoe for burial (Jeb. 65b; Keth. 64a; Ds. 40).

Applied to sons whose duty it is to support their parents in old age and provide for their honourable burial. The relationship between parent and child is beautifully summarised in the Talmudical saying: "There are three partners in the production of the human

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being, viz. the Holy One, blessed be He, the father and the mother. When men pay honour to their parents, God says, I ascribe it to them, as though I were in their midst and they honoured Me" (Kid. 30b). It is the duty of every man to honour his parent by supplying him with food and drink, clothing him, and leading him about (ibid. 31b). A son can be compelled to support his father in his old age, even if he is so poor as to require to go and beg for the money (j. Peah i. 1).

*67. Parents who have no equals [for goodness] rear children unlike themselves (Cant. R. ch. i. § 6 to i. 1; D. 483).

Good father with bad children. The Biblical parallel is quoted: "In place of wheat there cometh forth thistles, in the place of barley noisome weeds" (Job xxxi. 40; this translation is the one demanded by the Rabbinical context, and differs from the R.V.). Cf. "Many a good cow hath a bad calf." The bad son of a good father is also described as "Vinegar, the son of wine" (B. M. 83b; D. 284).

*68. A branch bringing forth a fig (Cant. R. ch. i. § 6 to i. 1; D. 544).

Good son of a good father. Cf. "He is a lion the son of a lion" (B. M. 84b; D. 131). (The meaning of the first word translated "branch" is doubtful.)

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*69. From the thorn-bush comes the rose (Cant. R. ch. i. § 6 to i. 1; D. 504).

Good children of a bad father. Cf. "Thou art a lion the son of a fox" (B. M. 84b; D. 131).

*70. What does the beetle (or, scorpion) beget? Insects worse than itself (Cant. R. ch. i. § 6 to i. 1; D. 480).

Bad father with worse children. Based on the still older proverb mentioned in the Bible: "From the wicked issueth forth wickedness" (1 Sam. xxiv. 13; Heb. 14); and cf. "And behold ye have arisen in the place of your fathers, a company of wicked men" (Num. xxxii. 14).

71. Foxes, sons of foxes (Ḥag. 14a; D. 661).

Wicked sons of wicked fathers.

*72. Rear not a gentle cub from a vicious dog, much less a vicious cub from a vicious dog (Lev. R. ch. xix. § 6; D. 192).

Much is not to be expected from a child of evil parents even when it shows some good qualities. What, then, can be looked for from a child of evil parents who in youth follows their example?

73. The serpent breeds and casts [her young] upon the inhabitants of the town (Keth. 49b; Da. 52).

The first word is explained by Jastrow to mean "a bird of solitary habits." The

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saying is descriptive of parents who neglect their children so that they become a public charge.

*74. Cursed be the breast that suckled such a man! (j. Kil. i. 7).

The notoriety of a person casts a shadow upon the fair name of his parents.

*75. Rear me! Rear me! the son of thy daughter am I (Sot. 49a; D. 606).

One looks to a grandparent as much as to a parent for support when the latter is not forthcoming.

*76. If the dog bark at thee, go in; if the bitch bark at thee, go out (Erub. 86a; D. 522).

You can endure a quarrelsome son-in-law but not a quarrelsome daughter-in-law.

*77. If thy sister's son is a government official, do not pass him by when thou seest him in the market place (Jom. 18a; D. 37).

One must beware even of relations. The official referred to is possibly the tax-gatherer, who was detested for his merciless extortions. He was classed legally with highway robbers and murderers (Ned. iii. 4).

Next: Chapter III: Human Virtues