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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 4 - B
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    But let there be no misunderstanding. So far as the duty of hospitality is concerned, or the loving care for poor and sick, it were impossible to take a higher tone than that of Rabbinism. Thus it was declared, that "the entertainment of travellers was as great a matter as the reception of the Shechinah." This gives a fresh meaning to the admonition of the Epistle addressed specially to the Hebrews (13:2): "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Bearing on this subject, one of the oldest Rabbinical commentaries has a very beautiful gloss on Psalm 109:31: "He shall stand at the right hand of the poor."Whenever," we read, "a poor man stands at thy door, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, stands at his right hand. If thou givest him alms, know that thou shalt receive a reward from Him who standeth at his right hand." In another commentary God Himself and His angels are said to visit the sick. The Talmud itself counts hospitality among the things of which the reward is received alike in this life and in that which is to come (Shab. 127 a), while in another passage (Sot. 14 a) we are bidden imitate God in these four respects: He clothed the naked (Gen 3:21); He visited the sick (Gen 18:1); He comforted the mourners (Gen 25:11); and He buried the dead (Deu 34:6).

    In treating of hospitality, the Rabbis display, as in so many relations of life, the utmost tenderness and delicacy, mixed with a delightful amount of shrewd knowledge of the world and quaint humor. As a rule, they enter here also into full details. Thus the very manner in which a host is to bear himself towards his guests is prescribed. He is to look pleased when entertaining his guests, to wait upon them himself, to promise little and to give much, etc. At the same time it was also caustically added: "Consider all men as if they were robbers, but treat them as if each were Rabbi Gamaliel himself!" On the other hand, rules of politeness and gratitude are equally laid down for the guests. "Do not throw a stone," it was said, "into the spring at which you have drunk" (Baba K,. 92); or this, "A proper guest acknowledges all, and saith, 'At what trouble my host has been, and all for my sake!'-- while an evil visitor remarks: 'Bah! what trouble has he taken?' Then, after enumerating how little he has had in the house, he concludes; 'And, after all, it was not done for me, but only for his wife and children!'" (Ber. 58 a). Indeed, some of the sayings in this connection are remarkably parallel to the directions which our Lord gave to His disciples on going forth upon their mission (Luke 10:5-11, and parallels). Thus, one was to inquire for the welfare of the family; not to go from house to house; to eat of such things as were set before one; and, finally, to part with a blessing.

    All this, of course, applied to entertainment in private families. On unfrequented roads, where villages were at great intervals, or even outside towns (Luke 2:7), there were regular khans, or places of lodgment for strangers. Like the modern khans, these places were open, and generally built in a square, the large court in the middle being intended for the beasts of burden or carriages, while rooms opened upon galleries all around. Of course these rooms were not furnished, nor was any payment expected from the wayfarer. At the same time, some one was generally attached to the khan-- mostly a foreigner--who would for payment provide anything that might be needful, of which we have an instance in the parabolic history of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35). Such hostelries are mentioned so early as in the history of Moses (Gen 42:27; 43:21). Jeremiah calls them "a place for strangers" (Jer 41:17), wrongly rendered "habitation" in our Authorised Version. In the Talmud their designations are either Greek or Latin, in Aramaic form--one of them being the same as that used in Luke 10:34--proving that such places were chiefly provided by and for strangers. *

    * In the ancient Latin Itineraries of Palestine, journeys are computed by mansiones (night-quarters) and mutationes (change of horses)--from five to eight such changes being computed for a day's journey.

    In later times we also read of the oshpisa--evidently from hospitium, and showing its Roman origin--as a house of public entertainment, where such food as locusts, pickled, or fried in flour or in honey, and Median or Babylonian beer, Egyptian drink, and home-made cider or wine, were sold; such proverbs circulating among the boon companions as "To eat without drinking is like devouring one's own blood" (Shab. 41 a), and where wild noise and games of chance were indulged in by those who wasted their substance by riotous living. In such places the secret police, whom Herod employed, would ferret out the opinions of the populace while over their cups. That police must have been largely employed. According to Josephus (Anti. xv, 366) spies beset the people, alike in town and country, watching their conversations in the unrestrained confidence of friendly intercourse. Herod himself is said to have acted in that capacity, and to have lurked about the streets at night-time in disguise to overhear or entrap unwary citizens. Indeed, at one time the city seems almost to have been under martial law, the citizens being forbidden "to meet together, to walk or eat together,"--presumably to hold public meetings, demonstrations, or banquets. History sufficiently records what terrible vengeance followed the slightest suspicion. The New Testament account of the murder of all the little children at Bethlehem (Matt 2:16), in hope of destroying among them the royal scion of David, is thoroughly in character with all that we know of Herod and his reign. There is at last indirect confirmation of this narrative in Talmudical writings, as there is evidence that all the genealogical registers in the Temple were destroyed by order of Herod. This is a most remarkable fact. The Jews retaliated by an intensity of hatred which went so far as to elevate the day of Herod's death (2 Shebet) into an annual feast- day, on which all mourning was prohibited.

    But whether passing through town or country, by quiet side-roads or along the great highway, there was one sight and scene which must constantly have forced itself upon the attention of the traveller, and, if he were of Jewish descent, would ever awaken afresh his indignation and hatred. Where ever he went, he encountered in city or country the well-known foreign tax- gatherer, and was met by his insolence, by his vexatious intrusion, and by his exactions. The fact that he was the symbol of Israel's subjection to foreign domination, galling though it was, had probably not so much to do with the bitter hatred of the Rabbinists towards the class of tax-farmers (Moches) and tax-collectors (Gabbai), both of whom were placed wholly outside the pale of Jewish society, as that they were so utterly shameless and regardless in their unconscientious dealings. For, ever since their return from Babylon, the Jews must, with a brief interval, have been accustomed to foreign taxation. At the time of Ezra (Ezra 4:13,20, 7:24) they paid to the Persian monarch "toll, tribute, and custom"--middah, belo, and halach--or rather "ground-tax" (income and property-tax?), "custom" (levied on all that was for consumption, or imported), and "toll," or road-money. Under the reign of the Ptolemies the taxes seem to have been farmed to the highest bidder, the price varying from eight to sixteen talents--that is, from about 3,140 pounds to about 6,280 pounds--a very small sum indeed, which enabled the Palestine tax-farmers to acquire immense wealth, and that although they had continually to purchase arms and court favor (Josephus, Ant. xii, 154-185). During the Syrian rule the taxes seem to have consisted of tribute, duty on salt, a third of the produce of all that was sown, and one- half of that from fruit-trees, besides poll-tax, custom duty, and an uncertain kind of tax, called "crown-money" (the aurum coronarium of the Romans), originally an annual gift of a crown of gold, but afterwards compounded for in money (Josephus,Ant. xii, 129-137). Under the Herodians the royal revenue seems to have been derived from crown lands, from a property and income- tax, from import and export duties, and from a duty on all that was publicly sold and bought, to which must be added a tax upon houses in Jerusalem.

    Heavily as these exactions must have weighed upon a comparatively poor and chiefly agricultural population, they refer only to civil taxation, not to religious dues (see The Temple). But, even so, we have not exhausted the list of contributions demanded of a Jew. For, every town and community levied its own taxes for the maintenance of synagogue, elementary schools, public baths, the support of the poor, the maintenance of public roads, city walls, and gates, and other general requirements. It must, however, be admitted that the Jewish authorities distributed this burden of civic taxation both easily and kindly, and that they applied the revenues derived from it for the public welfare in a manner scarcely yet attained in the most civilized countries. The Rabbinical arrangements for public education, health, and charity were, in every respect, far in advance of modern legislation, although here also they took care themselves not to take the grievous burdens which they laid upon others, by expressly exempting from civic taxes all those who devoted themselves to the study of the law.

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