Salomon Maimon.

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the judgment of the Talmudists, damned to all eternity.
The common man dare not enter upon the most trivial
undertaking, if, in the judgment of the scholar, it is not
according to law. Religious usages, allowed and for
bidden meats, marriage and divorce are determined not
only by the rabbinical laws which have already accumu-
lated to an enormous mass, but also by special rabbinical
judgments which profess to deduce all special cases from
the general laws. A wealthy merchant, farmer or pro-
fessional man, who has a daughter, does everything in
his power to get a good Talmudist for his son-in-law.
As far as other matters are concerned, the scholar may
be as deformed, diseased, and ignorant as possible, he
will still have the advantage over others. The future
father-in-law of such a phoenix is obliged, at the be-
trothal, to pay to the parents of the youth a sum fixed by
previous agreement ; and besides the dowry for his
daughter, he is further obliged to provide her and her
husband with food, clothing, and lodging, for six or
eight years after their marriage, during which time the
interest on the dowry is paid, so that the learned son-in-
law may continue his studies at his father-in-law's ex-
pense. After this period he receives the dowry in hand,
and then he is either promoted to some learned office,
or he spends his whole life in learned leisure. In either
case the wife undertakes the management of the house-

An Autobiography. 45

hold and the conduct of business ; and she is content if
only in return for all her toils she becomes in some
measure a partaker of her husband's fame and future

The study of the Talmud is carried on just as
irregularly as that of the Bible. The language of the
Talmud is composed of various Oriental languages and
dialects ; there is even many a word in it from Greek
and Latin. There is no dictionary, in which you can
turn up the expressions and phrases met with in the
Talmud ; and, what is still worse, as the Talmud is not
pointed, you cannot even tell how such words, that are
not pure Hebrew, are to be read. The language of the
Talmud, therefore, like that of the Bible, is learned only
through frequent translation; and this constitutes the
first stage in the study of the Talmud.

When the pupil has been directed for some time in
translation by the teacher, he goes on to the independent
reading or explanation of the Talmud. The teacher
gives him a limited portion of the Talmud, containing
within itself a connected argument, as a task in exposi-
tion, which he must perform within a fixed time. The
particular expressions and forms of speech occurring in
the passage must either be known by the pupil from his
former lessons, or the teacher, who here takes the place
of a dictionary, explains them to him. But the tenor
and the entire connection of the prescribed passage the

^(3 Solomon Maimo?i :

pupil is required to bring out himself; and this consti-
tutes the seco?id stage in the study of the Talmud.

Two commentaries, which are commonly printed along
with the text, serve as the chief guides at this point.
The author of the one is Rabbi Solomon Isaac,* a man
gifted with grammatical and critical knowledge of lan-
"uacre, with extensive and thorough Talmudic insight,
and with an uncommon precision of style. The other is
known by the title of Tosaphoth (Additions), and is the
work of several rabbis. Its origin is very remarkable.
A number of the most famous rabbis agreed to study the
Talmud in company. For this purpose each selected a
separate portion, which he studied by himself till he
believed that he had fully comprehended it, and retained
it in memory. Afterwards all the rabbis met, and began
to study the Talmud in company according to the order
of its parts. As soon as the first part had been read out,
thoroughly explained, and settled according to the
Talmudic Logic, one of the rabbis produced, from the
part of the Talmud with which he was most familiar,
anything that appeared to contradict this passage.
Another then adduced, from the part which he had
made thoroughly his own, a passage which was able to

* Solomon ben Isaac, as he is more correctly named, or Raschi,
as he is also called, was an eminent Talmudic scholar of Troyes in
the latter half of the eleventh century. It was his son-in-law,
Meir, and the three sons of Meir, who may be said to have begun
the Tosaphoth, referred to in the text. — Trans,

An Autobiography. 47

remove this contradiction by means of some distinction
or some qualification unexpressed in the preceding
passage. Sometimes the removal of such a contradiction
occasioned another, which a third rabbi disclosed, and a
fourth laboured to remove, till the first passage was ex-
plained harmoniously by all, and made perfectly clear.
It may easily be imagined, what a high degree of subtlety
is required to reduce the Talmud to first principles, from
which correct inferences may be drawn after an uniform
method; for the Talmud is a voluminous and hetero-
geneous work, in which even the same subject often
turns up in different passages, where it is explained in
different ways.

Besides these two there are several other commen-
taries which treat the subject further, and even make
corrections on the two just mentioned. Indeed, every
rabbi, if he possesses sufficient acuteness, is to be viewed
as a living commentary on the Talmud. But the highest
effort of the mind is required to prepare a selection from
the Talmud or a code of the laws deducible from it. y
This implies not only acuteness, but also a mind in the
highest degree systematic. Herein our Maimonides un-
doubtedly deserves the first rank, as may be seen from
his code, Jad Hachazekah.

The final stage in the study of the Talmud is that of
disputation. It consists in eternally disputing about the
book, without end or aim. Subtlety, loquacity, and im-
pertinence here carry the day. This sort of study was

4S Solomon Mainion :

formerly very common in the Jewish high schools ; * but
in our times along with the schools it has also fallen in-
to decay. It is a kind of Talmudic scepticism, and
utterly incompatible with any systematic study directed
to some end.

*As it was at one time throughout all Christendom, and pro-
bably under every civilisation at a certain stage of its history. —

A?i Aiitohiography. 49


Joy endureth but a little while.

After this digression on the study of the Talmud I re-
turn to my story. As already mentioned, I was sent to
school at Iwenez. My father gave me a letter to the
chief rabbi of this place, who was a relation of ours, re-
questing him to give me in charge to an able teacher,
and to give some attention to the progress of my studies.
He gave me however in charge to a common school-
master, and told me I was to visit him every Sabbath in
order that he might examine me himself. This injunc-
tion I punctually followed ; but the arrangement did not
continue long ; for at one of these examinations I began
to dispute about my lessons and suggest difficulties,
when, without replying to them, the chief rabbi asked
me if I had stated these difficulties to my teacher also.

" Of course," I replied.

" And what did he say ? " asked the chief rabbi.

" Nothing to the point," I replied, " except that he en-
joined silence on me, and said, ' A youngster must not
be too inquisitive; he must see to it merely that he
understands his lesson, but must not overwhelm his
teacher with questions.' "

CO Solomon Maimon :

"Ah !" said the chief rabbi, "your teacher is alto-
gether too easy, we must make a change. I will give
you instruction myself. I will do it merely out of
friendship, and I hope that your father will have as httle
to say against it as your former teacher. The fee which
your father pays for your education, will be given to
your teacher without deduction.''

In this way I got the chief rabbi for a teacher. He
struck out a way of his own with me. No weekly
lessons repeated till they are impressed on the memory,
no tasks which the pupil is obliged to perform for him-
self, and in which the course of his thoughts is very
often arrested for the sake of a single word or a figure of
speech, which has little to do with the main subject.
His method distinguished itself from all this. He made
me explain something from the Talmud ex tempore in
his presence, conversed with me on the subject, ex-
plained to me so much as was necessary to set my own
mind in activity, and by means of questions and answers
turned my attention away from all side-issues to the
main subject, so that in a short time I passed through
all the three above-mentioned stages in the study of the

My father, to whom the chief rabbi gave an account
of his plan with me and of my progress, went beside
himself with joy. He returned his warmest thanks to
this excellent man for putting himself to so much trouble
with me out of mere friendship, and that notwithstand-

A?i Autobiography. 51

ing his delicate state of health, for he was consumptive.
But this joy did not last long ; before a half year was
ended, the chief rabbi had to betake himself to his
fathers, and I was left like a sheep without a shepherd.
This was announced to my father, who came and

fetched me home. Not, however, to H , from

which I had been sent to school, but to Mohilna, about
six miles from H , whether my father had mean-
while removed. This new change of abode had taken
place in the following way.

Mohilna is a small hamlet in the territory of Prince
Radzivil four miles from Nesvij, his residence. The
situation of this place is excellent. Having the river
Niemen on one side, and on the other a large quantity
of the best timber for ships, it is adapted equally for
trade and for shipbuilding. Moreover the district in it-
self possesses great fertility and amenity. These facts
could not escape the attention of the Prince. The far-
mer or arendant of the place, whose family for some
generations had been in possession of this lucrative farm,
and had become rich by means of the shipbuilding trade,
and the numerous fine products of the district, took all
possible pains to prevent these great advantages from
being observed, in order that he might be able to enjoy
them alone without being disturbed. But it happened
once that the prince was travelling through the place,
and was so taken with its beauty, that he resolved to
make a town of it. He sketched a plan for this, and

5 2 Solomon Maimon :

made an announcement that the place was to be a
Slabode ; that is, every one was to be at liberty to settle
in the place, and drive any kind of trade, and was even
to be free from all taxes for the first six years. For a
long time, however, this plan was never carried out, owing
to all sorts of intrigues on the part of the arendant, who
went so far as even to bribe the advisers of the prince to
turn his attention away from the subject.

My father, who saw clearly that the miserable farm of

H could not support him and his family, and had

been obliged to remain there hitherto only from want of
a better abode, rejoiced very much at the announcement,
because he hoped that Mohilna would offer him a place
of refuge, especially as the arendant was a brother-in-law
of my uncle. In this connection he made a journey to
the place with my grandfather, had a conversation with
the arendant, and opened to him his proposal to settle
in Mohilna with his consent. The arendant, who had
feared that, on the announcement of the prince's wish,
people would stream in from all sides, and press him out
of his possession, was delighted that at least the first who
settled there was not a stranger, but related to his family
by marriage. He therefore not only gave his consent to
the proposal, but even promised my father all possible
assistance. Accordingly my father removed with his
whole family to Mohilna, and had a small house built
for himself there ; but till it was ready, the family were
obliged once more to take up their quarters in a barn.

Aft Autobiography. 53

The arendant, by whom at first we were received in a
friendly manner, had unfortunately meanwhile changed
his mind, and found that his fear of being pressed out of
his possession by strangers was wholly without ground,
inasmuch as already a considerable time had passed
since the announcement of the prince's wish, and yet
nobody had presented himself besides my father. The
prince, as a Polish chief and Voivode in Lithuania, was
constantly burdened too much with State affairs in A\'ar-
saw, to be able to think on the carrying out of his plan
himself; and his subordinates could be induced by
bribes to frustrate the whole plan. These considerations
showed the arendant that the new-comer could not only
be spared, but was even a burden, inasmuch as he had
now to share with another what he had before held in
possession alone. He sought therefore to restrict my
father, and to disturb him in his settlement, as much as
possible. With this view he built for himself a splendid
house, and succeeded in obtaining a command from
the prince, in accordance with which none of the new-
comers should enjoy the rights of a burgher till he had
built a similar house. My father saw himself therefore
compelled to waste his little fortune, which was indis-
pensably required for the new arrangements, wholly and
solely on this useless building.

5^ Solomon Maimon :


The Pupil knows more than the Teacher — A theft a la Rousseau,
which is discovered — "The ungodly provideth, and the
righteous putteth it on."

My father's condition had thus externally an improved
appearance, but so much the more doubtful did it ap-
pear internally on that account. My mother, notwith-
standing her unwearied activity, was able to make only
a very sorry provision for the family. Accordingly my
father was obliged to seek, in addition to his other duties,
a position as teacher, in which he carried on my educa-
tion ; and I must confess that in this connection I gave
him, on the one hand, much joy, but, on the other hand,
not a Httle vexation. I was then indeed only about
nine years old ; still, I could not only understand the
Talmud and its commentaries correctly, but I even took
delight in disputing about it, and in this I felt a childish
pleasure in triumphing over my honest father, whom I
thereby threw into no small perplexity.

The arendant and my father lived together like neigh-
bours ; that is, they envied and hated each other. The
former looked on my father as a vagrant, who had forced
himself upon him, and disturbed him in his undivided

A?i Autobiography. 55

possession of the advantages of the place. My father
took the arendant for a wealthy blockhead, who, against
the consent which he had granted, which my father
might have dispensed with altogether and had sought
merely from the love of peace, endeavoured in every
way to restrict him and to narrow his rights, notwith-
standing the fact that he received actual advantages from
his settlement. For from this time Mohilna had acquired
a sort of independence, by means of which the arendant
was spared many expenses and depreciations. There
was also a small synagogue erected, and my father took
the position of chief rabbi, preacher, and director of the
conscience, as he was the only scholar in the place. He
lost, indeed, no opportunity of representing all this to
the arendant, and making complaints of his conduct;
but unfortunately this was of little use.

I must take this opportunity of mentioning the only
theft which I ever perpetrated in my life. I often went
to the house of the arendant, and played with his child-
ren. Once, when I entered a room and found no one
there, it being summer and the people of the house all
busy out of doors, I spied in an open closet a neat little
medicine- box which appeared to me uncommonly
charming. When I opened it, I found, to my very
great sorrow, some money in it ; for it belonged to one
of the children of the house. I could not resist the de-
sire to carry off the little box ; but to take the money
seemed to me in the highest degree shameful. But

5 6 Solomon Maimo7i:

when I considered that the theft would be all the more
easily discovered if I put the money out, full of fear and
shame I took the box as it was and thrust it in my
pocket. I went home with it, and buried it very care-
fully. The night following I could not sleep, and was
disquieted in conscience, especially on account of the
money. I resolved, therefore, to take it back ; but in
regard to the little box, I could not conquer myself : it
was a work of art, the like of which I had never seen be-
fore. The next day I emptied the box of its contents,
slunk with them into the room already mentioned, and
waited for an opportunity when nobody was there. I
was already engaged in smuggling the money into the
closet ; but I had so little skill in doing this without
noise and with the necessary despatch, that I was caught
in the act, and forced to a confession of the whole theft.
I was obliged to dig up again the valuable work of art, —
it must have cost about a quarter of a groschen, — to re-
turn it to its owner, little Moses, and to hear myself
called thief hy the children of the house.

Another incident, which happened to me and had a
comical issue, was the following. The Russians had
been quartered for some time in Mohilna, and as they
obtained new mountings, they were allowed to sell the
old. My eldest brother Joseph and my cousin Beer
applied to Russian acquaintances of theirs, and received
in a present some brass buttons, which, being considered
a fine decoration, they got sewed on to their hose instead

An Autobiography, 57

of the wooden buttons they had before. I also was de-
lighted with the decoration ; but as I had not the skill
to furnish myself by my own diligence, I was compelled
to make use of force. I applied, therefore, to my father,
and demanded that Joseph and Beer should be required
to share their buttons with me. My father, who, indeed,
was extremely fair, but still was fond of me above every-
thing, said that the buttons were, of course, the rightful
property of their owners, but that, as these had more
than they required for their own wants, it was but fair
that they should give me some of those that they did
not require. To my commendation and their confusion
he added the passage of the Bible, " The ungodly pro-
videth, and the righteous putteth it on."* This decision
had to be carried out in spite of the protest of Joseph
and Beer ; and I had the pleasure of also shining in
brass buttons on my hose.

Joseph and Beer ho'wever could not get over their loss.
They complained loudly of the impious wrong which had
been done to them. ]\Iy father, who wished to get rid
of the affair, told them therefore, that, as the buttons had
been already sewed on to Solomon's hose, they must not
use force, but that, if they could get them back again by

* This seems to be Job xxvii. 17, which in our Authorised Ver-
sion runs: — "He (a wicked man) may prepare it (raiment), but
the just shall put it on." Maimon seems to render it from memory:
— " Der Gottlose schafft sich an, und dcr Fromme bekleidet sich
damit." — Trans.


^S Solomon Maimon :

stratagem, they were at liberty to do so. Both were
pleased with this decision. They came to me, looked at
my buttons, and both at once exclaimed in astonishment,
" Oh ! what is that we see? Buttons sewed on to cloth
hose with linen instead of hemp thread ! They must be
taken off at once." While they were speaking, they took
off all the buttons, and went off with joy over their suc-
cessful stratagem. I ran after them, and demanded that
they should sew the buttons on again ; but they laughed
me to scorn. My father said to me smiling at this,
" Since you are so credulous, and allow yourself to be
deceived, I cannot help you any longer ; I hope you will
be wiser in the future." With this the affair came to an
end. I was obliged to content myself with wooden
buttons, and to have often repeated to my mortification
by Joseph and Beer, the biblical passage, which my
father had used to my advantage, "The ungodly pro-
videth, and the righteous putteth it on."

An Autobiography. 59


Love Affairs and Matrimonial Proposals — The Song of Solomon
may be used in Matchmaking — A new Modus Lucratidi —

In my youth I was very lively, and had in my nature a
good deal that was agreeable. In my passions I was
violent and impatient. Till about my eleventh year, as
I had the benefit of a very strict education, and was kept
from all intercourse with women, I never traced any
special inclination towards the fair sex. But an incident
produced in me a great change in this respect.

A poor, but very pretty, girl about my own age was
taken into our house as a servant. She charmed me un-
commonly. Desires began to stir in me, which till this
time I had never known. But in accordance with the
strict rabbinical morals, I was obliged to keep on my
guard against looking on the girl with attentive gaze, and
still more against speaking with her, so that I was able
only now and then to throw at her a stolen glance.

It happened once however that the women of the
house were going to bathe, which by the usage of the
country they are accustomed to do two or three times a
week. By chance my instinct drove me without reflec-

6o Solomon Maim on :

tion towards the place where they bathed ; and there I
suddenly perceived this beautiful girl, as she stepped out
of the steam-bath and plunged into the river flowing by.
At this sight I fell into a sort of rapture. After my feel-
ings had calmed down again, being mindful of the strict
Talmudic laws, I wished to flee. But I could not; I
remained standing, as if rooted in the spot. As I
dreaded however lest I might be surprised here, I was
obliged to return with a heavy heart. From that time I
became restless, was sometimes beside myself; and this
state continued till my marriage.

Our neighbour, the arendant, had two sons and three
daughters. The eldest daughter, Deborah, was already
married. The second, Pessel, was about my age ; the
peasantry of the place professed to find even a certain
resemblance in our features, and therefore, in accordance
with all the laws of probability, conjectured that there
would be a match between us. We formed also a
mutual affection. But by ill luck the youngest daughter,
Rachel, had to fall into a cellar and dislocated one of her
legs. She herself, indeed, completely recovered, but the
leg remained somewhat crooked. The arendant then
started a hunt after me ; he was absolutely determined
to have me for a son-in-law. My father was quite agree-
able, but he wished to have for his daughter-in-law the
straight-legged Pessel rather than Rachel of the crooked
leg. The arendant however declared that this was imprac-
ticable, inasmuch as he had fixed on a rich husband for


An Autobiography, 6i

the elder, while the youngest was destined for mc ; and as
my father was unable to give me anything, he was willing
to provide for her richly out of his own fortune. Besides
a considerable sum which he agreed to give as a portion,
he was willing in addition to make me a joint-heir of his
fortune, and to provide me with all necessaries the whole
of my life. Moreover he promised to pay my father a
fixed sum immediately after the betrothal, and not only
to leave him undisturbed in his rights, but also to try
and promote his domestic happiness in every possible
way. The feuds between the two families were to cease
from this time, and a league of friendship was to unite
them for the future into one family.

Had my father lent an ear to these representations, he
would without doubt have established the fortune of his
house, and I should have lived with a spouse, who, it is
true, had a crooked leg, but (as I found out some time
afterwards when I was tutor in her family) was in other
respects an amiable woman. I should thus have been
freed from all cares in the midst of good fortune, and I
should have been able to apply myself without hindrance
to my studies. But unhappily my father rejected this
proposal with scorn. He was absolutely determined to
have Pessel for his daughter-in-law; and since this, as
already mentioned, was impracticable, the feuds between
the two families broke out afresh. But as the arendant
was rich, and my father was a poor man, the latter was
necessarily always the loser.

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