Of Righteousness and Demonology

Jerusalem Talmud
Jerusalem Talmud

I’m no talmudist, and I’m not even capable of reading Aramaic. But from time to time I like to pry open my copy of Abraham Cohen’s Everyman’s Talmud and troll for wisdom. It’s a distillation–one of the first in English–of the oceanic collection of post-biblical Jewish folklore, wisdom, law and other treats (I know this is a poor summary, but I’m rushing through this) which form the underpinnings of  modern Jewish culture. I’m assuming there are still people out there who’ve either never heard of it, or have an extremely vague working definition of what the Talmud is. Of course, this is entirely understandable, as it is one of the most maligned books in the history of the world. And one of the most overpraised.

Anyway, what drove me to this post was the skeptical tone of one (anonymous?) rabbi’s remark about charity–one of the great themes of talmudic moral hairsplitting. Should you give to the poor? Of course! It’s a mitzve to give, but a shanda to receive. But I never would’ve anticipated a remark like this:

“We must give credit to the imposters among the poor; were it not for them, if a man were asked for alms and did not give them at once he would be incurring punishment.”

In essence: since a good portion of beggars are misfits and crooks, there is nothing especially evil about casting an incredulous eye when the seemingly downtrodden ask you for change. Like most other things in life, it’s a question of individual judgement.

p.s. There are no links in the post because there is too much to wade through–both good and bad–on the internet. Just type “talmud” into any major search engine and see what I mean.

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