Wise, witty, and pithy maxims or aphorisms. Jewish proverbs are derived from the following sources: (1) Biblical collections, included in the canon; (2) Apocryphal collections, not included in the canon; (3) the Talmud; (4) collections of the Moorish-Spanish period; (5) miscellaneous works. The Biblical collections include, apart from the aphorisms scattered through the Psalms and the Prophets, the collection known as the Book of Proverbs (see separate article). The chief sources for proverbs in the Apocrypha are Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and the Book of Wisdom. The New Testament quotes from the former without mentioning the source (comp. Luke xviii. 22 and Ecclus. xxix. 14); the Talmud forbids its being read, including it among the "sefarim hiẓonim," like the works of Ben Tiglah and Ben La'anah, and the "Megillat Ḥasidim." Yet, as the Talmud, despite its own prohibition, cites this megillah (Yer. Ber.), so it quotes from the book of Ecclesiasticus, with the words , and even without naming its source. Many of these Ecclesiasticus sentences acquire a more theological coloring in the Talmud, especially when associated with Biblical passages.
The Talmudic sources include the treatises Abot, Abot de-Rabbi Natan, Derek Ereẓ Rabbah, and Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa. The sporadic aphorisms of R. Johanan, the teachers of Jabneh (see Ber. 17a), and others, are quoted with the following formulas: . They fall into two classes, one inculcating, the necessity of prudence in the affairs of life (), and the other consisting of regulations for the practise of the religious life; many of them relate to dietetics. Most of them are compared with Biblical passages, being connected therewith either by the phrase , which lends a halakic note to them, or by the formulas . The number of Biblical passages at the basis of an aphorism is frequently given, as in Cant. R. 27a, and both (e.g., Ab. vi. 2; see M. J. Landau, "Geist und Sprache der Hebräer," pp. 20 et seq., Prague, 1822) and (Yeb. 4a et al.; comp. Ps. iii. 8) occur in witticisms.
Original collections of proverbs are found in: (1) "Mussar ha-Sekel," by R. Hai Gaon; (2) "Ben Mishle," by Samuel ha-Nagid; (3) "Tarshish," by Moses ibn Ezra; (4) three translations from the Arabic—"Mibḥar ha-Peninim" and "Tiḳḳun Middotha-Nefesh," by Solomon ibn Gabirol, and "Mussare ha-Filosofim," by Hunain ibn Isḥaḳ. Isolated proverbs are found in Baḥya ibn Paḥuda's "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," Abraham b. Hisdai's "Ben ha-Melek weha-Nazir," Ali's "Iggeret Mussar," Immanuel's "Maḥberot," Abraham Gavison's "Omer ha-Shikḥa," and others (comp. Jost's "Annalen," p. 83).Method of Quotation.
From the above sources a considerable number of proverbs can be cited which may be regarded as being more or less Jewish in character and which are utilized in various ways in Jewish literature. These maxims are quoted, either explicitly or implicitly,as proverbs, with the formulas , . The high regard in which proverbs were held is evident from Midr. Cant. 1b: "Scorn not the mashal, for through it thou mayest gain a firm hold upon the Law; like a king who had lost a piece of gold or a pearl, but by means of a wick, which is worth but a trifle, was able to find it again." The formulas , and are used to connect proverbs with Biblical passages. although the connection is at times merely mechanical; sometimes a proverbial meaning entirely foreign to it is given to a Biblical passage, as with Lev. xi. 15, , which is paraphrased as "Like seeks like."
Some Jewish proverbs are found in the New Testament, as (Gen. R. 20b; comp. Luke iv. 23). The proverbs originating in Palestine are generally quoted in the Babylonian Talmud with the phrase , or . Jerusalem is mentioned in Ket. 66b ( ); Galilee in B. Ḳ. 52 (); etc. An aphorism in Yer. Ḳid. 13a is quoted in the name of the millers ().
The nature of the ("Kobsin proverbs") is not clear (see Æsop's Fables). A purely Greek proverb is given in the Jerusalem Talmud ("Orient, Lit." viii. 330), and Arabic proverbs are easily recognizable (Steinschneider, "Jüdische Literatur," in Ersch and Gruber, "Encyc." section ii., part 28, p. 374). Jewish proverbs, which are mostly in Aramaic, are restrained and gentle in their satire, and not trivial, like the Arabic proverbs quoted by Freytag, "Proverbia Arabum," iii. 354 (Steinschneider, l.c. p. 375). It is indicative of a high level of culture among the Jews, as Dukes correctly observes ("Blumenlese," p. 16), that physical infirmities were seldom ridiculed in their proverbs, as they were among other peoples. The inhabitants of Nehar Pekoda are derided as Abderites; those of Pumbedita and Naresh as thieves (Ḥul. 127a); and those of Maḥoza as "fat-guts" (ib. 58b). Many persons have become historical through proverbs, as Ḳamẓa and Bar Ḳamẓa (Giṭ. 55b), Shwilnai (Sanh. 82b), Tobiah and Zigud (Pes. 113; Mak. 11a), Shilo and Johanan (Gen. R. 21b). Among the Biblical personages quoted are Zimri and Phinehas (Soṭah 22), Shechem and Mibgai (Mak. 11a). Garments also furnish comparisons, as in "His girdle is a sign of his poverty" (Ḥul. 108a). Moral lessons are drawn from fables, or the fables themselves are epitomized and quoted: e.g., in Sanh. 106 (the camel which desired grain); Gen. R. 58a (the raven that set fire to its nest); Yalḳ., Tehillim, 767 (the scorpion and the camel).
Puns were popular: e.g., in Palestine when any one married it was said (Yeb. 63b; comp. Eccl. vii. 27). Proverbs () are often quoted to elucidate difficulties in technical or philosophical problems.
Among proverbial phrases may be mentioned that in Soṭah 47b referring to the "sycophants" (= proud" [Rashi]); Gen. R. 59b, "Thy bread is baked everywhere," equivalent to "Thou wilt find sustenance anywhere"; Ḳid. 16b, "iota as the smallest object"; Yer. Ma'as. Sh. 15b, "to recognize one's bodkin" (i.e., his influence).
The Talmudic "mashal" (proverb) is usually concisely worded; it condenses the sense it has to express into a few clear-cut words. The animal kingdom is frequently drawn upon for illustration, and many of the fables and moralizations drawn therefrom become popular property by repetition, and ultimately are summed up in the form of proverbs. It is to be noted that the Talmudic proverb is generally expressed in concrete form, whereas proverbs in languages other than Hebrew favor abstract expressions. Compare, for instance, Yeb. 45a: ("In Media the camel dances on a basket"), which has the same meaning as the French, "A beau mentir qui vient de loin" ("He who comes from far may lie with impunity"); or B. K. 92a: ("Hurt the stalk and you hurt the cabbage"), which corresponds to the German "Mitgegangen, mitgefangen."
The following may be taken as examples of Talmudic proverbs:
- Character. The character of a man may be recognized by three things—his cup, his purse, and his anger.
- Man and the World. Before a man attains one-half of his desire, death comes.
- Youth and Age. He who possesses wisdom is old. Old men for the council, young men for war. When the old demolish, they build; when the young build, they destroy.
- Fortune and Misfortune. Fortune is a wheel which revolves with speed. The stars in heaven weep with him who weeps by night. Three kinds of men cause their own misfortunes: those who lend money without witnesses [without taking a receipt]; those who are ruled by their wives; and those who go into slavery by their own will. And who are these [latter]? Those who give their whole property to their children while they themselves are still in the flesh.
- Wealth and Poverty. Whose enjoyeth his riches is rich. Poverty runs after the poor, and wealth after the wealthy. (Comp. Matt. xxv. 29: "For unto every one that hath shall be given."] Only the ignorant man is really poor.
- Wisdom and Folly. A wise man is greater than a prophet. He who learns from every one is wise.
- Piety and Virtue. Moral transgressions are worse than ritual transgressions. Prayer without devotion is like a body without soul.
- Sin and Vice. Sinful thoughts are worse than sinful deeds. The eye and the heart are agents of sin.
- Passion. Evil inclination is at first slender as a spider's thread, and then strong as a rope. The greater the man, the more violent his passion.
- Self-Knowledge. Adorn thyself before thou undertakest to adorn others.
- Moderation. When wine enters in, the secret slips out. He who can digest barley-bread must not eat wheat-bread.
- Modesty. Wantonness [leads] to hell, modesty to paradise.
- Work. The famine lasted for years, but it did not enter the houses of the working men. Better to be a servant in the temple of an idol than to take alms.
- Learning. Learning is better than sacrifice. Learning is better than priesthood or kingship. Learning promotes peace in the world. If thou hast acquired knowledge, what dost thou lack? If thou lackest knowledge, what hast thou acquired? A bastard with learning is better than a high priest with ignorance. The sage who teaches not is as the myrtle in the desert.
- Teaching the Young. The teacher deserves the name of father more than does the parent. A blow with the tongue which goes to the heart is better than many stripes.
- Man and Wife. [On woman in rabbinical literature see "Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," i. 31, note 8.] If thy wife is short, stoop and whisper into her ear. Whoso remaineth unmarried deserveth not the name of man, for it is written: "Man and woman created he them, and he called their name man."
- Parents and Children. Whoso striketh his son that is grown driveth him to sin.
- Benevolence and Friendship. Thou shalt be measured with the same measure with which thou measurest. [Comp. Matt. vii. 2.] Love him who showeth thee thy faults more than him who only praiseth thee.
- Gratitude. Cast not stones into the well from which thou hast drunk.
- Philanthropy. Benevolence is better than sacrifice. Even the bird in the air knoweth the niggard. The beggar doth more for the giver than the giver for the beggar [comp. "It is more blessed to give than to receive"]. Who practiseth friendship entertaineth God Himself.
- Pride and Humility. If thou spittest into the air, thy spittle will fall on thine own face. Pride is a mask for faults.
- Insult and Injury. If one in a family has hanged himself, say not to them, "Hang up the fish," for this might be deemed an allusion. Be persecuted rather than persecute.
- Contention. It was said in Palestine: "Whoso first desisteth from strife is of good family." A quarrel is as a leak in a pail, which ever increases.
- Anger and Mildness. Patience ["matun"] is worth 200 ["matan"] dinars.
- Speech and Silence. A word is worth one dinar, silence is worth two. Like a bee, a word has honey in its sting.
- Slander. The tongue of slander kills three: him who is slandered, him who slanders, and him who listens.
- Lying and Truthfulness. A lie has no feet. Truth is the seal of God.
- Seemliness. Eat and drink according to thy means; dress above thy means. Three things are good in small measure, but, not in large: leaven, salt, and a refusal [in accepting attentions].
- Self-Criticism. The Jews give both to build the Temple and to make the golden calf. Israel is compared to the stars of heaven and to the dust of earth: if it rises, it rises to the stars, and if it falls, it falls even to the dust. The true Jew is distinguished for three qualities: sympathy, modesty, and benevolence.
- Death. So live that people may speak well of thee at thy grave. The just needs no memorial, for his deeds are his monument.
The Talmud contains a large fund of genuine world-wisdom in the form of Aramaic proverbs and popular sayings. They touch the whole round of human existence; the home, the family, society, as well as all the circumstances of the individual, are treated of with a keen knowledge of life and life's experiences. Cities and countries, as well as personages both Biblical and non-Biblical, are made the subjects of popular sayings. Those that follow certain callings are also favorite subjects of these utterances, as, for instance, weavers and wool carders; all revealing incidentally curious little points of information concerning the manners and customs, local happenings and circumstances, of those days in Babylonia and Palestine.
A proverb is frequently adduced in proof or attestation of some special teaching—and this not exclusively in haggadic portions of the Talmud; and it is not unusual even for a halakic discussion to be decided by the quotation of some popular saying, or for a lengthy religious controversy to be finally ended by the citation of some terse and appropiate maxim of daily life. There are traces of small collections of such sayings in the Talmud itself, as, for instance, in B. Ḳ. 92b, 93a, and Yeb. 118b. Some proverbs, moreover, possess value as proffering etymological explanations of words the meanings of which have become obscure. Some, and especially such as are paralleled in the New Testament, were no doubt exceedingly frequent in the mouths of the people long before the writing down of the Talmud. Those which refer to historical personages may be approximately fixed as to their date, but these, of course, are in the minority. The language in which all of these are couched is the eastern Aramaic dialect, which about the year 500 was spoken in the upper Euphrates and Tigris lands.
To the student of comparative proverbial literature the study of the Aramaic sayings and proverbs should yield rich results. Very many of them are encountered in some form in other languages, and many more have been adopted verbatim. The following may serve as examples:Comparative Use.
- (Sanh. 44a; "A myrtle is called a myrtle, and is a myrtle, even when growing among ferns"): compare "Il mirto e sempre mirto benche sla I'ortichi."
- (Shab. 53a; "The ass freezes, even in the month of Tammuz"); compare "Chi e destinato a gelare gela del mese d'Agosto."
- (Giṭ. 45a; Kid. 56b; "Not the mouse is the thief, but the mouse's hole").
- ("Opportunity makes the thief"); compare "Le trou invite le larron" and "Occasio facit furem."
- (Meg. 12b; "Even the weaver is a ruler in his own house"); compare "Chacun se tient fort sur son fumier" and "My house is my castle."
- (Yoma 79b: "Two kabs of dates, one kab of stones"); compare "Two baskets of dates, one basket of stones."
The following proverbs in Judæo-German are still current in eastern Europe:
- God and the World.None has ever lost aught to God.God waits long, but pays with interest.God strikes with one hand and heals with the other.Man strives and God laughs.Whom God would regale, man can not quail.If thou intend a thing, God will help thee.God gives naught for nothing.One path leads to paradise, but a thousand to hell.Better to receive from God by the spoonful than from man by the bushel.The world can be changed by neither scolding nor laughing.A man can bear more than tell oxen can draw.God forbid that we should experience all that we are able to bear.Ten enemies can not do a man the harm that he does to himself.A man can eat alone, but not work alone.Comrades are needed both for joy and for sorrow.Better a fool that has traveled than a wise man who has remained at home. [Compare "Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," i. 30, and Benfey, "Pantschatantra," ii. 6, No. 21.]A fool bringeth sorrow. [Compare ib. ii. 2. No. 8.]Everything in one is nowhere found.If folk knew what others intended for them, they would kill themselves.To know a man you must ride in the same cart with him.
- Man and Woman.[Compare "Mittheilungen." i. 31.] The wife exalteth her husband and casteth him down.Give thine ear to all, thy hand to thy friends, but thy lips only to thy wife.A man without a wife is like a "lulab" without "etrog."A third person may not interfere between two that sleep on the same pillow.Women persuade men to good as well as to evil, but they always persuade.Women refrain from reproving the tailor when he sews shrouds for them.Women must be led to the "ḥuppah," but they run to the divorce.Fools generally have pretty wives.Grace is worth more than beauty.Love tastes sweet, but only with bread.
- Family Life; Parents: Children.Small children, small joys: large children, large annoysThere is no bad mother and no good death.When the mother dies the neighbors ascertain how many children she had.Parents may have a dozen children, but each one is the only one for them.A boy, a blessing. [See "Mittheilungen," i. 39, and Benfey, l.c. ii. 51: "A girl has been born: a great care," etc.]A married daughter is as a piece of bread that is cut off.A father supports ten children, but ten children do not support one father.The mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law do not ride in the same cart.
- Money.Though money has a dirty father, it is regarded as noble.A golden nail drops from a golden cart.He who saves is worth more than he who cares.If thou borrowest money, thou dost purchase thee an enemy.Shrouds have no pockets.The way most valued leads to the pocket.In hell an ox is worth a groschen, but no man has that groschen.The poor are ever liberal.He that is sated believes not the hungry.If a poor man eat a chicken, either he is sick or the chicken was sick.He that hath "me'ot" [hundreds] hath "pe'ot" [opinions].
- Self-Criticism.Before the Jew goes to market he buys everything cheap [optimism].If a Jew breaks a leg, he says, "Praised be God that I did not break both legs"; if he breaks both, he says, "Praised be God that I did not break my neck."When a Jew is hungry, he sings: when the master [Polish nobleman] is hungry, he whistles; when the peasant is hungry, he beats his wife.Every Jew has his own Shulḥan 'Aruk.If the Jew be right, he is beaten all the more.The master [nobleman] thinks of his horse and dog, the Jew of his wife and child.If only two Jews remained in the world, one would summon to the synagogue and the other would go there.
- Fate.Intelligence is not needed for luck, but luck is needed for intelligence.When luck fails, the ducat loses worth.If I can not do as I will, I would rather sit still.Dowries and inheritances bring no luck.Nothing is so bad but that good may come of it.He who rejoices in his neighbor's good fortune will prosper.He with whom luck plays the game hits the mark without his aim.
- Life and Death.The angel of death always finds an excuse.Better ruined ten times than dead once.No man dies before his time.Every man knows that he must die, but no one believes it.Better a noble death than a wretched life.
The following proverbs are front earlier Judæo-German literature (compare "Mittheilungen," ii. 5-22; Glückel of Hameln, pp. 44, 47; Emden, "Dibre Emet we-Shalom," p. 16):
- He often gives counsel who has none himself.
- The rope drawn too taut is apt to break.
- As if a fried pigeon had flown into his mouth.
- Thou coverest shame with flg-leaves.
- The churl should not ride the king's horse.
- Where there is nothing the emperor loses his power.
- Parsimony enriches not, nor does benevolence impoverish.
- I. Bernstein, Jüdische Sprichwörter, in Hausfreund, 1889;
- H. Bloch. Omri Inschi, Breslau, 1884;
- L. Dukes, Rabbinische Blumenlese, Leipsic, 1844;
- idem, Zur Rabbinischen Spruchkunde, Vienna, 1850:
- D. Ehrmann, Aus Palilstina und Babylon;
- R. Faulche-Delbosi, Proverbs Judéo-Espagnoles, Paris, 1895);
- G. N. Gotemb, Mishle Ḥakamim, Wilna. 1879:
- Ad. Jellinek, Der Jüdische Stamm, Vienna, 1869;
- Dav. Kahane, Mishle 'Am, in Ha-Asif, iii.-iv., Warsaw. 1886-87;
- M. Kayserling, Bibl. Esp.-Port.-Jud.;
- idem, in Revue Hispanique, Paris, 1897;
- Mos. Levin, Aramäische Sprichwörter und Volkssprüche, Frankfort-on-the-Main. 1895;
- F. Sailer, Sinnsprüche aus dem Talmud und der Rabbinischen Literatur, Berlin;
- M. Schuhl, Sentences et Proverbes, Paris, 1878;
- Jac. Stern, Lichtstrahlen aus dem Talmud, Zurich, 1882;
- A. Tendlan, Sprichwörter und Redensarten Deutsch-Jüdischer Vorzeit, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1860;
- M. Wahl, Das Sprichwort der Hehräisch-Aramäischen Literatur, Leipsic, 1871;
- Weissberg, Mishle Ḳadmonim, Neisin, 1900;
- Michelstadt, Millin, de-Rabbanan, Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1780 (new ed., 1869).
- Buxtorf, Florilegium, etc., Basel, 1648;
- Fürstenthal, Rabbinische Anthologie, Breslau, 1835;
- G. Fürst, Perlen Aramäischer Gnomen, Leipsic, 1836;
- Jolowicz, Blüten Rabbinischer Weisheit, Thorn, 1849;
- Dessauer, Spruchlexicon dcs Talmuds und Midrasch, Budapest, 1876;
- Kohut, Aruch Completum;
- Wünsche, Neue Beiträge zur Erläuterung der Evangelien aus Talmud und Midrasch, Göttingen, 1878;
- I. Hamburger, R.B.T.