29. The Honest Merchant (IFA 6295)
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29 The Honest Merchant M O S H E R A B B I Hakham Judah Levi, one of the earliest sages of Haifa, more than sixty years ago, lived on the Street of the Jews. He was a true scholar, well versed in the Talmud and decisors.* He had a sweet voice and frequently led the congregation in prayer. The Jewish community appointed him their rabbi, but he did not want to derive any benefit from the community treasury and went into trade. The man was honest and his business flourished . Everyone knew there was no point in haggling with him. The price he set was not to be changed. Non-Jews, too, used to go into his shop to buy from him. Once an emir from Transjordan was sitting in the store and resting. He removed his broad belt (in which people used to keep their money, watch, and other paraphernalia) from his kumbaz** and laid it on the counter. After a long conversation with H.akham Judah, he purchased a large quantity of goods and paid for them. H.akham Judah wrapped up the merchandise and gave it to the emir. The emir took his purchases and left the store. But he forgot his belt in the shop. H.akham Judah saw the belt, which was full of gold dinars. He wrapped up the belt and put it into a cupboard, because he didn’t see the emir, who had already gone back to Transjordan and forgotten his belt. Three years later, the emir returned to H.akham Judah’s shop on the Street of the Jews. When H.akham Judah saw the emir, he recognized him and said, “Listen, my friend the emir!You have something on deposit with me!” “What?” asked the emir. “I don’t remember giving you anything for safekeeping.” H.akham Judah replied, “You’ll see straightaway!” He went over to the cupboard, opened it, and took out the belt with the money inside. The emir 213 * Rabbis with the authority to issue halakhic (Jewish law) rulings. ** Coatlike over-garment worn by Arabs.  214  Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1 looked at the belt and recognized it. “Please, count the money,” said H.akham Judah. “Check that it’s exactly the amount you left there.” “I don’t have to count it,” said the emir. “If you’ve saved the belt for three years, do you think I won’t trust you?” “Nevertheless, I want you to count the money,” said H.akham Judah. The emir counted his money. It was all there. He thanked H.akham Judah Levi for his honesty. When he went back out to the street, he spread the story among his Muslim friends. From that time on, H.akham Judah was well known among the gentiles, too. Everyone respected him for his honesty, saying, “There is none so honest and trustworthy as H.akham Judah Levi the Jew.” COMMENTARY FOR TALE 29 (IFA 6295) Recorded by Moshe Rabbi (Jerusalem).1 Cultural, Historical, and Literary Background H.akham Judah Levi, from Tétouan, Morocco, was a Haifa community leader and a cantor who died in 1932. The present story relates that as a learned man he followed the Jewish law concerning the return of property to its proper owner. These laws were first articulated in Exodus 23:4–5: “When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” And in Deuteronomy 22:1–4, we read: If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent . If you see your fellow’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it. Later, teachers and scholars elaborated on these biblical laws in Mishnah Bava Metzi’a 7:8; Shevu...


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