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536 59 A Porter Saves Maimonides’Life T O L D B Y M O T I E L B O K H E R T O P E N I N N A H M O S K O V I T S One day the wife of a needy porter went to the bathhouse; by chance, Maimonides’ wife was also there. All the bathhouse workers treated her with great respect. One ran to pour water on her; another brought her water. But no one paid any attention to the porter’s wife. This made her very upset and envious of the respect shown to Maimonides’wife. She decided that she wanted them to show her respect, too, so her husband should become a physician. She went home and told him, “Either you become a physician, or don’t come home again.” “What happened? What’s the matter?” asked her husband in astonishment . She told him about the great respect shown Maimonides’ wife. She, too, wanted to be a physician’s wife. When her husband realized that Maimonides was the source of his problem he decided to go ask his advice. When the latter heard the porter’s story, he said, “All right. It’s a simple matter. I’ll give you slips of paper. When you visit a sick person give him a slip for some medicine. Whoever was going to get better anyway will get better, and whoever was going to die will die.” The porter took the slips of paper and traveled through the villages. He was very successful. Everyone called him in, as a good doctor. Two years passed in this fashion. When he used up the last slip, he decided to go back and ask Maimonides for more. He went back to his hometown and found an uncommon silence there. “What’s wrong?” he asked. They told him, sadly, that Maimonides was dying. “He was eating a fried sole and a large bone got stuck in his throat. It won’t budge.” The porter raced to help Maimonides. He wanted to show off his expertise . He told Maimonides’ wife, “Hurry, hurry, bring me cupping glasses.” She was astonished. “What do you need cupping glasses for?” “I’m going to put one on the sole of his foot.”* When Maimonides heard this, he burst out laughing and the bone popped right out of his throat. And that’s how the porter saved Maimonides’ life. 59 / A Porter Saves Maimonides’ Life  537  * In the original tale, told in Ladino, it is likely that Maimonides choked on a turbot (kalkan) and that the porter wanted to put the cupping glass on his heel (kalkanal). The tale as found in the IFA was translated into Hebrew, and the pun was lost.  538  Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1 COMMENTARY FOR TALE 59 (IFA 5503) Told by Moti Elbokher from Bulgaria to Peninnah Moskovits in August 1963 in Haifa. Cultural, Historical, and Literary Background In Jewish folklore there are two basic scripted causes that trigger a curing laughter : a letter to Heaven (tale type 841*A [IFA] “Miraculous Help Arrives at the Last Moment: Letter to God”) and a sham prescription. Both forms occur in the folklore of non-Jewish societies as well. The two tale forms differ from each other in kind and in timing. The first form involves a request, often made around a seasonal holiday (usually Passover), and the second is an instrument for achieving financial gain on a continuous basis. Examples and annotations of the first tale form are available.1 The theme of a letter to Heaven is used as a narrative device in oral tradition not only to evoke laughter but also to promote a generous response , to increase the comedy, or to create a skeptical response to gifts received. A brief essay and several versions of these tales have been published.2 See also the notes to tale IFA 18601 (vol. 2). Both tale forms present occupational polarities in Jewish society. On the higher end of the social scale, these stories include rich men, governors, and physicians, who combine learning and prosperity. On the lower end, the characters include physician’s apprentices who, unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice (tale type 325* “Apprentice and Ghost”), blunder and cure their masters, and a whole range of nonprofessional occupations and uneducated individuals. The figure of the physician’s apprentice occurs only in the second form and is the opposite of his ailing master, but other...


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