Medieval Jewish Business Letters
THE four following letters illustrate the high standard of the correspondence on commercial and financial matters maintained by Jews in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in all parts of the world, from India to Britain. The first, like the next one from the Genizah, is in rhymed prose, and shows the writer to have been far more interested in cultural achievements than in material gain. This dealer in head-dresses and foxes' furs, who resides in a Syrian town but hankers after Egypt, who longs to shine as a poet, studies talmudical commentaries and sends salutations to 'our master Moses, the teacher of righteousness' -- most probably Maimonides -- is an attractive example of a medieval Jewish bel esprit. The other letters are more matter-offact, but give the impression that the writers were men of integrity. The last two offer glimpses of the social position of the Jews in England in the middle of the thirteenth century. They were at that time still financial tools of the kings of England, as they had been since the Norman invasion. The letter from India, written in Judaeo-Arabic, gives a graphic portrait of a seafaring Jewish merchant on a remote corner of the medieval Jewish world.
AN UNKNOWN MERCHANT TO HIS FRIEND IN CAIRO
'I would dislike this country even if I were to be the owner of whole streets here'
[Kalne (Rakkah) in Syria, 1194 or 1197
...I saw no letter of my master until the 2oth of Sivan. Then two letters arrived which were beautiful beyond measure. My heart rejoiced when I saw them, my spirit was elevated when they were before my eyes. I appreciated them, so to say, as riches after poverty, as glory after insignificance, as happiness after misfortune, and as the deliverance from the Galuth. And having read them and understood their contents, I felt abased in my own eyes, and all my affairs appeared to me of no importance!