A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 1

By Franz Kobler | Go to book overview
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39
A Correspondence on a Vow of Two Friends to go to the Land of Israel

THE Responsa of the Middle Ages abound with problems arising out of the desire of Jews to go to the Land of Israel, whether on a visit or a pilgrimage or to live and die there (see Chapter 27). Many of the stories revealed in these Responsa are of absorbing interest and show in the most impressive way the strength of the bond which linked the Jews in the Diaspora with the land of their fathers. An excellent example is the following letter written by a Spanish Jew to Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel, the disciple of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, who came as an exile from Germany to Toledo and founded there a famous school of learning.


JACOB BEN HANANEL TO ASHER BEN YEHIEL

'May my life and the life of my son be worthy in your eyes, and do you teach me the good and right way'

[ Cordova, 1321]

You have already been informed how I and Rabbi Hezekiah swore and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob to go to the Land of Israel, as you will see from the copy of the oath annexed to this letter. We fixed the time of our journey to be two years from the date of our oath. When the time came, we sold all our property and household goods, bought in their place equipment for exile and provisions for the voyage, and made all preparations to set out. When, however, we desired to hire a boat to take us from Cordova to Seville,1 we were informed that the ships of the kingdom of Portugal had put to sea to spoil and to seize booty, from every Jew and Moslem they might find at sea, at the bidding of the Pope. Notwithstanding this, we did not rely on the report, and went together to Seville to make inquiries and to find out whether our way was clear. We therefore left our wives and our houses and our daughters and all our

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