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4. Aharon Garish, Metsaḥ Aharon

p. 161-172

Texte intégral

1A commentary on Deuteronomy, MS London Or. 10704 (Gaster Collection 930), fols. 97a–99b:


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Arabic Transcription

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2Note1 Note2

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3Note3 Note4

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4And his saying “lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord” (Deut. 29.17) and he does not take hold of the Torah and the commandments, then the Lord shall be angry at him and shall blot out his name, and the Lord shall separate him unto evil […] and will not be willing to pardon him [...] and shall blot out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29.19), just like:

5The story of a person named Shmuel, who was a great scholar, and he converted and became a Christian, and learned their religion, and became an enemy of Israel, and he became an expert in their ideas. The Christians called him Paulo. He thought to diminish the community of Israel—May it not befall us! He decreed to destroy Israel and not leave—May it not befall us— any (97b) survivors. So he went to the gentile Sultan and told him: “These Jews are our enemies, and in their prayers they curse us, they only want evil for us, and they are our worst enemies. Listen to me and I shall destroy them from the world. Whoever choses to convert to our religion we shall keep alive.” The Sultan answered him: “On what pretext are we going to destroy them?” He told him: “I have forty questions. If they answer them, so be it; and if they don’t, I shall surely destroy them all at once.”

6At that moment the Sultan sent for the Jewish leaders and scholars, and they came before the Sultan, the Prime Minister, ministers, and princes. That evil convert stood there and decreed, and said they needed to answer those forty questions. They could not answer, not even a single question.

7The community of Israel wept hard, and said: “Our master the Sultan, we ask you for mercy, please spare us and give us an extension of forty days for the forty questions this man wants to ask us.” God almighty put mercy in his heart, and he gave them a forty-day extension.

8They came to the (98a) synagogue, and prayed and beseeched God almighty, and decreed a communal fast, and sent messengers to all the nearby towns to fast and pray to God almighty.

9One of these messengers went missing for twenty days. On the twentieth day he saw an honoured, distinguished old man. The old man asked that person: “Do you have any business in this town?” He said: “Sir, you should know that the Jews are in serious trouble, and have received a forty-day extension from the Sultan, twenty of which have already passed. Twenty days are left, and—May it not befall us—they will kill everyone, if they don’t know the questions this evil man wants to ask the Jews.” The old man answered him: “Don’t be afraid. Sit with me, and you will have nothing but good and peace.” Against his will he sat with the old man for eighteen days. With two days left out of the twenty, the man told the old man: “Sir, please let me go and I will go wander the world. I have no patience left in me to wait these two days.” He told him: “My son, be patient, and believe in God almighty, who will not leave the sons of Israel and will not desert them, as it is said “I will not forsake my people Israel” (1 Kgs 6.13; altered version), but he is with them in all trouble, as it is said “I will be with him in trouble” (Ps. 91.15).

10The old man had (98b) a pool full of water. He told him: “Get up today in order we will pray to God almighty, and ask him on behalf of the community of Israel, to help them with that evil man.” The two of them rose, and they were calling and praying to the Lord of the World for the redemption of Israel. That old man said to that Jew: “Take off your clothes, so that you and I can get into this pool for ritual immersion.” The man took his clothes off, and angels came and took the clothes, and brought the men to the bath in the town of the Jews in danger of the decree. They went down for ritual immersion, and the two immersed in that bath. The man said to the old man: “Sir, who brought us to this place?” The old man said to him: “Be quiet and see the greatness of the Lord almighty.”

11When they got to the Jewish neighbourhood, they saw the evil ones taking the Jews to bring them to the Sultan. The old man told them: “Let these Jews go, and I will come to the Sultan, and give him his answers.” They took the old man and brought him to the Sultan.

12He said to the Sultan and the others who were present: “Let this man come and ask me. If I answer his questions, good; and if I don’t answer his questions, kill me first.” The Sultan said: “Well (99a) spoken.” They brought the evil man, who said to the old man: “You, worthless old man, you can give me my answers?!” He told him: “Ho, evil one, I—with the power of God almighty, God of Israel—can give you your answers. But I will say something, with the permission of the Sultan and those present. I also have a few questions. If you don’t answer them, your blood shall be permitted, and I will kill you.” The evil man said: “Yes, and so be it.”

13That evil rose and asked the forty questions. That old man answered him all of them, and Israel were saved in peace. The old man said: “Our master, the Sultan, I want him to answer my questions.” So he asked him a first question, and second and third, and he couldn’t answer a single one. He immediately was condemned to death. That old man rose and said: “Sir, that evil man is mentioned in the Torah of Moses—may he rest in peace— in the portion of Atem Nitsavim ‘Ye stand’, and that eventually his name will be changed, and you would call him Paulo, and with us his name was Shmuel. See how God has given you wisdom to call him Paulo ( ולופ ):

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14P – ‘lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood’ (Deut. 29.17); W – ‘And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out’ (v. 20); L – ‘The Lord will not spare him’ (v. 19); W – ‘and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven’ (v. 19).

15At that moment the old man said: “Lion, go out and take your share!” The wall broke open and a big lion came out, who killed him and left no remains. The lion turned around to kill the Sultan. The Sultan rose off his throne and told the old man: “By your life and the life of your Torah, which is true, take a promise from me that I will do nothing evil to the Jews, only respect and glorify them, and make them chiefs over us, and remove all troubles from them. Save me from that lion!” The old man rose and told the lion: “Ho, Lion, when this Sultan is ill-favoured toward the Jews, come out and kill him in a shameful death.” The Sultan sat on his throne and Israel were saved from that trouble.

16And as Israel were saved from that evil, they shall be saved from any trouble and calamity, “and may God be with us, like he was with our fathers” (1 Kgs 8.57). Amen.


17The story brought here is unusual in two dimensions: it is the only folk story mentioned in Metsaḥ Aharon, and it reflects a cultural setting that was foreign to Aleppo Jewry in the early 16th century. However, it fits well with Rabbi Aharon Garish’s cultural background. The commentary was based mostly on Midrashim and early Agadot, Torah commentaries (Rabbenu Ḥananel, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, Ḥizkuni, Nahmanides, Baḥya ben Asher, Rabbi Yaacov ben Asher [Baʿal Ha-Turim], the Tosafotists), Rabbi Yehoshua Ibn Shuʿayb’s sermons, Maimonides (Mishne Torah and The Guide for the Perplexed), and Arbaʿa Turim—Oraḥ Ḥayyim. Therefore, his cultural world was a blend of the best of Europe’s composition—Spain, Provence, France, and Ashkenaz.

18The background for this story is the public polemics that took place between churchmen, particularly converts, and Jewish leaders in Spain and France, especially during the 13th–14th centuries, which was unknown to the Muslim Orient. While strange to the Aleppo lifestyle, it shows that the thrilling plot, the eventual miraculous resolution, and anchoring the story in Torah verses were enough to include it in the commentary. It is a reflection of the commentator’s (or his ancestors’) cultural world, a heritage passed on from generation to generation, dearly cherished.

19Various considerations (literary, linguistic, stylistic, and educational) suggest that it started as an oral sermon given by Rabbi Aharon on Shabbat Nitsavim, which later resulted in it being included in the written commentary.5

Notes de bas de page

1  Image 100000000000007400000021E5ABE6790D974C7E.jpg.

2  This could be a case of borrowing from the Hebrew verb יתחנן.

3  3Image 10000000000000440000001A4855A9E3652791F8.jpg.

4  Borrowing from the Hebrew verb טבל, means dive in the water, or go under water.

5  This story is found in a shorter version in Havlin (1995, 176–177), and the arena there is Provence, probably the 12th Century. See also Ilan (1996, esp. 181–184, 207–210).

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