A doctor and the Angel of Death both kill, but the former charges a fee. Never send for a doctor, for one cannot expect a miracle to happen.
A Jewish doctor wrote the above ironic observations, a remarkable 12th century Barcelona-born author named Joseph Zabara. The sole surviving work by Zabara is “Sefer Sha’ashu’im” (“The Book of Delights”) a collection of biting tales, dialogues and observations in Hebrew. Available in an English translation by Moses Hadas originally published in 1932 by Columbia University Press and reprinted decades ago, “The Book of Delights” is long overdue for reprint. So it is good to have a new translation, the first ever into French, which appeared in September from Les éditions Les Belles Lettres.
Its translator is Nathan Weinstock, a Belgian lawyer and left-wing historian, who would presumably have little sympathy for Zabara’s apparent misogyny. This trend in the Catalonian medic’s writing is striking in such tales as “The Widow’s Vow,” in which a woman professes endless love for her late husband but eagerly marries another man, and “Woman’s Contentions,” in which a criminal on death row is offered a royal pardon if he marries a wicked woman, but opts for death rather than suffering “many deaths each day.”