The Schmooze

A Catalan Jew's Concise Wisdom

“Tell a blind man his house is on fire and he will reply, ‘I wish I could see that!’”

“I don’t like having white hair but I like even less when it falls out. Isn’t it sad to worry about the loss of something one dislikes?”

“My son, I prefer to see you hunting lions than running after a woman.”

“A wise man is asked what he thinks of marriage. His reply: “It’s a month-long magnificent experience, followed by a lifelong nightmare.”

These and over 750 other incisive observations were collected around the year 1300 by the Catalan Jewish author, Judah (Jafuda) Bonsenyor. The resulting anthology, although apparently never translated into English, appeared in February from Les Éditions de la Merci as “Words of Wisdom From a Catalan Jew,” rendered into French by the poet and translator Patrick Gifreu. As Gifreu points out in a perceptive introduction, the 13th century was a “golden age of Catalan Judaism,” for scholars such as Nahmanides and others. After medical studies, Bonsenyor followed in the footsteps of his father, Astruc Bonsenyor, a Royal interpreter and translator. King James II of Aragon likely asked Bonsenyor to compile this book as a manual for the royal children. Most Catalan Jews of the day published in Hebrew or Arabic, the two main languages of intellectual discourse. Bonsenyor’s book remains the only surviving example of a Catalan Jew in the Middle Ages expressing himself in the Catalan language.

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A Catalan Jew's Concise Wisdom

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