Thursday 23 October 2014


More from my translation of Victor Karben’s The Life and Customs of the Jews (1511):

After converting to the Christian faith, Karben found that he was treated with suspicion.
But I foresaw all the difficulties Christians were going to make for Jews who undergo baptism … but I have decided under no circumstances to go back on my resolve, and to bear everything with equanimity for the sake of Christ.  But another thing pierced my heart sharply: the knowledge that the Jews themselves often said a recently baptized Jew was very similar to a new white piece of fabric. Shallow people are glad and pleased with a piece of cloth while it is new and white, but after it has been made into a dress and worn on their backs for eight or nine days, it becomes less treasured with every passing day. The same thing happens to a newly baptized Jew.  Christians are keen on him at first. They are eager to talk and invite him for dinner. If they go anywhere, for the sake of comforting him, they ask him to accompany them and walk by their side. But after eight days they keep out of his way. He is neglected, avoided, excluded, and left to himself. Even worse, he is often derided and teased by the same people.
            After these autobiographical remarks, Karben turns to his task proper: a study of Jewish customs. He explains, for example, that they do not eat meat together with milk or cheese and any other milk products… Furthermore the Jews are obliged by the law of the Talmud to keep their knives separate. If they have two, one is for the use of eating meat, the other for use with other foods.  But that precept didn’t seem to go far enough. In addition they must store the knives in separate drawers, to keep one from touching the other. And they must be stored in such a manner that they may be able to tell them apart and know which knives to use for what purpose. To make it easier to tell them apart, the Talmud advises to put a mark on each single knife. Those meant for eating milk products are marked with a small triple notch… If it happens, by some chance or on purpose, that the use of the knives is mixed up and someone uses a knife to cut meat which until then was used to cut milk products or vice versa, it cannot be used for food from there on, and the matter does not go unpunished.
            If this happens to a poor man who cannot afford to discard a wrongly used knife, he must place his knife into a burning fire for three hours until it is white hot, then he must bury it in the ground for up to three days. Afterwards he must take it out and dip it three times into a well or other flowing water…

(Source: Victor Karben, De vita et moribus Iudeorum, Paris 1511)

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