Tuesday, March 17, 2009

His books might confuse him - a 17th century cautionary tale about book stinginess

A pious Jew died, leaving many wonderful books, which the heirs sold to strangers. And when the other pious Jews saw this, they were pained that the children should be selling off their father's books.

Now in the same town there was a great sage, and he said to the pious people: "Don't feel so bad that the books are coming into strange hands. Let me tell you why this is happening and how he sinned. That man never wanted to lend a book to anyone. For he said he was an old man and his books might confuse him and he couldn't see very well. 'Others might ruin my books. So I won't lend my books to anyone.' But a man should not act like that. And since he never lent his books to anyone, they are now coming into strange hands."

from The Mayse Book (1602), by Jacob ben Abraham of Mezritch, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, No Star Too Beautiful: An Anthology of Yiddish Stories from 1382 to the Present.


  1. So, what is my karmic reward for happily loaning my books? If I don't get something out of it, I won't bother. lol

  2. Something about this is kind of beautiful. I don't know how to phrase it, but it's just... hmm. I have a feeling I might start lending my books out even more frequently now.

  3. At the end of any given school year, my library is ten or twelve books short of where it was at the beginning. I don't mind. It's worth the loss to be able to share the ideas with others.

    There's something fulfilling about turning someone onto an author that he or she might read again and again. I can only read a couple of my own books at a time anyway.

  4. Rob, your reward is that your book collection stays together after your death. That doesn't sound so great, come to think of it.

    I assume the bigger theme is not so much about books but knowledge - share your wealth. Lend your books, maintain a book website, and so on.

    Still, this story needs a companion - a cautionary tale about the perils of not returning books.