Letter: Stras. 4038/9

Letter Stras. 4038/9



Complete calligraphic letter of appeal to Yefet ha-Sar, a Levi, begging for money to help pay the capitation tax for the writer and his two sons. The letter contains several interesting features. The writer says that every year Yefet ha-Sar is accustomed to persuading al-Shaykh al-Nafīs to pay the writer's capitation tax. The writer is in debt to the tune of 300 dirhams plus interest, at least partly due to the expense of marrying his son. Everyone is dying of hunger because "I only buy the bread of the market." He then cites the maxim that the poor of your household precede the poor of your city who precede the poor of another city, "So consider me as the poor of your household." He does not want his brother-in-law to hear about this (perhaps he is related to Yefet ha-Sar through his brother-in-law?). ASE.

Stras. 4038/9 recto




Mark Cohen, The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005).


"Salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord, He is their stronghold in time of trouble" (Psalm 37:39). 

"Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just ones, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11). 

"Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, in lauding, O upright, the Glorious One” (Psalm 33:1). 

I inform your gl(orious) ma(jesty), our master and teacher Yefet the honored Dignitary, the benefactor and generous one, "Benefactor of the Communities" and "Generous One of the Congregations," may your glory be exalted and your honor increased. May God give you fame and glory and raise your prominence higher and higher. May you be granted grace and good favor in the sight of Go[d and m]an, as the Bible says: "You shall find grace and good favor in the sight of God and man" (Proverbs 3:4). 

Our lord is aware of the situation of your slave and what happened to him. Every year my master has urged the elder, "the Nafīs" ("the Precious One") every year, with regard to (my) poll-tax payment. Now I am in big trouble because of it. The collector came and said that I must remain under house arrest, since I owe for three poll-tax payments. Ever since my eldest son has been with me I have been unable (to pay) for him as well as for myself and the younger one. By the Torah, I owe three hundred dirhems which I borrowed at interest to marry off my son. I cannot sit another day in the house; otherwise every one here will die of hunger. I only buy bread sold in the market. My master knows that "the poor of your household come before the poor of your town, and the poor of your town come before the poor of another town." Count me among the "poor of your household” and may I never cease to receive my master’s favor. May [Go]d make you a refuge for those [seek]ing refuge. Yo[u] know the lot (?) of the person who falls from his wealth. I ask [my master] please do not inform my son-in-law (or: brother-in-law) about any of this. May your welfare increase and not abate, and may your reward from heaven be twofold, for I have spoken hitherto out of the greatness of my complaint and my vexation (I Samuel 1:16). 


Stras. 4038/9 verso



A petition laid before the Dignitary of the Levites (sar ha-leviim), whose fame is known on the farthest shores, may the living God grant you long life. For my master is beyond all description.

From your slave, who th[ank]s you for your generosity.