Sefer Hasidim

This medieval work describes the ideal life of the pious Jew.

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Jewish-Christian Relations

The Sefer Hasidim is insistent that Jews must be completely honest in their dealings with Gentiles and this against the background of the Crusades when Christian-Jewish relations were strained, to say the least.

'If a Gentile cheats himself in accounts, the Jew must return the additional amount, and if a Jew is poor, it is better for him that he beg than cheat a Gentile (no. 661).'

It appears that, even in this period, it was not unknown for Christians to become converts to Judaism. The Sefer Hasidim says: 'If a Jew who is kind-hearted marries a kindhearted proselyte woman, it is better for other Jews to marry their descendants rather than the descendants of pure Jews who lack their virtue (no. 377).'

The Dark Side

Together with the lofty maxims, the Sefer Hasidim contains many medieval superstitions, the common property of both Jews and Christians of the time. There are ghost stories, tales of werewolves and vampires who prowl at night, and advice on how to forestall the evil designs of witches.

Some of these ideas, under the influence of the Sefer Hasidim, reappear in later Jewish works. But it is for its piety and sincere love of humanity that the book is admired as a classic of Jewish moralistic literature.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.