Wednesday, August 08, 2007

According to His Custom

There's a fascinating article in today's WSJ that gives new meaning to the story recorded in Ketubot 67b. That is the story about the poor man who comes before Raba and asks for luxuries and delicacies- a fattened chicken and aged wine. Raba is amazed; how can this man possibly think it's okay to ask for such rich foods when he's a beggar? The man answers with a biblical verse, citing that the food belongs to God and God apportions "in his time." Sure enough, Raba's sister stops by with a fattened chicken and aged wine. The idea is that we must treat people according to the way in which they were accustomed to living- a beggar who was once a rich man must be provided for in that manner as opposed to someone who has always been poor and never tasted of such delicacies. (See Hirhurim's "Laws of Charity" post for more details.)

Here's the link to this fascinating WSJ article, though unfortunately you can only read the full article if you are a subscriber.

The article is about Mr. Kishore Biyani, a man who initially tried to implement US methods in his retail stores in India and failed. He then reverted to the style of supermarket Indians were accustomed to and succeeded. Quote:

    Americans and Europeans might like to shop in pristine and quiet stores where products are carefully arranged. But when Mr. Biyani tried that in Western-style supermarkets he opened in India six years ago, too many customers walked down the wide aisles, past neatly stocked shelves and out the door without buying.

    Mr. Biyani says he soon figured out what he was doing wrong. Shopping in such a sterile environment didn't appeal to the lower middle-class shoppers he was targeting. They were more comfortable in the tiny, cramped stores -- often filled with haggling customers -- that typify Indian shopping. Most Indians buy their fresh produce from vendors who keep vegetables under burlap sacks. Even the dirty, black-spotted onions serve a function. For the average Indian, dusty and dirty produce means fresh from the farm, he says.

Powerful message: Treat people in the way they are accustomed to being treated. The rich man who is now poor must receive his fattened chicken and aged wine; the natives to India should be given their cramped, cluttered supermarkets. To each what he desires, not what we think he ought to desire.

(Hat Tip: Daddy!)


Daniel said...

Interesting article, but I'm not sure how much it supports the halacha. My understanding of the halacha (I could be wrong) is that it's about letting the poor person keep his dignity by maintaining his standard of living. On the other hand, the story in the WSJ seems to be more arguing against imposed, artificial cultural uniformity.

The difference, of course, is that the Indians have the choice as to what type of store they wish to patronise, and that that choice is, to a large extent, aesthetic; the poor person has no such choice, and the difference in how he is treated is material.

Btw, I would not use come-and-hear as a source for Talmud quotations. Unfortunately (as it’s the most complete on-line Talmud translation I’ve seen), while presenting itself as a site in favour of religious understanding, it is full of vicious antisemitism. See for example this section, reprinting a pamphlet dating from the Holocaust-era, and attempting to stop Jewish refugees being allowed into the USA, which not only states that Jews are allowed to cheat non-Jews, but has the following wisdom:

“22. Were the Children of Israel persecuted by the Egyptians?
Answer -- Undoubtedly! -- but in the same manner that the Nazis of today are persecuting the Jews of the Fatherland, and from similar causations. The Children of Israel were not "persecuted" until they had overrun the land of Egypt, corrupted the Pharaohan court and Egyptian institutions… subverted and debased pure-blooded Egyptian subjects. Finally Moses undertook to get them out, precisely as many an international Jewish or Zionist leader is trying to get the Jews out of Germany today but meeting with poor success because such an exodus means taking so much wealth -- or as the Israelites expressed it, "spoils" -- out of the country…”

“33. Do Jews actually believe that the day is coming when they are going to be supreme masters over all the other races and peoples of earth?
Answer -- Orthodox Jews most certainly do! Apostate Jews are cynical about the whole business, but are by no means averse to looting all Gentiles and obtaining their wealth as they may discern opportunity.”

As for Jewish persecution by the Nazis: “The Jew as an unruly and wilful race-child, is going to be made by the more sedate parental races to submit himself to wholesome discipline, get over his obsession that God loves him more than his Gentile neighbor, stop the glorification of personal and racial dishonesties, and take his place in world society as a chastened and penitent citizen… Probably thousands will lose their present lives in the process, but that will all be part of the general education.”

Elsewhere, the site states that Jews hide each other from the secular court system, murdering informers, that Jews seek to enslave the rest of the human race (see the conclusion in particular), that Judaism permits paedophilia and child sacrifice, that the Talmud contains “pornographic, anti-Gentile and anti-Christian doctrines… Murder of non-Pharisees is always permitted; theft, sodomy, incest, rape are all permitted. For example, the righteousness of grown men violating baby girls under three is a favorite topic for discussion in book after book of the Talmud.” In case that isn't enough, the links page links to , full of Holocaust denial and antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories. I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough.

Chana said...


Completely agreed on the difference when you actually break it down; nevertheless, I found the intial (surface) similarity interesting. It isn't that I think the story supports halakha so much as that it ties in nicely.

Although Come and Hear is a hate site, it does have the majority of the Soncino Talmud up. Until I find another site that has the majority of the Talmud in English, I'll have to use that one. (Of course, I could always link everything to the original text, but since I understand the English...) I guess this brings us to a whole other level of discussion; if something is a hate site, but only one part of it espouses that philosophy, while the other part of it is a textual resource, is it legitimate to avail oneself of the use of that textual resource? I think yes but am willing to be persuaded otherwise...

Daniel said...

I have been tempted to follow your reasoning about Come and Hear myself in the past, but I've decided against. Linking to it from an obviously frum post without any explanation gives it an appearance of authority. The internet working the way it does, a non-Jew could easily stumble across something you've written via Google and then follow through to it thinking that it is in some way authoritative.

Admittedly I have to be extra careful because it seems most people reading my blog are not Jewish, and often know very little about Judaism, but you can't tell who is reading your blog without commenting and in any case, as I said, someone could stumble across it from a search engine.

There is a second argument, but I admit I may have understood something here. My understanding is that Google (and I mean Google, not all internet search engines) assesses how important and accurate a page is by the number of links to it. The more links, the more authoritative it seems to be, so the higher it ranks in any given search which includes a word on it. So the more people link to come and hear, the higher it will rank on a search for 'Talmud' (for example). Just by linking to it, you're increasing the chances of someone who knows nothing about Judaism finding it without even coming through your page first.

Of course, you may feel that the effect of linking is insignificant, but I've seen lots of frum people link to it; how many don't realise it is a hate site, and how many know, but think it is too useful, I don't know. I don't know what the cumulative effect of all those links is, but it is a bit worrying.

Chana said...


What would you suggest as an alternative, however? As far as I know, there is no other English Talmud translation up online (unless you count sacred-texts, which I don't, because it's not arranged by the pages.) If I link to the Aramaic, I myself am not going to have any idea what I'm reading (especially if I come back to this post at a later date and wonder what I was saying. Although of course, in that case, I could use come and hear without linking directly to it...) Theoretically, your idea works if I'm simply quoting something from the Soncino; in which case in the body of my post I can give credit without a link, but if I merely mention a page...

I guess I just feel like the usefulness of the site outweighs its potential harm for Jews. I hadn't quite thought about it from the perspective of non-Jews seeing it first. Hmm. I'll have to consider it. As it is now, I'd like to protest that my links don't make much of a difference (it's already the top hit on google for searches on "soncino talmud" or the like.) But that wouldn't be being responsible.

I'll have to think on it more.

Daniel said...


I wish I had an alternative. I've been looking for one myself, not just for linking, but for general reference (not having easy access to 'real' copies at the moment).

Jewish Virtual Library has some of the books, but it is only about a third of the Talmud, it is an old translation and it is badly laid out and is generally a real pain to use. Actually, having just checked, it's the Sacred Texts translation anyway.

Larry Lennhoff said...

If I might offer a suggestion for come-and-hear, make the link using
That should prevent Google from using the link in ranking. Let me know if you need more details.