Introduction

The book The Tale of our Master Moses, on him be peace, and the Gates of Heaven and Hell was published at the famous press in Leghorn (Livorno) of Solomon Belforte in 1919 by Meshumar ben Tob and Moses Menahem Moses who are described as residents of Aden. Aden is a city in Yemen which was at that time a British colony, and a coaling station of great importance. Belforte published other books on behalf of the Jews of Yemen.

This text is an example of the "scared straight" literature, the intention of which is overtly to bring the reader to a good way of life by showing him clearly the delights of paradise and, in much more dramatic terms, the horrors and physical punishments of hell. The subtitle declares that "in it are things which arouse man to repentance" which leaves no doubt as to its intent.

Batya Kedar has an excellent account of the background of these materials in Rabbinic literature in Encyclopædia Judaica volume 12, columns 997–998, and it is not necessary to repeat this survey here, although I have tried to annotate in the Arabic text whatever is necessary for understanding. The notion of Heaven and Hell continues to play a role in Orthodox Judaism, but it is not very much stressed, and there is certainly no emphasis placed on the details of physical punishment, which is a living reality in many Christian groups. Rarely would a Jewish preacher venture to speak these days on this theme, even in the most traditional venues, preference being given to the positive sides of the Jewish religion, and the importance of the observance of the ritual and ethical rules of Judaism in this world.

Much of this material recalls Dante's masterpiece, and the reader will do well to consult Guy Shaked's interesting website on the links between Dante and the contemporaneous Hebrew work by Immanuel of Rome which resembles it.

I have opted to translate only that part of the text, by far the shorter part, which deals with Heaven. I may translate the rest at a later date. In any case, this section give the feel of the work as a whole, without the sometimes gruesome details of the rest. The Arabic language in which it is written is quite classical in character, and when there is some expression with which a reader in 1919 would have difficulty, the editors insert in parentheses a more understandable equivalent. There are a great many terms and quotations of Biblical verses in Hebrew, but the language of the body of the text is clear Arabic, and not a lingua mixta.

The translation follows.

Paradise

After this [Moses' trip through Hell] Gabriel came and said to him: Have you seen Hell, Moses? He said to him: Yes. Then he said to him: Come with me and I will show you Paradise with the permission of the Lord, may He be blessed. You will see the reward which they shall have in the World to Come. And when our Master Moses, on him be peace, was with Gabriel, the angels came and said to him: Why did you bring this one, seeing that his time is not yet come? He said to them: The Lord, may He be blessed, sent him and charged me that we should come in and show him, so that he will see the power of the Lord, may He be blessed, and what the reward of the righteous is like in Paradise. The angels stood up and praised Moses, and said to him: Happy art thou! Bravo, thou one born of mankind who merited to go up to the seven heavens. Happy is the people who have such a one! "Have such a one" is numerically equivalent to "Moses". [This mode of exegesis is called gematria.]

When our Master Moses, on him be peace, entered Paradise, he saw a certain angel sitting under the Tree of Life. Our Master Moses, on him be peace, said to Gabriel: Who is this? He said to him: He is the Prince who is in charge of Paradise. The aforementioned Prince came and said to Moses: Who are you? He said to him: I am Moses, son of Amram. He said to him: So why have you come here, seeing that your time is not yet come? Moses said to him: I have come at the command of the Lord, blessed be He, to see the reward of the righteous. At that time the Prince of Paradise said to our Master Moses, on him be peace, I am ready to show you. And he took Moses by the hand, and the two of them went together and he began to show him. And they crossed to a place where Moses saw thrones placed side by side, and all of them were of precious stones and pearls and gems, diamonds and rubies, and blue sapphires and red and white chalcedony. Their feet were of gold encrusted with gemstones, and over every single throne there were standing seventy angels. There was one large throne among them which had no other resembling it, with gold encrusted with gemstones and precious stones and all kinds of jewels. Standing by it were 22,000 angels. Moses asked the Prince of Paradise: Whose is this goodly throne? He said to him: This throne belongs to your father Abraham, peace be upon him, who introduced the idea of the Unity of God to the world. Immediately Moses went to Abraham our Father, on him be peace, and Abraham our father, on him be peace, rose up and rejoiced in our Master Moses, on him be peace, and said: Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy is everlasting, in that I have a descendant like this. And Moses went to the throne of our Father Isaac, peace be upon him and the latter said: Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy is everlasting. And similarly he went to the throne of our Father Jacob, and the latter said: Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy is everlasting. And they rejoiced in him greatly.

And our Master Moses, on him be peace, asked the Prince of Paradise and said to him: What is the length and breadth of Paradise? He said to him: Moses, no one knows this, neither angel, nor anyone else. No one can measure Paradise save the Lord, may He be blessed, who created it.

Again our Master Moses, peace be on him, saw many thrones of precious stones and pearls and gold and silver and yellow bronze, and the angels were guarding them. One did not resemble another. And our Master Moses, peace be on him, asked the Prince of Paradise and said to him: Whose are these thrones? He said to him: These belong to the humble sages, the prophets, the saints and the righteous, and the rest belong to charitable people, penitents, and righteous proselytes, each one according to the extent of his rank, according to his honour, his standing and his good deeds; and also the honest people who did commerce honestly, and prayed with devotion, and did not speak in the synagogue, and gave charity. Their thrones are bigger than this.

And our Master Moses, on him be peace, asked the Prince of Paradise: Whose are these thrones of bronze? He said to him: This one belongs to Terah the father of Abraham. And so everyone who was an ignoramus or wicked, but his son is wise and righteous – they make for his father a throne like this one, and they reach Paradise. And the verse said: And you will come to your fathers in peace. After this, our Master Moses, on him be peace, saw streams and springs of water going up from beneath the Tree of Life, and dividing into four sections. And they came from under the Throne of Glory, and spread over the whole of Paradise. Under each throne there were four streams, one of honey and one of oil (other texts read: milk) one of wine and one of musk and perfumes. All of them ran under the feet of the righteous who were sitting on the thrones. Moreover, the Lord, blessed be He, gave unto every righteous man 310 worlds, as it is said: to cause those who love me to inherit substance. [The numerical value of the word for "substance" is 310.]

At that time the King Messiah opened his mouth and said to our Master Moses, on him be peace: Bravo, Moses! And when our Master Moses, on him be peace, saw the firmaments and the worlds, and all the exalted things and the goodness stored up for Israel, he rejoiced greatly and said: How great is Thy goodness which Thou hast stored up for those who fear Thee! And a voice went forth from heaven and said: Moses My servant! You have merited to see with your eyes the reward of the righteous, and the good things stored up and destined for them in the World to Come, so will you merit the World to Come, and the building of the Temple and the coming of the Messiah. And you will see the beauty of the Lord, and visit in his palace. May it be Thy will, O our God and God of our forefathers, that we and all Thy people Israel shall merit this great good and the resurrection of the dead and the life of the World to Come. Amen, may such be the Divine Will. Amen.

It is finished and complete. Praise be to God the Creator of the World.


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Alan D. Corré
corre@csd.uwm.edu