Epistle to Yemen/I
THIS IS THE TEXT OF THE EPISTLE OF R. MOSES b. MAIMON, RABBI AND DAYYAN OF BLESSED MEMORY, IN REPLY TO A LETTER FROM R. JACOB OF YEMEN
To the honored, great, and holy Master and Teacher, Jacob, wise and genial, dear and revered sage, son of the honored, great, and holy Master and Teacher, Nathaniel Fayyumi, distinguished Prince of Yemen, president of its congregations, leader of its communities, may the spirit of God rest upon him, and upon all his associates and upon all the scholars of the communities of Yemen. May the Lord keep and protect them. From a loving friend who never saw him but knows him only by reputation, Moses b. Maimon b. Joseph b. Isaac b. Obadiah of blessed memory.
Just as plants bear testimony to the existence of real roots, and waters are evidence for the excellence of springs, so has a firm shoot developed from the roots of truth and righteousness, and a huge river has gushed forth from the spring of mercy in the land of Yemen, to water therewith all gardens and to make the flowers blossom. It flows gently on to satisfy the needs of the weary and thirsty in the arid places; wayfarers and folks from the isles of the sea satisfy their needs with it. Consequently it was proclaimed from Spain to Babylonia, from one end of heaven to the other: "Ho, ye every one that thirsteth come for water." (Isaiah 55:1) Men of business and traffic unanimously declare to all inquirers that they have found in the land of Yemen a beautiful and delightful plantation, and a rich pasture with faithful shepherds wherein every lean one shall wax fat. They strengthen the indigent with bread and greet the opulent hospitably and generously; even the Sabaen caravans look forward to their generosity. Their hands are stretched out to every passer-by, and their homes are wide open to every traveler. With them all find tranquility; sorrow and sighing flee. They continually study the Law of Moses, walk in the way of R. Ashi, pursue justice, repair the breach, uphold the principles of the Torah, bring back the stray people of God by encouraging words, observe the religious ceremonies punctiliously in their communities; "there is no breach, no going forth, and no outcry in the broad places (Psalms 144:14)."
Blessed be the Lord that He has suffered Jews to remain who observe the Torah and obey its injunctions in the most distant peninsulas, as we were graciously assured through Isaiah, His servant, for it is you the people of Yemen he was alluding to when he prophesied "From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs." (24:16).
When we departed from the West to behold the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit His holy place, we learnt that your father has gone to his eternal rest. May God bestow His Justice and Goodness upon him. May he enter unto peace and rest upon his bed. May He send him Angels of Mercy. May he rest and rise up for his reward at the end of days.
This is the token, dearly beloved friend, that God was pleased with your father's deeds, and that He will compensate him doubly, and grant him peace. For you, his son, have risen in his stead to promote religion and observance, to further justice and righteousness, to obey His precepts and laws, and to abide by His covenant. May the Lord thy God be with you as He was with your fathers. May He not forsake you, nor abandon you. May He give you broad understanding to judge His people. May His words never depart from your mouth nor the mouth of your seed as it was written (Isaiah 59:10). May you succeed your father as leader of his people, and God grant that your fame be greater than his.
When your communication arrived in Egypt, dearly beloved friend, our ears were pleased at hearing it read, and the mere view of it was a feast to the eyes. It revealed that you were one of the ministers of the Lord who dwell in His fane, and are pitched at His standard; that you pursue the study of the Torah, love its laws, and watch at its gates. May the Lord divulge unto you its secrets, and stock you abundantly with the knowledge of its treasures, make its crown your chief crown, place its necklace upon your neck, and may its words be a lamp unto your feet, and a light unto your path, and through them may you become celebrated. "When all the people of the land will see that the name of the Lord is upon you they shall fear you." (Deuteronomy 28:10).
You write in your letter, dear friend, of a report that some of our co-religionists in the diaspora, may the Lord keep and protect them, praise and extol me very highly and compare me to the illustrious Geonim. But they have spoken thus about me out of mere tenderness for me, and written about me out of pure