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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
The "ger," the sojourner who lived with a Hebrew family or clan, was assured by the Biblical law not only of protection against oppression (Exodus 23:9) and deceit (Leviticus 19:33), but also of love from the natives (Deuteronomy 16:14), who were to love him even as themselves (Leviticus 19:34). He was to be invited to participate in the family and tribal festivals (Deut. c.), the Passover excepted; and even in the latter he could take part if he submitted to circumcision. He received a share in the tithes distributed among the poor (ib. 14:19); and "one law and one statute" applied equally to the native and to him (Exodus 12:49). God Himself loves the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:18) and keeps him under His special protection (Psalms 146:9).
While these laws, scattered throughout the Bible (see see GENTILE; Proselytes), point to a deep-seated feeling of kindness toward strangers among the ancient Hebrews, the intensity of the feeling of hospitality among them can best be learned from the casual references to it in the narrative portions of the Bible. Thus Abraham, the archetype of the Hebrew race, entertained three strangers at his house and showed them many kindnesses (Genesis 18:1-8). His kinsman Lot was ready to risk his life and the honor of his daughters rather than transgress the laws of hospitality (ib. 19:1-8). Laban showed kindness to Jacob and to Eliezer (ib. 29:13, 26:31) when they came to him as strangers. Jethro rebuked his daughters because they did not invite Moses, who was a stranger in Midian, to the house (Exodus 2:20); and Rahab was greatly rewarded because she had entertained Joshua's spies (Joshua 2). Manoah would not allow the angel to depart before he had partaken of his hospitality (Judges 13:15); Gideon punished the elders of Succoth and of Penuel for their breach of hospitality (ib. 8:5,8); and David demanded hospitable treatment from Nabal (1 Samuel 25:8). Barzillai was invited to the royal table because he had been kind to David when the latter fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 17:27, 19:32). The Shunammite woman had a room furnished with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp for Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 4:8-11).
The abuse of hospitality once caused a civil war in Israel which might have resulted in the extinction of the whole tribe of Benjamites (Judges 19, ). In one instance, the case of Jael and Sisera, a breach of hospitality is lauded by the Biblical writer (ib. 4:18-21, 5:24-27). This was probably due to the bitter enmity entertained by the oppressed Jews toward their Canaanitish neighbors. Otherwise such a transgression could never have been tolerated in primitive Jewish society (see Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." s.).
Behavior to Guests.
From these scattered references an idea can be formed of the manner in which a guest was received in an ancient Jewish household and of the relations that existed between guest and host. The latter would go out to meet the stranger on his way, and would ask no questions as to his name and condition until his first needs had been satisfied (Genesis 24:33). On entering the house he was given water to wash his feet, and a meal was then put before him, his animals being meanwhile attended to (ib. 18:4; 19:2; 24:25,32). During his stay the host felt himself personally responsible for any injury that might befall his guest (ib. 19:8). On leaving, another repast was served (ib. 26:30; Judges 19:3), when a covenant was sometimes entered into by the guest and his host (Genesis 26:31), and the latter again accompanied the stranger some distance on his way (ib. 18:16). On his part, the guest blessed the host before taking leave (ib. 10), and asked him whether he stood in need of anything (2 Kings 4:13). If the guest wished to remain in the clan or in the locality, he was permitted to select a dwelling-place (Genesis 20:15).
The practise of hospitality did not decline with the changes in social conditions. Even in later times, when the Jews were settled in cities, this virtue was held in highest esteem. Isaiah (Isaiah 58:7) preferred charity and hospitality to fasting. Job, in complaining of his misfortunes in spite of the fact that he had led a virtuous life, mentions among other things that he had always opened his door to the stranger (Job 31:32); while Eliphaz accounts for the misery which had befallen Job on the ground that he had not been hospitable (ib. 22:7).
Ben Sira lays down rules for table manners for the guest (Ecclus. [Sirach] 31:12-26), and condemns in the strongest terms the habits of the parasite who takes advantage of the custom of hospitality (ib. 29:23-28; 28, 30).
- Hastings, Dict. Bible;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
- Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie, part , § 31, end, Leipsic, 1894;
- Hamburger, R. B. T.
—In Rabbinical Literature:
Among the ethical teachings of the Rabbis, the duties of hospitality occupy a very prominent position. Some regard hospitality more highly than the reception given to the Shekinah (Divine Presence); others make it superior to visiting the house of study; others, again, consider it as one of the six meritorious deeds whose reward is like a tree, the fruit of which man enjoys in this world, while the trunk remains for his enjoyment in the world to come (Shab. 127a). Special emphasis was laid upon the hospitality due to a scholar, so that it was said that one who shows hospitality to a student of the Law is regarded as if he had offered the daily sacrifice (Ber. 10b, 63b, Ḳid. 76b; Gen. R. 58:12).
Abraham and Job were regarded by the Rabbis as the models of Jewish hospitality. Numerous legends cluster about these names in the haggadic literature, illustrative of their generosity and hospitality (ABRAHAM; see JOB). The doors of their houses were open at each of the four corners, so that strangers coming from any side might find ready access (Gen. R. 48:7; Yalḳ., Job, 917; comp. Soṭah 10a). Of Job it is related that he had forty tables spread at all times for strangers and twelve tables for widows (compare Testament of Job, ed. Kohler, in Kohut Memorial Volume, Berlin, 1897, Introduction.
"Let thy house be open wide; let the poor be the members of thy household," is the precept expounded by one of the earliest Jewish teachers (Ab. 1:5). Rab Huna observed the custom of opening the door of his house when he was about to take his meal, and saying, "Any one who is hungry may come in and eat" (Ta'an. 20b). This custom has survived in modern times on Passover eve, when the above-cited passage is read in the Haggadah The custom of opening the door during the "Seder," while variously explained, probably has the same origin. Some rabbis suggested that every house should have doors on all four sides, so that the poor might find easy access from all parts (Ab R. N. ). To sit long at the table, so as to give an opportunity to the belated poor to enter and partake of the meal, was regarded as a highly meritorious act, for which one's days on earth would be prolonged (Ber. 54b) In Jerusalem the custom prevailed of displaying a flag in front of the door, thereby indicating that the meal was ready, and that guests might come in and partake thereof. The removal of the flag was a sign that the meal was finished, and that guests should cease entering (B. B. 93b; Lam. R. 4:4; CUSTOM).
Duty of Host.
It is the duty of the host to be cheerful during meals, and thus make his guests feel at home and comfortable at the table (Derek Ereẓ. Zuṭa ). It is commendable that the host himself serve at the table, thereby showing his willingness to satisfy his guest (Ḳid. 32b). The host is warned against watching his guest too attentively at the table, for thereby the visitor may be led to abstain from eating as much as he would like ("Sefer Ḥasidim," ed. Wistinetzky, § 105). Women were regarded as being better able than men to recognize the character of a stranger (Ber. 10b, from 2 Kings 4:9), but less liberal in supplying the wants of a guest (B. M. 87a; comp. Derek Ereẓ, Rabbah ). The Jew is commanded to teach his children to be kind and courteous to strangers. If one knocks at the door inquiring after the master of the house, the son or the daughter answering the knock should not reply gruffly, but should take the stranger into the house and prepare some food for him (Ab. R. N. ed. Schechter, p. 17a, b, Vienna, 1887). It was the custom with some in Jerusalem to place all the dishes on the table at once, so that the fastidious guest was not compelled to eat something he did not desire, but might choose anything he wished (Lam. R. 4:4).
Duty of Guest.
The guest was enjoined to show his gratitude to the host in various ways. The grateful and ungrateful guests are well contrasted by the Rabbis (Ber. 58a). While the host was to break bread first, the guest was expected to pronounce grace after the meal, in which he included a special blessing for the host: "May it be the will of God that the master of this house shall not be ashamed in this world, nor abashed in the world to come; that he shall be successful in all his undertakings; and that his property (and our property) shall prosper and be near the city; and that Satan shall have no dominion over his handiwork (and over our handiwork); and that no sinful act or iniquitous thought shall occur to him (and to us) from now even to all eternity" (Ber. 46a; Maimonides, "Yad," Berakot, 7:2; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 201, 1). The guest was expected to leave some of the food on his dish, to show that he had more than enough. If, however, the host asked him to finish his portion, it was not necessary for him to leave any ("Sefer Ḥasidim," §§ 870-878, 883). It was the duty of the guest to comply with all the requests of the host (Pes. 86b; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 170, 5; comp. "Magen Abraham" ad loc.). He might not give of his meal to the son or to the daughter or to the servant of the host without the host's permission (Ḥul. 94a; Derek Ereẓ Rabbah; "Yad," c. 7:10; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 170, 19). The habitual parasite, who took every opportunity to partake of meals at the house of another, was very strongly denounced by the Rabbis, especially if the parasite happened to be a scholar (Pes. 49a).
In the Middle Ages, especially after the period of the Crusades, hospitality became a necessity among the Jews. The poor mendicants or itinerant students were distributed among the households of the town, and a system of "Pletten"—e., "Billetten," bills for which the poor traveler received meals and lodging at a household—was introduced. This system still survives in many Jewish communities, especially where meals for the Sabbath-day are provided for the poor guests. Most of the Jewish communities have their "haknasat oreḥim," institutions where travelers may obtain lodging during their stay in town. For further details concerning these organizations see BAḤUR and Charity.
- Suwalski, Ḥayye ha-Yehudi, -, Warsaw, 1893;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. s. Gast;
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 141 et seq., Philadelphia, 1896.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Hospitality'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​h/hospitality.html. 1901.