BEG; BEGGAR; BEGGING
1. No Law Concerning Beggars or Begging in Israel:
It is significant that the Mosaic law contains no enactment concerning beggars, or begging, though it makes ample provision for the relief and care of "the poor in the land." Biblical Hebrew seems to have no term for professional begging, the nearest approach to it being the expressions "to ask (or seek) bread" and "to wander." This omission certainly is not accidental; it comports with the very nature of the Mosaic law, the spirit of which is breathed in this, among other kindred provisions, that a poor Hebrew who even sold himself for debt to his wealthy brother was allowed to serve him only until the Jubilee (See JUBILEE), and his master was forbidden to treat him as a sl ave (Leviticus 25:39). These laws, as far as actually practiced, have always virtually done away with beggars and begging among the Jews.
2. Begging Not Unknown to the Ancient Jews:
Begging, however, came to be known to the Jews in the course of time with the development of the larger cities, either as occurring among themselves, or among neighboring or intermingling peoples, as may be inferred from Psalms 59:15; compare Psalms 109:10, where Yahweh is besought that the children of the wicked may be cursed with beggary, in contra-distinction to the children of the righteous, who have never had to ask bread (Psalms 37:25, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed asking (English Versions, "begging") bread.") For the Hebrew expression not corresponding to "begging" see Psalms 59:15, "They shall wander up and down for food"; and compare Psalms 119:10, "Let me wander," etc.
3. Begging and Alms-taking Denounced in Jewish Literature:
The first clear denunciation of beggary and almstaking in Jewish literature is found in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 40:28-30, where the Hebrew for "begging" is to "wander," ete, as in Psalms 59:15, according to the edition of Cowley and Neubauer; Oxford, 1897. There as well as in Tobit, and in the New Testament, where beggars are specifically mentioned, the word eleemosune has assumed the special sense of alms given to the begging poor (compare Tobit 4:7,16,17; 12:8-11; Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 3:14,30; 7:10; 16:14; Matthew 6:2-4; 20:30-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 11:41; 12:33; John 9:1-41; Acts 9:36; 10:2,4,31; 24:17).
4. Professional Beggars a Despised Class:
As to professional beggars, originally, certainly, and for a long time, they were a despised class among the Hebrews; and the Jewish communities are forbidden to support them from the general charity fund (BB, 9a; Yoreh De`ah, 250, 3). But the spirit of the law is evinced again in that it is likewise forbidden to drive a beggar away without an alms (ha-Yadh ha- Chazaqah, in the place cited 7 7).
5. In the Gospel Age:
Begging was well known and beggars formed a considerable class in the gospel age. Proof of this is found in the references to almsgiving in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 and parallels), and in the accounts of beggars in connection with public places, e.g. the entrance to Jericho. (Matthew 20:30 and parallels), which was a gateway to pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to the great festivals and in the neighborhood of rich men's houses (Luke 16:20), and especially the gates of the Temple at Jerusalem (Acts 3:2). This prevalence of begging was due largely to the want of any adequate system of ministering relief, to the lack of any true medical science and the resulting ignorance of remedies for common diseases like ophthalmia, for instance, and to the impoverishment of the land under the excessive taxation of the Roman government (Hausrath, History of New Testament Times, I, 188 (Eng. translation Williams and Norgate), compare Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, II, 178). That begging was looked down upon is incidentally evidenced by the remark of the unjust steward, "To beg I am ashamed" (Luke 16:3); and that, when associated with indolence, it was strongly condemned by public opinion appears from Sirach (40:28-30).
The words used for "beg," "beggar" of English Versions of the Bible in the New Testament differ radically in idea:
in those formed from aiteo (Mark 10:46; Luke 16:3; 18:35; John 9:8 the Revised Version (British and American)) the root idea is that of "asking," while ptochos (Luke 16:20,22) suggests the cringing or crouching of a beggar. But see Matthew 5:3 where the word for "humble" is ptochos.
6. A Change in Modern Times:
A marked change has come over Jewish life in modern times, in this as well as in other respect. Since the 17th century the Jewish poor in many parts of the world have made it a practice, especially on Fridays and on the eves of certain festivals, to go systematically from house to house asking alms. In parts of Europe today it is a full-grown abuse:
crowds of Jewish beggars push their way and ply their trade about the synagogue doors (Abrahams, EB, article "Alms," 310). So the Jewish beggar, in spite of the spirit of the law and ancient Jewish custom, has, under modern conditions too well known to require explanation here, become a troublesome figure and problem in modern Jewish society. For such beggars and begging, see Jew Encyclopedia, articles "Schnorrers," "Alms," etc., and for another kind of begging among modern Jews, and collections for poverty-stricken Jewish settlers in Palestine, see the articles "Chalukah," "Charity," etc.
Saalschiutz, Arch. der Hebraer, II, chapter xviii (Konigsberg, 1855-56); Riehm Handworterbuch zu den Buchern des A T, under the word "Almosen "; compare Jew Encyclopedia, HDB, and Encyclopedia B, arts, "Alms"; and Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, chapters xvii, xviii (Philadelphia, 1896); Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs; Day, The Social Life of the Hebrews.
George B. Eager
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