Thursday, October 24, 2013

Medieval Vanity Plates

In a famous letter to his Hebrew translator Samuel ibn Tibbon, Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) concluded a letter explaining how he wanted to see his theological summa, The Guide of the Perplexed, translated from the original Arabic. The letter is best known, though, for Maimonides' postscript, in which he describes his hectic life in medieval Egypt:

"I dwell in Fustat and the Sultan resides in Cairo. My duties to the ruler are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children, or any of the inmates of his harem, is indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two of the royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing the entire day. Hence, as a rule, I repair to Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Fustat until the afternoon... I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients, and beg and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment... Patients go in and out until nightfall."  (Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, p. 349.)

Perhaps his commute between Fustat and Cairo would have been improved by using a Toyota with vanity plates, like the one spotted today outside of the Bobst library, instead of an animal.

(Please feel free to leave ma'aseh merkavah jokes in the comments section.)


ETA 10/26: I may have totally overthought this. A colleague offers a more Occam's Razor-friendly read on the license plate:

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