p o e m 

d a v i d   c o o p e r




A betrothed couple were kidnapped by heathens

who married them to each other.

On their wedding night said she to him, “don’t touch me:

you haven’t given me a ketubah”;


and from that day to the day he died he didn’t.

At his funeral she told the assembled,

“mourn this man who, even more than Joseph,

controlled his desires. Joseph


never shared his bed with his temptress, but this man did;

Joseph wasn’t married to her, but this man was.”


40 bushels of grain were being sold for a dinar,

but one of them went missing.


An investigation revealed the thief and his son

had deflowered a betrothed virgin on Yom Kippur.


Father and son were caught, tried, and stoned to death,

and the original price was restored.


A guy whose ketubah stipulated a huge cash settlement

wanted to divorce his wife without paying up.

So he got all his men-servants drunk, put them in her bed,


smeared egg white all over them, called witnesses,

and brought his case to court. But one of the judges,

Baba ben Buta of the school of Shamai, said Shamai taught:


when broiled, egg white contracts but semen becomes faint.

The evidence tested as predicted and the court ordered

the fellow be flogged and pay his wife in full.


One rabbi asked another, “I can see why the second and third were punished,

but why did the virtuous one have to suffer so?”

“Because he didn’t mourn for Jerusalem, as is written:

Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all who love her,

rejoice for joy with all that mourn her.”

1999, David Cooper.


1Sources: Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin (the tractate on divorce), p. 57A; final couplet:Isaiah 66:10.
“Ketubah” = marriage contract, which is a requirement at a Jewish wedding.
The reference to Jerusalem in the last stanza is a red herring; the key words here are “rejoice” and “joy”: the rabbis disapprove of joyless marriages and lives of quiet desperation.


See also: Seven Poems from the Hebrew by Rachel Eshed, tr. David Cooper.


next page


contents download subscribe archive