Sephardic Proverbs

Michael Castro calls Sephardic proverbs “the unwritten laws of how to be and how to see”, and a better definition of aphoristic expressions I have not seen. Castro has been collecting these proverbs for years, from books, from friends, from relatives. They are featured in Sephardic Proverbs in Big Bridge (Vol 3, No 3), where Castro writes: “For Sephardic Jews, scattered in insular communities throughout the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and Europe, after the century of persecution and Inquisition that culminated in their expulsion from Spain or Sepharad in 1492, proverbs were an important means of passing on and reinforcing values and identity.” This is, in fact, the function of aphoristic expressions in all places, at all times, and Sephardic proverbs make particularly rich reading… My thanks to the ever aphoristically alert Jim Finnegan (check out his blog, ursprache) for bringing my attention to this unique strand of proverbial literature.

Just let me in and I’ll make my own space.

Do something when you are able, not when you want to.

He who has no home is neighbor to the entire world.

It’s better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a rat.
(Compare Lucifer’s retort in Paradise Lost: I would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.)

He who bows down too low exposes his ass.

A closed mouth, flies cannot enter.

Whoever falls, feels.