The inhabitants of Yerushalayim were exceptionally clever. Rabi Chuna said in the name of Rabi Yose, “Wherever this Yerushalmi went in the provinces, they arranged a seat of honor for him to sit upon in order to listen to his wisdom.”
Even the slaves and servants of the people of Yerushalayim were brilliant as is shown by the following story. An Athenian came to Yerushalayim where he studied for three and a half years to learn the wisdom of the people, but he could not master it. After the three and a half years had passed, he bought a slave who was blind in one eye.
Realizing the bad deal he had made, he exclaimed in disgust, “After three and a half years of studying, the best I could do was to buy a slave who is half blind!”
Displays His Brilliance
The Athenian and the slave departed for home. When they left the gate of Yerushalayim, the slave said to his master, “Hurry, so that we may catch up to the caravan.”
“Is there a caravan in front of us?” the Athenian asked in surprise.
“Yes,” answered the slave, “and there is a she-camel in front of us that is blind in one eye. It has twins in its womb, and is carrying two skin-bottles, one containing wine and the other vinegar. It is four miles away and the camel driver is a gentile.”
The Athenian said to the slave, “Oh, you who belong to a stiff-necked people! With one eye, how do you know that the camel is blind in one eye?”
He answered, “I noticed that one side of the path has been grazed by the camel but not the other side.”
“And how do you know that there are twins in the womb?” he asked.
The slave replied, “It layed down and I noticed the trace of two of them.”
“And how do you know that it was carrying two skin-bottles, one containing wine and the other vinegar?” he asked.
He answered, “From the drippings. These of the wine are absorbed into the ground but those of vinegar ferment.”
“And how do you know that the camel-driver is a gentile?” he asked.
He replied, “Because he relieved himself in the middle of the road. A Jew would not do that but would retire to a corner.”
“And how do you know that it is four miles away?”
The slave replied, “Up to four miles the mark of the camel’s hoof is perceptible but not beyond that distance.”
They ran after the caravan and they found it as he had said.
Never Make Fun Of People
An Athenian came to Yerushalayim and made fun of the inhabitants of the city. He ridiculed their customs and behavior and then left for home.
“Who will bring him back to us and teach him a lesson on behavior” the leaders of the city asked.
One person volunteered and said, “I will go to his city and bring him back with his head shaven and his face blackened.”
The Yerushalmi went to Athens and visited the man, who showed him great hospitality. In the morning the two of them went out for a walk in the market place. On the way one of the Yerushalmi’s sandals broke. Entering a shoemaker’s place, he said to the workman: “Take this tremis (a very expensive Roman gold coin) and repair this sandal.” (He paid him an absurdly high price). The shoemaker repaired the sandal.
The next day the two of them again went out for a walk in the market place and the other sandal broke. He again entered a shoemaker’s place and paid a fantastic price for its repair.
“Are sandals so expensive in your city,” asked the Athenian, “that you pay so much for their repair?”
“Yes,” was the answer.
“What do they sell for?” the Athenian asked.
“Nine or 10 dinars,” he replied, “and when they are cheap they sell for seven or eight dinars” (an exorbitant price).
“If I were to come to you with a stock of sandals, would you help sell them for me?” the Athenian asked.
“Certainly,” he replied, “but you must not enter the city without first informing me.”
The following week the Athenian bought a large stock of sandals and set out for Yerushalayim. At the entrance of the city he sent for the Yerushalmi who said, “We have a custom in our city that nobody may enter to sell his wares unless his head is shaven and his face blackened.”
“Very well,” replied the Athenian, “What do I care if my head is shaven, as long as I can sell my goods!”
After shaving his head, the Yerushalmi took him and seated him in the middle of the market place. When a person came to buy sandals from him and asked the Athenian how much a pair cost, he answered, “Some are 10 dinars and some nine; but I will not take less than eight.”