I can’t say it as well as my guide book.
“A tight huddle of ancient arcaded houses, grand churches, climbing cobbled streets and medieval baths, all enclosed by defensive walls and a lazy river, constitute a powerful reason for visiting north Catalonia’s largest city, Girona.”
With a population of over 90,000, Girona is a very historic city. Originally a Roman settlement, it was taken from Muslim control at the end of the 8th Century, and subsequently became a wealthy medieval centre. There is a magnificent Romanesque cathedral and numerous galleries and museums highlighting the different periods of the city’s history. I was interested to read that after the Muslims were defeated, in reaction to their obsession with water and cleanliness, washing almost came to be regarded as ungodly!
Until 1492, Girona was Spain’s second-most important medieval Jewish community and its Jewish Ghetto or Call is one of the city’s attractions. Many of the Jews had escaped from Rome and the Middle East, looking for a better life. They would have gone to America, but it hadn't been discovered yet!
Also on display were many exhibits related to the interests of Girona's jews in Kabbala, a form of Jewish mysticism, and medicine. It is interesting that many of the Jewish scholars of the day were also doctors.
One of Girona’s most famous Jewish scholars was Nachmonides, also known as Ramban who I learned about as a child at Hebrew School. I often confused him with Maimonides, who was known as Rambam. Considering that I would have preferred to be playing baseball than attending Hebrew School, I'm not surprised I mixed them up.
However, one of latter’s teachings, which I have always remembered, and regarded as relevant for people of all faiths, was the list of the 8 levels of charity. Even though Maimonides was from Cordoba, and not Girona, since he too was a famous medieval Spanish Jewish scholar, here is his teaching on charity.
Maimonides’ 8 Levels of Charity
There are eight levels of tzedaka or charity, each greater than the next.
- The greatest level, above which there is no other, is to strengthen the name of another by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer beg from people.
- Below this is the one who gives charity to the poor, but does not know to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know his benefactor.
- Below this is one who knows to whom he gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor.
- Below this is one who does not know to whom he gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. (The greatest sages used to pack coins into their scarves and roll them up over their backs, and the poor would come and pick [the coins out of the scarves] so that they would not be ashamed.)
- Below this is one who gives to the poor person before being asked.
- Below this is one who gives to the poor person after being asked.
- Below this is one who gives to the poor person gladly and with a smile.
- Below this is one who gives to the poor person unwillingly.