What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eruvin 4 – What’s a Cubit?

Fans of the old Bill Cosby routine “Noah” will remember the punch line as G-d gives Noah all the specific measurements of the ark he is to build, Noah responds: “Riiight. What’s a ‘cubit’?”

The rabbis discuss this very question on our page.

It is clear that some measurements the rabbis discuss are empirically larger than others. The argument is that in some cases, like the sukkah, a cubit is 5 handbreadths while for others, like kilayin (the distance between crops so that they are not sown together) a cubit is 6 handbreadths.

Raba, however, stated in the name of R. Nahman: All cubits [prescribed for legal measurements are] of the size of six [handbreadths], but the latter are expanded while the former are compact.

That is, for some measurements the hand is held closed and for other it is opened wide.

The question is also raised about the legal authority of the measurements. Do they actually come from Torah, or are they part of the Oral Tradition:

R. Hiyya b. Ashi stated in the name of Rab: [The laws relating to] standards, interpositions and partitions [are a part of] the halachic code [that was entrusted] to Moses at Sinai (i.e. Oral).

Are [not the laws relating to] standards Pentateuchal, since it is written in Scripture: A land of wheat and barley etc. (Deut. 8:8) and R. Hanan stated that all this verse was said [with reference to the laws] of standards?

That is, are these laws derived directly from written text – as in Then shall he bathe all his flesh (Lev. 15:16) – the all indicating a minimum measurement of water and the laws of interpositions (nothing can come between the waters of the mikve and the individual)? Or are they laws the rabbis created and then found legal justifications in Torah text? For example the specific measurements in the rabbinic texts?

Do you then imagine that the standards were actually prescribed [in the Pentateuch]? [The fact is that] they are but traditional laws for which the Rabbis have found allusions in Scripture.

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