Monday, January 24, 2005

Yerushalmi Gittin #1: Jewish Geography

Where is Bavel in relation to Eretz Yisrael? The beginning of yerushalmi kiddushin defines the boundaries of the land of Israel, for if one conveys a bill of divorce from outside Israel to inside Israel, when handing over the bill of divorce he must say "Before me it was written and before me it was signed." (Why? Read the gemara.)

ד, ב פרק א הלכה ב משנה רבי יהודה אומר מרקם ולמזרח ורקם כמזרח מאשקלון ולדרום ואשקלון כדרום מעכו ולצפון ועכו כצפון ר' מאיר אומר עכו כארץ ישראל לגיטין:

Mishna: Rabbi Yehuda says: From Reqem and to the east, and Reqem is like the east {that is, it is considered outside Eretz Yisrael}; from Ashqelon and to the south, and Ashqelon is like the north; from Akko and to the north and Akko is like the north; Rabbi Meir says: Akko is like Eretz Yisrael for the purpose of bills {of divorce}.

דף ד, ב פרק א הלכה ב גמרא ר' יוחנן אמר לציפורייא אתון אמרין בשם ר' <יוחנן> חנינה אף המביא מבבל לכאן אינו צריך לומר בפני נכתב ובפ"נ ואני אומר שהוא צריך דהיא מתניתא ר' יהודה אומר
דף ה, א פרק א הלכה ב גמרא מרקם ולמזרח ורקם כמזרח. ואפילו תימא חלוקין על ר"י שאין רקם כמזרח. שמא מבבל לכאן

Rabbi Yochanan said to the residents of Tzippori: They come and say in the name of Rabbi Chanina: even one who brings {a bill of divorce} from Bavel to here {Eretz Yisrael} need not say "Before me it was written and before me it was signed." And I {Rabbi Yochanan} say that he must, for it is the Mishna. "Rabbi Yehuda says: From Reqem and to the east, and Reqem is like the east. And even if you say that we argue on Rabbi Yehuda that Reqem is not like the east, would you say that from Bavel to here??!?! {since Bavel is surely even further in that direction.}

Rabbi Chanina is in agreement with the opinion of Rav that Bavel is considered like the land of Israel as regards bills of divorce, and Rabbi Yochanan is arguing on him, based on the Mishna.

The problem is that from the gemara, it seems that Bavel is to the east of Israel, while traditionally we consider Bavel to be to the north of Israel. The reason for this is Yirmiyahu, who states (Yirmiyahu 1:14)

יג וַיְהִי דְבַר-ה אֵלַי שֵׁנִית לֵאמֹר, מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה; וָאֹמַר, סִיר נָפוּחַ אֲנִי רֹאֶה, וּפָנָיו, מִפְּנֵי צָפוֹנָה. 13 And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying: 'What seest thou?' And I said: 'I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is from the north.'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֵלָי: מִצָּפוֹן תִּפָּתַח הָרָעָה, עַל כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ. 14 Then the LORD said unto me: 'Out of the north the evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.
and later is is Nevuchadnezzar of Bavel who conquers Israel. Indeed, perhaps there is a pasuk that implies that the north refers to Bavel. Yirmiyahu 25:9:
ח לָכֵן, כֹּה אָמַר ה צְבָאוֹת: יַעַן, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-שְׁמַעְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרָי. 8 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts: Because ye have not heard My words,
ט הִנְנִי שֹׁלֵחַ וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶת-כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחוֹת צָפוֹן נְאֻם-ה, וְאֶל-נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ-בָּבֶל עַבְדִּי, וַהֲבִאֹתִים עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וְעַל-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ, וְעַל כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה סָבִיב; וְהַחֲרַמְתִּים--וְשַׂמְתִּים לְשַׁמָּה וְלִשְׁרֵקָה, וּלְחָרְבוֹת עוֹלָם. 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and I will send unto Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations.
As a result, the two standard commentaries on the page, the Pnei Moshe and the Korban HaEida, both say that the language of the gemara is not exact, and that when the gemara is referring to the end of the statement in the Mishna: מעכו ולצפון ועכו כצפון - "from Akko and to the north and Akko is like the north." This is so not only in the direct quote of the Mishna - "Rabbi Yehuda says: From Reqem and to the east, and Reqem is like the east." - but also later in the discussion "And even if you say that we argue on Rabbi Yehuda that Reqem is not like the east." It is slightly forced, because we are talking about the status of Reqem, and we should be talking about the status of Akko, but it is a style in which the beginning of the statement is used to represent the whole, and thus the end of the statement.

I would argue with them here. In truth, Bavel is to the east of Israel, not the north. For example, see this map of Babylonia.



Ancient Babylonia, to the east of Israel Posted by Hello
If I recall correctly, there are other Talmudic sources which refer to Bavel as being to the east of Israel.

If so, how are we to understand Yirmiyahu? Well, that is a problem that many have dealt with. Some possibilities:
  1. Yirmiyahu did not mean to equate Bavel with the north. Indeed, the pasuk just cited talks of the families of the North and Nevuchadnezzar king of Bavel as two separate entities. Perhaps it is echoing, but other psukim talk of the families of the north attacking Bavel. We would be left with the issue though of Yirmiyahu's prophecy having to come true, and the if he predicted the North attacking, how come it was Yirmiyahu.
  2. Perhaps it was Nevuchdnezzar of Bavel, as well as various mercenaries from the North. Indeed, both are mentioned in the latter pasuk cited.
  3. Perhaps it means that Bavel will attack from the North - that is, enter Israel from the North, even though Bavel is situated to the east.
  4. I think it was Yeshaya Leibowitz (I hope I am not wrong in this identification or summary) who suggested that Yirmiyahu originally misunderstood the prophecy to refer to the North as opposed to Bavel, and later clarified/reinterpreted it to refer to Bavel. I think there was a threat of invasion/conquest from Assyria, which is to the North, at the time the prophecy was given, but it came to naught. Yirmiyahu continued to predict doom and gloom until Bavel conquered.
  5. From here on in is my own suggestions. Yerushalayim is around 31 degrees 30' latitude and Bavel is between 32 and 33 north latitude, which makes Bavel slightly north-east of Israel, so perhaps it can be described as North as well. Also, it is possible that Bavel extended even farther - eighth century Babylonian astronomical tablets give a longest day of 14 hours, 24 minutes, rather than what we expect for its latitude - 14 hours 10 minutes and 54 seconds. Based on this, some place ancient Bavel 2 and a 1/2 - at 35 degrees latitude. It is fairly close to the east of Israel, so increasing the latitude like this would lead to a north-easterly direction.
  6. Further, are we dealing with true east? Mizrach is literally "from where the sun rises." On the equinoxes, the sun rises from true east, but by the time it is fully over the horizon, it is slightly south of east if you live north of the equator. It will make an arc through the sky south of east, and it will not be directly overhead at noon, but rather to the south. (It would only be directly overhead at the equator.) At what point in its travels through the sky did they look at the sun and consider it rising from that direction? That might have been the definition of east, as opposed to true east. If slightly south-east becomes east, then slightly north-west becomes west, and slightly north-east becomes north, and slightly south-west becomes south. As a result, Bavel to the north-east might be more likely to be acceptably considered north. (Later understandings of Bavel to the east would assume true east and lower Bavel. Indeed, other ancient measures had Bavel lower down.)

    {Update: In fact, on Eruvin 56a, there is discussion about how to determine the compass directions. The brayta bases North on the great bear (Ursa Major), which travels closely around the north star Polaris), north based on Scorpius (which can be southwest). The suggestion by Rabbi Yossi about east based on sunrise on the vernal and autumn equinoxes would be a bit off, as mention earlier.}
  7. Perhaps Yirmiyahu himself is predicting a failed Assyrian/northern assault in the first perek

יג וַיְהִי דְבַר-ה אֵלַי שֵׁנִית לֵאמֹר, מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה; וָאֹמַר, סִיר נָפוּחַ אֲנִי רֹאֶה, וּפָנָיו, מִפְּנֵי צָפוֹנָה. 13 And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying: 'What seest thou?' And I said: 'I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is from the north.'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֵלָי: מִצָּפוֹן תִּפָּתַח הָרָעָה, עַל כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ. 14 Then the LORD said unto me: 'Out of the north the evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.
טו כִּי הִנְנִי קֹרֵא, לְכָל-מִשְׁפְּחוֹת מַמְלְכוֹת צָפוֹנָה--נְאֻם-יְהוָה; וּבָאוּ וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כִּסְאוֹ פֶּתַח שַׁעֲרֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, וְעַל כָּל-חוֹמֹתֶיהָ סָבִיב, וְעַל, כָּל-עָרֵי יְהוּדָה. 15 For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.
טז וְדִבַּרְתִּי מִשְׁפָּטַי אוֹתָם, עַל כָּל-רָעָתָם--אֲשֶׁר עֲזָבוּנִי, וַיְקַטְּרוּ לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ, לְמַעֲשֵׂי יְדֵיהֶם. 16 And I will utter My judgments against them touching all their wickedness; in that they have forsaken me, and have offered unto other gods, and worshipped the work of their own hands.
יז וְאַתָּה, תֶּאְזֹר מָתְנֶיךָ, וְקַמְתָּ וְדִבַּרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי אֲצַוֶּךָּ; אַל-תֵּחַת, מִפְּנֵיהֶם--פֶּן-אֲחִתְּךָ, לִפְנֵיהֶם. 17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee; be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay thee before them.
יח וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה נְתַתִּיךָ הַיּוֹם, לְעִיר מִבְצָר וּלְעַמּוּד בַּרְזֶל וּלְחֹמוֹת נְחֹשֶׁת--עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ: לְמַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה לְשָׂרֶיהָ, לְכֹהֲנֶיהָ וּלְעַם הָאָרֶץ. 18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
יט וְנִלְחֲמוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְלֹא-יוּכְלוּ לָךְ: כִּי-אִתְּךָ אֲנִי נְאֻם-ה, לְהַצִּילֶךָ. {פ} 19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.'
Yirmiyahu here is predicting a failed assault on Israel from the North. Hashem has decided to put a little fear of the Lord in the people of Israel with the threat of conquest, but Hashem will save them. This is the beginning of the evil. If they do not change their ways, eventually Hashem will allow someone to succeed.

Thus, in pasuk 15 Hashem calls all the families of the North to encamp at the entrance to the gates of Jerusalem, but victory is not predicted. In 16, Hashem says this situation is a result of the Israelites having abandoned His worship in favor of that of other gods. In 17, we read:

יז וְאַתָּה, תֶּאְזֹר מָתְנֶיךָ, וְקַמְתָּ וְדִבַּרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי אֲצַוֶּךָּ; אַל-תֵּחַת, מִפְּנֵיהֶם--פֶּן-אֲחִתְּךָ, לִפְנֵיהֶם
17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee; be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay thee before them.
The way this is typically taken is that the entirety is directed to Yirmiyahu. He should gird up his loins and speak to them, and should not be dismayed at them. But, what if we read "be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay thee before them" as the beginning of the command to the Israelites. They should not fear the invasion.

Similarly,

יח וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה נְתַתִּיךָ הַיּוֹם, לְעִיר מִבְצָר וּלְעַמּוּד בַּרְזֶל וּלְחֹמוֹת נְחֹשֶׁת--עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ: לְמַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה לְשָׂרֶיהָ, לְכֹהֲנֶיהָ וּלְעַם הָאָרֶץ. 18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
יט וְנִלְחֲמוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְלֹא-יוּכְלוּ לָךְ: כִּי-אִתְּךָ אֲנִי נְאֻם-ה, לְהַצִּילֶךָ. {פ} 19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.' {P}

is generally understood to refer to Yirmiyahu allegorically. He is like a fortified city, an iron pillar, etc., against all the residents of Israel. But perhaps we can say this too is directed toward
the Israelites - to the kings of Judah, and the princes, and the people - that their cities shall be like fortified cities, and like an iron pillar, that these invaders shall fight against them, but not prevail.

Just some wild speculation.

6 comments:

DR said...

As I wandered the internet today looking for History blogs I came across yours. You have done a good job. I have a website http://www.BibleFamilyTree.com that may also expand your information about The Kingdoms of Israel...

Be Blessed,
The Kingdoms of Israel

Milhouse said...

#5: I don't see this at all. Bavel, in this context, is not just Nimrod's city, but the kingdom of Bavel, which is southern Iraq. The three yeshivot of Bavel were Sura, Pumbedita, and Nehardea. Wikipedia has Sura at 31° 53&min; N, Pumbedita at 33° 21&min; N, and doesn't give a latitude for Nehardea. These are not significantly farther north than Yerushalayim, whose latitude the the Rambam gives as approximately 32° N.

#6. This method doesn't work, because if "mizrach" is not east but a direction slightly south of east, as you suggest, then "maarav" must also be the same number of degrees south of west, rather than north of west as you would have it.

joshwaxman said...

it has been quite a while since I posted this, so forgive me if I err when jumping back into old territory.

in terms of #6, why "must be"??
east can be taken as the opposite direction of west. take a page and right N S E W on it on the appropriate sides. Now rotate it. East will dip down while west will dip up. (yes, I know rising vs. setting, which will cause both to dip to the south, but that is not likely (or at least not necessarily) how people made compass directions. rather, find some established point, and then take right angles from there.)

in terms of #5, if we can make the capital city be to the north, then the *pasuk* in Yirmeyah can be made to refer to the North. And besides, the reference is to *ancient* Babylon, that these folks are talking about, and it is that which they are placing higher up. Did that include Sura and Pumpedita in Biblical times? Maybe. I did not bother to research it at all. The claim is that it should be placed higher up. But even if so, see point one.

Feel free to argue. And maybe you will be right. I am giving these, after all, as suggestions alongside several other suggestions. But perhaps such absolutes in dismissing them are not in order.

KT,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

I posted the above at 1 in the morning, so please forgive any errors.

in terms of #6, I am not sure I was talking of rotating in the correct direction, but I think it conveyed the point.

in terms of #5, if the country extends higher (or perhaps even covers different ground), and especially if the capital were higher, one might be justified in calling the source of the troops North. Scratch that point about Sura and Pumbedita.

KT,
Josh

micha said...

Since Arabia was barely passable, the trip from Israel to Bavel would require going North East. Therefore, it's very meaningful to speak of the line somewhere at Israel's north. It's splitting an arc, not land on the globe.

-micha

joshwaxman said...

yes, that is a good, and famous explanation for "mitzafon tipatach haraa." But what about the reference to kol mishpechot tzafon?

KT,
Josh

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