Monday, February 08, 2010

Is 1/10 of the Israelite population as judges plausible?!

Summary: Ibn Ezra does not think so, especially since there are these moral requirements. Therefore, he parts ways with the midrash Chazal. And see Ibn Caspi's reaction, and Avi Ezer's reaction.

Post: In parshat Yitro (last week's parsha but I did not get a chance to post this last week), at Yitro's suggestion, and Hashem's approval, Moshe is to appoint many Israelites as judges. To cite the pasuk and associated Rashi:

21. But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens. כא. וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱ־לֹהִים אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת:
But you shall choose: with the holy spirit that is upon you. — [from Mechilta]ואתה תחזה: ברוח הקודש שעליך:
men of substance: Heb. אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל, wealthy men, who do not have to flatter or show favoritism. — [from Mechilta] [אנשי חיל: עשירים, שאין צריכין להחניף ולהכיר פנים:
men of truth: These are people who keep their promises, upon whose words one may rely, and thereby, their commands will be obeyed. — [from Mechilta]אנשי אמת: אלו בעלי הבטחה, שהם כדאי לסמוך על דבריהם, שעל ידי כן יהיו דבריהם נשמעין:
who hate monetary gain: Who hate [to have] their own property in litigation, like [the Talmudic adage] that we say: Any judge from whom money is exacted through litigation is not [fit to be] a judge. — [based on Mechilta and B.B. 58b]שנאי בצע: ששונאין את ממונם בדין כההיא דאמרינן כל דיינא דמפקין ממונא מיניה בדינא לאו דיינא הוא:
leaders over thousands: They were six hundred officers for six hundred thousand [men]. — [from Mechilta, Sanh. 18a]שרי אלפים: הם היו שש מאות שרים לשש מאות אלף:
leaders over hundreds: They were six thousand. — [from Mechilta, Sanh. 18a]שרי מאות: ששת אלפים היו:
leaders over fifties: Twelve thousand. — [from Mechilta, Sanh. 18a]שרי חמשים: שנים עשר אלף:
and leaders over tens: Sixty thousand. — [from Mechilta, Sanh. 18a] שרי עשרת: ששים אלף:

Thus, a large percentage of klal Yisrael would become judges here. 1/10 + 1/50 + 1/100 + 1/1000 of the population, which given 600,000 people, yields many, many judges, as calculated there. That is, 78,600 men out of a population of 600,000. Despite this being an explicit Midrash and Gemara, Ibn Ezra does not accept this. He writes:

שרי אלפים -יש לתמוה אם פירש אלה השרים כמשמעם, יהיה מספרם יותר מע' אלף וט' אלפים. וזה רחוק מאד להיות שרים רבים כאלה והכתוב אמר: בפשע ארץ רבים שריה.
ועוד: אין יתכן להיות שמינית המחנה ראשי שבטים, כי כן אמר משה: ואקח את ראשי שבטיכם?! ש
ותמצא בהם כל המדות הטובות הנזכרות. והם מיוצאי מצרים שלמדו מעשיהם, וכתוב: כמעשה ארץ מצרים.והנה דור המדבר שלמדם משה מ"ם שנה ולא הוצרכו לעשות אומנות כי לחמם נתן. ומימיהם נאמנים. והמן מפקח הפך המינים שהתאוו, מה שאין רגילים לאכול במצרים. ומשה אמר להם בשנת הארבעים: ולא נתן ה' לכם לב לדעת.
והנה יש לתמוה איך ימצא המספר הנזכר שיהיו כולם חכמים ונבונים?
והנכון בעיני: כי שרי אלפים הם שתחת ידם אלף איש עבדיו או נעריו או שכיריו, אולי אלה הם ראשי השבטים והיה מספרם שנים עשר. ושרי המאות הם רבים. ושרי חמישים כדרך וחמשים איש רצים לפניו.
That is, it is somewhat surprising to have so many, and such a large percentage of the population, being sarim. Also, it is not considered a good thing to have so many sarim. As the pasuk in Mishlei 28:2 states:

ב  בְּפֶשַׁע אֶרֶץ, רַבִּים שָׂרֶיהָ;    וּבְאָדָם מֵבִין יֹדֵעַ, כֵּן יַאֲרִיךְ.2 For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof; but by a man of understanding and knowledge established order shall long continue.
Besides, Moshe Rabbenu listed all these wonderful qualities as requirements to be a judge, and these were people who were spiritually influenced by the environment in Egypt. There were few of great caliber even after their stay in the midbar, so how could so many be found?! Rather, he interprets these in a way such that there are many fewer. For example, a prince of thousands could be one who has a thousand servants, errand-boys, or hired men, such that perhaps these are the heads of the tribes, such that there are precisely twelve of these.

(I could perhaps interpret this as judges of tens, meaning not that each judge judges exactly ten, but that he judges tens, plural, and the idea is not that this is precise, but that there are judges of larger and larger groups.)

Naturally, Avi Ezer objects to this, based on hashkafic considerations. After citing Ibn Ezra, he writes: "And this (the words of Rashi Ibn Ezra objects to) is already a matter in the words of Chazal, in Sanhedrin 18a, and we do not budge from it. And all the investigations and the clevernesses are nullified when coming against their holy words; and so it is astonishing."

Thus, he points to the Gemara in Sanhedrin which cites a brayta:
Our Rabbis taught: And place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties and rulers of tens: The rulers of thousands amounted to six hundred; those of hundreds, six thousand; those of fifties, twelve thousand; and those of tens, sixty thousand. Hence the total number of judges in Israel was seventy-eight thousand and six hundred.
And objects to the very idea of going against their words. (This even for a Rishon like Ibn Ezra.) Though we already know that Ibn Ezra disagrees, and like many Rishonim will argue against Chazal in interpreting pesukim.

Ibn Caspi also argues with Ibn Ezra, but as a matter of taste in peshat, rather than as a result of religious fervor. He writes:

That is, he rejects each of Ibn Ezra's arguments in turn. Who says they must be of such a high level. Rather, they were great in accordance with their level of appointment. And 1/8th of the camp could indeed plausibly be heads, and he gives precedent, or various levels. And they need not all be at the highest level, but in accordance with the spiritual level of their generation.

I agree that not all of Ibn Ezra's arguments are completely convincing. Yet I do think that we need not be bound by the idea that each sar Xs means that each sar was in charge of precisely X people. And that it is not necessarily the most plausible that 1/8th of the population, while not engaged in war, were judges of various levels.


Shlomo said...

Two ideas:

1. "Leaders over tens" are presumably leaders over 10 adult males, thus 30-40 people overall - a somewhat larger number. (Though still, we'd have to posit a somewhat different role for judges than we have today. Something like, lehavdil, a mafia don who settles all disputes in the extended family.)

2. Perhaps "sarei asarot" means not "leaders over tens", but something like "leaders of whom there are about 10". If so, there are just 1160 judges. If "asarot" means multiple tens, the number is still under 10000.

Ari said...

Interestingly, Ibn Ezra in his Peirush Hakatzar embraces the Midrash Chazal which Rashi quotes.

Ari said...


Re your point #2

The Ibn Ezra rejects this (without explanation) as well as other interpretations, in the Ibn Ezra Hakatzar on this pasuk.

"There are those who say that there were altogether 1160, and others say that there were 780, and others say that there were 11,110. And I do not want to elaborate to mention this calculation, because the didkduk of the language will disprove them. And the truth is what the Kadmonim said - that the princes were 78600...

I have 2 questions.

1)I am not sure where the numbers 780 and 1,110 comes from. Anyone have an idea?

2) Which interpretations does the dikduk disprove, and how does it do so?

Ari said...

I think I misread the Ibn Ezra's in my previous comment but cannot see what I wrote, as it is awaiting moderator approval.

Interpretation which he rejects due to dikduk considerations

1) 1160 (like Shmlomo explained above)

2) 678 (I'm not sure how to arrive at this number)

3)11,110 (I'm not sure how to arrive at this number)


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