Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Hello all! For my first post, I think I'll change from my regular modus operandi and post something about a gemara. Yes, this blog is actually going to also host my chiddushim on whatever it is I am currently learning. The stress, I think, will be parsha, but that will not preclude other subject matter.

I was learning Yerushalmi Eruvin, perek aleph, halacha heh. The subject is the korah, a "pole" which spans the top of an entrance to a mavui (alleyway) leading into a public domain. The previous mishna and gemara discussed how the korah should be able to support a brick 3 tefachim (handbreadths) by 1 1/2 tefachim, with a dispute between R Meir, R Yehuda, and (in a brayta) R Shimon, as to whether "ability to support" means that it has the requisite surface area, whether it can support the weight of such a brick, or both. R Yehuda said the surface area and not the weight was important.

The fifth mishna is as follows:

1) If [the korah] was of straw or reeds, you consider it as if it were of metal.
2) Curved, you consider it as if it were straight.
3) Circular [Cylindrical such that any brick would then slide off], you consider it as if it were a square [in other words, as if it as a flat rectangle surface on each side]
4) If it [the cylinder] has in its circumference 3 tefachim, it has in its breadth a single tefach [and a single tefach is what is needed to support area-wise 1 1/2 tefachim, as we see earlier in the gemara]

The yerushalmi is then as follows:

i) (1) in the mishna is only according to R Yehuda who says area and not weight support is important.
ii) A short citation of (2). This is called a pesikta, and is an insertion from the geonim, a post-Talmudic source. It shows what the following gemara addresses.
iii) A dispute between two Amoraim. R Acha citing R Zera says this is (the Tanna) R Yehuda; R Yosa claims everyone agrees to this law (of the curved pole).
iv) This is only when it is curved sideways (it is not an arch lifting vertically, but the curve is in the pole which is still parallel to the ground); this is does not not jut out of the alleyway, but if it does [perhaps more than 3 tefachim], and if you were to cut that portion the juts out, there would be 3 tedachim from one part to the next, it is invalid.
v) Another pesikta, this time citing (3)
vi) "This too is R Yehuda. From the Sea of Solomon we learn it"... Then, they cite a verse from Kings I 7:23 about the Sea of Solomon: And he made the molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and the height thereof was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

The Sea of Solomon was a fixture in the Temple. It was a pool, 30 cubits in circumference and 10 cubits in diameter.

Now, the typical explanation is that (vi) is coming to explain (3) and (4), namely, that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is 3:1.
This seems a bit strange, as this was a known fact (Pi was taken back then to be 3, rather that 3.14159....), but Chazal like to derive known facts from verses. They do so even to prove that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west!

However, I would like to suggest an alternate explanation of the text. Rather than being a source for (3) and (4), the cylindrical pole and the 3:1 ratio, I posit it is a source for (2), that a sideways curved pole is (according to R Yehuda) valid.

After all, the pool was round, and as the verse states, "a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." That is, the 30 cubits round about the pool was considered a line, a "kav." (Further, the verse reckons the "straight" diameter measure as well.) So too, a korah that was similarly curved could be reckoned as a line.

The problem with this explanation is that the gemara explicitly states this is going on (3), (4), by citing (3) in the pesikta. The answer is that the pesikta, like all pesikata, is post Talmudic, from the Geonim, and reflects only how they understood the gemara, but not necessarily its original intent.

Further, this is not the first time a law about the korah from R Yehuda is derived from a feature of the Temple. Earlier, R Yehuda stated that a korah could be placed higher that 20 cubits, on the basis of the height of the entrance to the Ulam (antechamber) of the Temple or possibly (to exceed a height of 40 cubits) the height of the entrances of palaces. It would be appropriate that here he derive a law particular to korah, that is can be curved like the curved line about the pool, rather than a generic mathematical rule of 3:1 ratio which would be applicable to many other subject.

An extra wrinkle arises from the fact that the Talmud Bavli (Eruvin 14a,b) is parallel to the Yerushalmi in subject and order of subject matter, is explicit in the intent of this slice of gemara:

a) cylindrical, we view it as square (pesikta citing (3))
b) what is this further coming to teach me. it is needed for the last part (4) - all that has in its circumference 3 tefachim has a diameter of 1 tefach.
c) From where do we know this?
d) Says R Yochanan, [and then cites the verse about the pool]
e) But there is the rim?! [and would thus mess up the ratio]
f) R Papa says that the rim was very thin [and would thus not mess up the 3:1 ratio]

So it seems explicit that the gemara is going on (3) and (4), not (2), and is dealing explicitly with the ratio!

I would answer that (a) is a pesikta, from the geonim, so does not enter the picture.
(b) and possibly (c) is what is called stama degemara. It is an anonymous section, written most often in Aramaic (rather than Rabbinic Hebrew). Only that references the ratio and asks what is the source of this ratio. Stama Degemara is understood by most Talmudic scholars to be from the Savorin, a post-Talmudic stage preceding the geonim. As such, it should not enter the picture.
(d), R Yochanan's citation, parallels what we have in the yerushalmi, and is thus open to either the standard interpretation or my novel interpretation.
(e) is stama degemara.
(f) is R Papa, who is an Amora, and thus throws a huge monkey-wrench into the whole shebang! However, it is often noted the curious fact that R Papa (and specifically R Papa) is often observed responding to a stama degemara. It is not clear if this is pseudopigraphic or perhaps a late R Papa with the same name as an Amora, but this happens so often that we should not be held back by a statement from R Papa responding to a stama degemara.

Thus, the Bavli also reads in a way amenable to my suggestion.

Update: Some points in favor of the traditional reading:
1) Both the bavli and yerushalmi have a discussion immediately following which discusses the volume of the pool, which has an easier segue if they were just calculating length (and pi). Specifically, the gemara first discusses a discrepency between a description of the pool as "agula" (circular) or "merubaas" (square), words specificly used in the mishna to describe the cylinder korah and the angular korah, and then moves on to discuss a discrepency in the volume measurement.
2) The gemara in yerushalmi starts with the statement "od hi de R Yehuda; min hayam lamdo" which implies this is an additional section of the mishna like R Yehuda. Previously in the gemara there was a dispute whether to attribute this to R Yehuda or to everyone. Reason dictates that this would then apply to the next section of the mishna, (3) and (4) rather than (2) again. It could be parsed otherwise: "further, this [law] of R Yehuda from the pool he learns it," since he learned other laws from items in the Temple.

Update: Retraction:
Just as we get reward for the drisha, so too we get reward for the prisha.
On reflection, the traditional explanation, as understood by the stama degemara and the geonim in the pesiktata, feels more and more convincing. Most, if not all, places where I've encountered this pattern "min X lomdo" in Eruvin, what is being learned are dimensions. The latest is Eruvin yerushalmi, 2nd perek, 5th halacha. The dimensions of 70 + 2/3 cubits by 70 + 2/3 cubits, is learned, according to R Shmuel b Nachman in the name of R Yochanan, from the chatzer (courtyard) or the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which had equivalent area by being 50 by 100 cubits.

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