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The Economic Conditions of the Jews in Babylon in Talmudic Times Compared with Palestine

The Economic Conditions of the Jews in Babylon in Talmudic Times Compared with Palestine

The Economic Conditions of the Jews in Babylon in Talmudic Times Compared with Palestine [1]
Louis Jacobs
Journal of Semitic Studies, 2: 4 (1957)

A baraita [2] records that 'ten measures of poverty descended into the world, nine of them were taken by Babylon'. There is the further statement of R. Asi [3] that the festivals are celebrated with great joy in Babylon as a compensation for the great poverty of the Babylonians. On the basis of these two statements some modern scholars [4] conclude that the Jews in Babylon were in worse financial circumstances than their Palestinian brethren. Samuel Krauss [5] is at pains to refute this view and he argues convincingly for the thesis that the Babylonians were the wealthier. From the evidence here to be presented there can no longer be any doubt whatsoever of the correctness of Krauss's view. In fact it follows from this evidence that Krauss has failed to underline sufficiently the very real differences, especially in the economic sphere, between the two communities. [6]

Palestine was never a commercial country. Josephus [7] points to this fact with pride. After the destruction of the Temple and the devastations caused by the wars with Rome, the whole economic position rapidly deteriorated and conditions became increasingly worse. Buchler, [8] describing these conditions, writes:

'Of trade, hardly any evidence is found, though there must have been grocers and bakers. R. Eleazar b. Azaryah dealt in wine and oil (BB 95a); R. Yehudah was a baker (and bakers' shops are mentioned in Yad. 11: 16) and Joshua was grit-miller (sic) (Eruv. 21b). Lydda had vendors who sold their goods dear (BM 4: 3), and a synagogue of weavers or metal workers (Naz. 52a). R. Joshua gave up his studies and took up business, for which his colleague R. Mathia blamed him (ARN 1: 1a) and R. Akiba seems to have been connected with shipping (Ned. 50a-b). A R. Johanan was sandal-maker (Sifrei Deut. 80); Yehudah a perfumer (Hull. 55b), Simeon a cotton dealer (?); R. Ishmael a Torah-writer (Sot. 20a), and Eleazar a writer (Hull. 55b); and in connection with the deposition of R. Gamliel, a fuller is mentioned (JT Ber. 4: 7d).'

How different from this is the rich variety of trades and occupations followed by Jews in Babylon and recorded in the Talmud! [9] It is therefore not surprising that, despite the many rabbinic teachings about the importance from the religious aspect of residence in Palestine, [10] and despite the many injunctions against leaving it, there was a constant stream of Jewish emigrants to Babylon where life had more to offer in the economic sphere.

This emigration was no doubt behind the teaching (sent we are told from the Palestinian authorities to those of Babylon) [11] 'Take care of the sons of the poor for the Torah proceeds from them.' The 'sons of the poor' were probably the poor emigrants from Palestine who came to Babylon to seek their fortunes. [12] This is borne out by the account of a Palestinian scholar who came to Babylon and, being disappointed by the cold reception given to him by the 'rich men of Babylon', who refused to set him up in business or help him financially, taught that these men were destined for Gehinna. [13]

Samuel ruled in Babylon that a scholar should first marry and then devote himself to the study of the Torah, whereas R. Johanan in Palestine ruled that he should study before marriage: [14] 'A millstone around his neck, shall he be able to study the Torah?' The Gemara explains that the ruling of each authority refers to his own land. This does not mean, as Hirschberg suggests, [15] that because of the greater degree of immorality in Babylon it was obligatory for Jews to marry early. It is clear that it is financial considerations which are the determining factor ('a millstone around his neck'). The correct interpretation of the passage is that in Babylon economic conditions were such that a scholar could afford to live in financial comfort even after his marriage, whereas in Palestine this was most difficult. [16]

It is no mere coincidence that hardly any of the Babylonian Amoraim were poor men. Their comparative freedom from economic cares explains their greater brilliance in the study of halakhah which requires intense concentration. Furthermore the far more highly developed economic life explains the existence of a greater abundance of legal material dealing with civil law in the Babylonian Talmud than in the Palestinian. [17]

The apparent contradictions to the greater wealth of the Babylonians in the two statements with which this article begins can easily be dispensed with. The statement of R. Asi is an ironic skit on Babylonian life by its author who had emigrated from Babylon to Palestine, and far from proving the greater poverty of the Babylonians, it proves the exact opposite. [18] The statement of the baraita, quite apart from the fact that it pre-dates the rise of the Sassanian Empire and the consolidation of Jewish life in Babylon by Rav and Samuel, does not refer to the Jewish community at all but to the general population, as is clear from the similar observations made on other lands in the same baraita.

Krauss [19] makes the interesting suggestion that the general decline in wealth gave the Jews an opportunity to accumulate it and there is, at least, a kernel of truth in this in so far as commerce in Babylon was mainly in the hands of the Jews and other minorities. The contributory factors to the greater wealth of Babylonian Jewry were as follows. The Sassanians, unlike the Romans, were not a commercial race, preferring, under the influence of Zoroastrianism, agriculture to commerce. [20] This provided far greater commercial opportunities for Jews in the Sassanian Empire. One example of this is the government monopoly in the trade in silks in the Roman Empire [21] which prevented Jews in Palestine from trading in this commodity, and the extensive trade in silks in Babylon. [22] Palestine too was devastated by the Roman wars and by the Roman system of taxation whereas, with the exception of a few outbursts by the Magi and their followers, the Jews in the Sassanian Empire were comparatively safe from persecution and were immune from discriminatory taxes levied against them. [23]

Another important factor, not to be underestimated, was the far greater stringency with which the agricultural laws were applied in Palestine. The observance of these laws in Palestine was so burdensome that for many farmers it became virtually impossible to keep them and pay the heavy taxes demanded by the Romans at the same time. In Babylon, though these laws were observed, there were so many relaxations that their observance was hardly burdensome. [24]

Finally, the famous dictum of Samuel, 'The law of the land is law', [25] must have gone a long way to affecting a proper adjustment between the members of the Jewish community and their Gentile neighbours. In Palestine a ruling of this kind was never contemplated by the Jewish authorities, who never ceased to look upon the Roman invaders as intruders. [26] As a further example of the attempt at adjustment on the part of the Babylonian authorities, we may cite R. Asi's recognition of the right to sell arms to the Persians despite the earlier prohibition of the sale of arms to Gentiles. [27]

It is not surprising therefore that on the one hand the wages of a worker in Babylon were generally higher than in Palestine, [28] and that, on the other hand, certain important commodities were cheaper. Livestock, wheat, dates, and possibly clothing, were all cheaper in Babylon [29] Land too was less expensive than in Palestine. [30] As a direct result of the far more highly developed economic life in Babylon, greater efforts were made by the Jewish authorities there to exercise controls to stabilize that life. For example, while in Palestine only weights and measures were controlled, prices being allowed to find their own level, in Babylon the Exilarch appointed market commissioners for the control of prices too. [31] On the other hand, due to the severity of economic conditions, it was forbidden, according to some authorities, for a dealer in Palestine to profit on the sale of life's necessities such as oil, wine and flour. [32] No controls of this kind existed in Babylon.

Hellenistic influences were at work in shaping the administrative and general economic life of the whole of the Near East. Some of the Hellenistic institutions, such as the appointment of the agoranomoi, persisted in their original form in the Parthian and Sassanian Empires [33]; others assumed an Iranian colouring such as the taxation system [34]. Yet there were important differences between the Graeco-Roman and Iranian Empires. The Roman Empire was on a gold standard after the reforms of Diocletian;
the Iranian empires were on a silver standard of currency. [35] The large fair, so prominent a feature of Roman economic life, was unknown in Babylon. [36] This helps us to understand why an institution such as the money-changer, so widespread in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, was hardly developed at all in Babylon. [37] Usury being prohibited, it became vitally necessary for the rabbinic authorities in Babylon to devise ways and means of encouraging people to lend money and of allowing the possibility of various forms of credit buying. Thus we find the possibility of the creditor consuming the profits of a pledge greatly developed in Babylon. [38] Similarly, we find that the institution of the arev kablan-the guarantor who could be approached by the creditor directly-was a feature of Babylonian Jewish economic life, though apparently unknown in Palestine despite its Roman parallels. [39] The numerous details concerning credit buying found in the Babylonian Talmud [40] are further evidences of the concern of the Rabbis to allow a full economic life to develop without an infringement of the usury laws.

In view of the indisputable evidence of Babylonian economic superiority we cannot possibly accept Rashi's interpretation of a Talmudic passage [41] according to which a distinction is drawn between Palestine and Babylon in that more slaves were to be found in Jewish houses in the former. If the passage deals with slaves, and this is by no means certain, [42] the opposite interpretation would be nearer the truth, especially after the edict of Constantine forbidding Jews to own non-Jewish converted slaves, [43] which, as Dubnov remarks, [44] had a crippling effect on Palestinian economic life.

We have now to notice some differences in the industries of Babylon and Palestine and certain other differences in the economic life of the two centres. There was far more vine cultivation and wine manufacture in Palestine. [45] In Babylon only the comparatively wealthy could afford wine daily, its place being taken by beer made from dates, the palm being the most extensively cultivated tree here. [46] In Palestine, too, olives were cultivated and olive oil was widely used. In Babylon its place was generally taken by sesame oil. Thus a baraita [47] rules according to the interpretation of the Gemara that one who vows not to partake of oil is permitted, in Palestine, to use sesame oil (because this oil was not used in Palestine and was consequently not usually referred to as 'oil') and forbidden to use olive oil. In Babylon he may use olive oil but not sesame oil. At a later period, after the Persian war with Julian, the olive was cultivated in Babylon too. [48] There were no stone quarries in Babylon as in Palestine, clay bricks being used for building. [49] Despite the fact that two shops discovered at Dura appear to have been stone-cutters' shops, [50] the craft of stone-cutter is nowhere referred to in the Babylonian Talmud. Only in the wealthy town of Mahoza were stone floors to be found in the houses. [51]

That characteristic Roman institution, the public bath, was well-known in Palestine, but owing to Sassanian religious objections to them, there were fewer of these in Babylon. 'The poor of Babylon die in anguish without light or baths' is the statement of the Palestinian Talmud. [52] The Magi considered the institution of the public bath after the Roman fashion to be a profanation of the sacred element. King Barlash (484-8) is said to have scandalized the Magi when he introduced this fashion. [53] From which it follows that before Barlash there were few bath-houses in Babylon, which accords with the remark of the Palestinian Talmud mentioned above and with the fact that the majority of the talmudic references to the bath-house refer to conditions in Palestine. [54] Further support to the above is given by a report of Babylonian and Palestinian interpretations of the institution known as 'the cup of peace', evidently the drinking of a cup of wine as a form of greeting and an expression of goodwill. In Babylon this was explained as the cup partaken of in the house of mourning. In Palestine, where the bath-house was a regular feature of Jewish life, it was understood as the cup partaken of in the bath-house. [55]

Of the industries connected with clothing, dyeing was one of the most important in Babylon. The famous Babylonian dye was known all over the ancient world. [56] The flax industry too was a most important Babylonian one. The manufacture of linen was so important that Rav, in a homily on 'hope in your latter end' (Jer. 29: 11) understood this to refer to the dates and flax of Babylon. [57] On the other hand Palestinian laundrymen were more skilful than their Babylonian counterparts. [58]

With regard to the rearing of livestock, there are references to the sale of elephants in Babylon, [59] none in Palestine. It is of interest in this connection that in the Gospels [60] the expression used in the famous saying is 'a camel through the eye of a needle' whereas in a parallel Babylonian talmudic saying [61] the expression is 'an elephant through the eye of a needle'. The substitution of elephant in the popular proverb was no doubt due to the fact that this animal was far more frequently found in Babylon.

We learn that in Babylon the ox was used for ploughing; in Palestine, the cow. [62] It seems certain that the reason for this is to be found in the talmudic report that, in Babylon, friendly non-Jews, who were aware of the Jewish prohibition of the castrating of animals (based on the rabbinic interpretation of Lev. 22: 24), used to steal bulls from Jews, castrate them and return them to their Jewish owners so that they could be used for ploughing. [63] In Palestine there were few non-Jews prepared to do this service for their Jewish neighbours.

Finally we may note that the followers of trades connected with entertainment, such as dancers, singers and actors, appear to have flourished in Palestine under the influence of Graeco-Roman civilization, [64] but, apart from a stray reference to a slave dancing in a tavern, [65] there are no references to entertainers of this kind among the members of the Babylonian community.

There is a Talmudic saying that Adam's body came from Babylon and his head from Palestine. [66] Getzow [67] applies this to primitive man-the cradle of civilization being Mesopotamia; the birthplace of early man's spiritual consciousness, the Holy Land. We can fittingly apply this to the history of the Jews. In the land of the Prophets the Jews acquired their original spiritual and moral approach to life. But it was in Babylon, the second great centre of Jewish life, that the transition took place which transformed the Jewish people from an agricultural to a commercial people. The effects of this transformation are told in many subsequent pages of Jewish history.

  1. In accordance with the regulations of the London University I have to state that this article is based on part of a thesis for the Ph.D. degree of that university.
  2. Kidd. 49b.
  3. Sabb. 145b.
  4. See N. Getzow, Al Naharot Bavel (Warsaw, 1879), Otzar Yisra'el, ii, 294.
  5. Kadmoniyot Hatalmud (Berlin and Tel Aviv, 1914-29), i, 7-22.
  6. Cf. Juster, Les Juifs dans l'empire romain, leur condition juridique, economique et sociale (Paris, 1914), i, 20, 24-5; ii, 59. n. 2.
  7. Contra Apion, i, 72; Cf. L. Jacobs, 'The Economic Situation of the Jews in Babylon', in Melilah, v (Manchester, 195 5), 83f.
  8. The Economic Conditions of Judea after the Destruction of the Second Temple (Jews' College Publications, London, 1912), publ. no. 4, pp. 49f.; cf. Juster, loc. cit. ii. 291f and 297 n. 1.
  9. Cf. the remarks of S. W. Baron in his 'The Economic Views of Maimonides' in Essays on Maimonides (New York, 1941), pp. 171-2:

    'By the Middle Ages commerce was accepted by Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides as a necessary and unobjectionable human institution. The anti-commercial statements of Kidd. 4: 14, and so forth, had been so thoroughly disposed of in the Talmudic and Geonic periods that Maimonides had no compunction about leaving the Mishnah without comment.'

    The facts are that in Babylon we find Jews engaged in all the occupations forbidden or frowned upon by the tana'im in the Mishnah referred to by Baron and in Kidd. 82a. Thus we find Jews in Babylon active as physicians and cuppers (Sanh. 17b, BK 85a, Sabb. 129b, BB 22b-25a, Ta'an. 21b); as ass- and camel-drivers (BK 116a, Hag. 9b); as sailors (Sabb. 100b, 125b, Sot. 48a, Pes. 112b, Bekh. 8b); as shopkeepers (BB 29b, BK 21a, BM 69b); as butchers (BB 9a, Hull. 94-95 a, Nidd. 5a, Bekh. 50a, Bez. 28b-29a) and as tanners (Keth. 77a, BB 5a, Ned. 56b, Hull. 48a). It should however be noted that it is difficult to believe that in Palestine no Jews followed these callings. From the Palestinian references to them it appears rather that the tannaitic expressions of disapproval were academic. Of importance in this connection is the way the disapproval of the craft of shepherd, never very strongly accepted in Palestine, was virtually disregarded in Babylon; see Rapoport, Erekh Millin (Prague, 1852), p. 214, S. Krauss, 'La Defense d'elever du menu betail en Palestine et questions connexes' in R. E. J. i-iii, 14-55; Buchler, op. cit. p. 45; J. Newman, The Agricultural Life of the Jews in Babylonia between the Years 200 CE and 500 CE (London, 1952), 115, and S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York, 1957), i, 279 and iii, 69 n. 16.
  10. Tosafot AZ 4: 5, p. 446, JT MK 3: 1, Keth. 110b.
  11. Ned. 81a.
  12. Krauss, Kad. ad loc.
  13. Ber. 32b; cf. Juster, loc. cit. ii. 320, n. 5.
  14. Kidd. 29b.
  15. He'atid (Berlin, 1912), p. 14 n. 1.
  16. See Arukh, Koh. 267; Erekh Milin, 226; Krauss, Kad. i, 13 n. 3.
  17. Y. H. Tabyob, 'Talmudah shel Bavel vetalmudah shel Eretz Yisra'el', in Hatekufah (Moscow, 1918), i, 558; cf. Cant. R. i. 6.
  18. See the other statements of R. Asi (ibid.) [Hebrew quote missing] Even if this is not a skit on Babylonian life it is evident that R. Asi is seeking to persuade R. Hiyya B. Abba of the greater advantages of life in Palestine, hence his disparagement of Babylonian life. Obviously, no conclusions can be drawn from this concerning the actual poverty of the Babylonians.
  19. Kad. ad loc.; cf. JT Kil. 9: 4; Pesikta (ed. Friedmann), i, 2, and Sifrei Deut. 116, p. 98.
  20. See M. N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Civilization from the Earliest Times to the Downfall of the last Zoroastrian Empire, 651 AD (New York, 1922), pp. 295, 556; F. Spiegel, Eranische Altertumskunde (Leipzig, 1871-1902), iii, 658; Finlay, quoted by W. Cunningham in Western Civilization in its Economic Aspects (Ancient Times) (Cambridge Historical Series, Camb., 1898), i, 205.
  21. Oxford Classical Dictionary, p. 222, Lev. R. 34: 12; cf. Gen. Rabba 77: 2
  22. See especially Kidd. 7b, 32a, 73a.
  23. For special taxes levied against the Jews in the Roman Empire see Juster, loc. cit, ii, 280f.; for taxation in Babylon see Newman, loc. cit. 161 f., F. M. Heichelheim, 'The Influence of Hellenistic Financial Administration in the Near East and India', in Economic History (London, Feb. 1938), pp. 2f., and in Tenny Frank's Economic Survey of Ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1938), iv, s.v. 'Syria'; M. I. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (Oxford, 1941), i, 468, and iii, 1434 n. 237, and more recently Y. A. Soloducho's comprehensive, though highly tendentious account, in Russian, in Sovietskoye Vostokovedemye, 5 (1948), 55-72.
  24. See Boaz Cohen in J. Q. R. New Series, 27, 70-5.
  25. BK 113b, BB 54b, Gitt. 10b, Ned. 28a, Newman, loc. cit. pp. 196f., Juster, loc. cit. ii, 34 n. 2.
  26. See L. Ginzberg, Mekomah shel Hahalakhah Behokhmat Yisra'el (Jerusalem, 1951), pp. 11f.
  27. AZ 16a.
  28. According to an anonymous statement of the Babylonian Talmud (BM 76a), mentioned in a casual discussion which lends it great credence, a labourer received 3-4 zuz for one day's work. In Palestine in the early First century the daily wage of a vineyard worker was 1 denarius (= 1 zuz) a day (Matt. 20: 2). Hillel, we are told, earned only half a denarius a day (Yom. 35a). In an edict of Diocletian a land worker was to receive 25 copper dinars a day; 16 of these equalled one silver dinar (L. Herzfeld, Handelsgeschichte der Juden des Altertums (Brunswick, 1879), p. 195). Tacitus (Annals, i. 17) refers to the wages of a Roman soldier as being 1 dinar a day. Under Septimus Severus, the Roman soldier's pay was 500 denarii a year, under Caracalla 750 denarii (Tenny Frank, loc. cit. v. 86; Bellinger in The Excavation at Dura Europos, Final Report VI (New Haven, 1949), p. 196 n.). Heichelheim, Syria, p. 181, remarks that in the 2nd century in Babylon only 1 zuz was paid for hair cutting 100 times! This is obviously absurd. Heichelheim evidently relies on the interpretation of Tosafot s.v. me'ah on Sabb. 129b but this is clearly unhistorical.
  29. In Palestine a young lamb or goat was worth 2, 3, 4, and 5 dinars (Shek. 2: 4, Tos. Ker. 5: 2); in Babylon in the time of R. Joseph (d. 333) a young lamb was worth one-sixth of a zuz (Bekh. 11a). In Palestine, in the mishnaic period, the normal price of an ox was 1 maneh = 100 denarii (BK 111: 9); in Babylon, at a later period, the hide of an ox cost as little as 1-4 zuz (BK 11a). Wheat in Egypt was generally cheaper than in Palestine (Heichelheim, Syria, p. 181, Tenny Frank, loc. cit. ii. 36f.). The Babylonian prices compare favourably with the Egyptian. A griva (= 1 se'ah) of wheat in Babylon was worth 1-4 zuz (Pes. 32a). In the time of Samuel (d. 254) 1 kor (= 50 se'ah) of wheat was worth 1 sela = 4 zuz (BM 1oz b). According to the figures given by Heichelheim and Tenny Frank, loc. cit., the price of 1 se'ah (= 13.131 lit.) in Egypt was, on the average, 1 denarius, that of 1 artaba (39.2 lit.) was 0.5-2 denarii. In the time of Samuel 1 kor of dates was sometimes worth only 1 dinar (Kidd. 12a). Allowing for the element of exaggeration in this statement it is clear that dates were very cheap in Babylon. In the time of Ulla (early 4th century) three basketfuls of dates could be bought in Babylon for 1 zuz (Pes. 88a). From Ulla's expression of amazement at the cheapness of dates in Babylon when he came there on a visit from Palestine, it follows that in Babylon, where the date palm was so extensively cultivated, dates were far cheaper than in Palestine. Heichelheim, Syria, 181-2, is of the opinion that the Palestinian prices of clothes in the first to second century CE are as a rule higher than those of Babylonia of the third century, but he adduces no convincing evidence of this. In Palestine a talith (robe) cost 1, 8, 20 or 50 denarii, the cost of weaving it was 8 denarii (Me'il. 4: 4, Tos. Arakh. 4, Tos. Shek. 2, Tos. BM 7). At a clothier's shop found at Dura robes of various kinds are priced at 16 to 90 denarii (Dura, Preliminary Report IV (New Haven, 1955), 140-5), but this is not very helpful for comparative purposes seeing that there is no evidence as to such matters as the quality of the materials used and the tailoring skill.
  30. See BB 12a and comment of R. Gershon, S. Funk, Die Juden in Babylonien (Berlin, 1902), 16, and his 'Beitrage zur Kulturgeschichte Babyloniens aus der Zeit der Sassaniden' in J. J. L. G., 7 (1910), 214.
  31. BB 89a; Tos. BM 6: 14; JT BB 5: 2; cf. I. Epstein, Social Legislation in the Talmud, Torah Va'avodah Ideological Series (London, n.d.), 9.
  32. BB 91a.
  33. Heichelheim, Syria; Rostovtzeff in the Cambridge Ancient History, xi.116; Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopedie der Classsischen Altertumswissenschaft, i (Stuttgart, 1894), 883; Tos. BM 6: 14; Lev. R. 18.
  34. See Heichelheim, 'The Influence of Hellenistic Financial Administration in the Near East and India', in Economic History (1938), 2; 7 n. 12; 9 n. 55; 11.
  35. Palestine, after the reforms of Diocletian, was on a gold standard, as was the rest of the Roman Empire (see Chamber's Encyclopaedia, x (London, 1950), 127). The Sassanian Empire, on the other hand, was on a silver standard. 'The Arsacids do not seem to have struck gold coins; they were content with those of silver and bronze currency. A few years before the accession of Ardeshir I, there had been a sudden influx of Roman gold into Western Asia, in consequence of the treaty concluded between Artabanus and Macrinus (217 CE), whereby Rome undertook to pay Parthia a large indemnity. It is probable that the payment was made mostly in aurei. Ardeshir thus found in the countries which he conquered and formed into an Empire three coinages current - of gold, silver and bronze - coming from three different sources and possessing no common measure. It was simpler and easier to retain what already existed and had sufficiently adjusted itself owing to the working of commercial needs, than to invent a new currency; hence the anomalous character of the Sassanian money system' (D. J. Paruck, Sassanian Coins (Bombay, 1924), 51). On the other hand E. Herzfeld in his Kushna-Sassanian Coins (Calcutta, 1950), is of the opinion that the Sassanian aurei represent the gold currency of the eastern dominions of the Persian Empire, while in the western dominions there was a silver currency. This is supported by the fact that no gold coins were found at Dura (see Bellinger in Final Report, VI. 195). There appears to be a trace of the different standards of Roman Palestine and Sassanian Babylon in the amoraic period, in the different versions of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds of a mishnah dealing with currency. The general legal principle concerning the transfer of goods is that the act of purchasing becomes complete not as soon as the price is paid but when the commodity is delivered. The question discussed in the Mishnah is, in the cases of the sale of gold coins for silver coins, or silver for gold, which of the two is to be considered the commodity and which the purchase price? There are two versions of the Mishnah's ruling on this question. According to the version of the Babylonian Talmud, the ruling is that the delivery of gold coins affects the transfer, i.e. the gold coins are the commodity and the silver coins the purchase price (BM 44 a-b to mishnah 4: 1). The Palestinian version is that the silver coins are the commodity, the gold coins the purchase price (JT BM 4: 19b-c). There can be little doubt that the two Talmuds were influenced by the currency conditions of their respective lands. In Palestine silver coins had long been adulterated and, after the reforms of Diocletian, the standard was gold. Consequently silver was in the nature of a commodity in relation to gold. In Babylon, where silver coins were far more current than gold, the latter would be the commodity (cf. Heichelheim, Syria; Krauss, Talmudische Archaeologie, ii (Leipzig, 1910-12), 714 n. 649, Marmorstein in R.E.J, 98 (1934), 36.
  36. AZ 13a, Gen. R. 67: 7 and 47: 10; cf. Gen. R. 67: 7 on Gen. 27: 40: 'thou hast fairs (yeridim-speaking to Esau, with play on the word tarid) and he (Jacob) has no fairs'.
  37. See Gulak in Tarbiz, 5 (1934), 164-5.
  38. See Gulak in Tarbiz, 1 (1930), 89f.
  39. A. Gulak in Toledot Hamishpat Beyisra'el Bitekufat Hatalmud (Jerusalem, 1939), ch. 6, and G. Allon in Kiryat Sefer, 17, 172f.
  40. See especially the fifth chapter of BM in the Babylonian Talmud.
  41. Bez. 14b.
  42. Cf. Maimonides, Yad, 'Hilkhot Yom Tov', 3: 15, and the stricture of R. Abraham ibn David ad loc.
  43. See Juster, loc. cit. ii. 72f.
  44. History of the Jewish People, iii (Hebrew edn., Devir, Tel Aviv, 1955), 179.
  45. BB 69b, Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, ii. 51-5.
  46. Pes. 107a; Yev. 63a; BB 69b; BK 91b; Mid. Lam. Proems 34; Funk, 'Beitraege zur Kulturgeschichte Babyloniens', in J. J. L. G., 7: 222.
  47. Ned. 53a.
  48. Funk, Die Juden in Babylonien, ii. 81.
  49. See Mid. Teh. 24: 10; Pirkei de R. Eli'ezer ch. 24.
  50. Dum, Prelim. Report, V (1954), p. 86.
  51. Sabb. 95a.
  52. JT Ber. 4: 1; Mid. Lam. Proems 24; Cf. Krauss, Kad. i. 17.
  53. See Warner's note to Firdausi's Shahnama in Trubner's Oriental Series, vii (London, 1905-25) and E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and his World (Princeton, 1947), 795.
  54. Tosefta Nid. 6: 15; Tosefta Keth. 7: 6; Gitt. 90b, JT Keth. 7: 4; Cf. Hirschberg in He'atid, iv (1912), 23.
  55. Ned. 38b.
  56. Gen R. 85: 14; Mid. Tanh. Mishpat. 17; Krauss in JE, ii, 405.
  57. Ta'an. 29b. I have been unable to discover any authority for Heichelheim's contention (Syria, p. 131) that the Talmud absolutely forbids the export of linen products from Babylon to prevent a dearth of this important material, thus demonstrating that the native flax production was not sufficient for the needs of the Babylonian population. Heichelheim's source citation (BB 91a) refers to the offering of public prayers when linen garments became too cheap and not to a prohibition against export.
  58. Ta'an, 29b, Keth. 10b.
  59. See Kidd. 25b, Tos. Kidd. 26a, s.v. i nami.
  60. Matt. 19: 24; Mark 10: 25; Luke 18: 25.
  61. Ber. 55b, BM 38b, cf. Krauss in JE, iii. 521.
  62. See Krauss, Talmudische Archeologie, ii. 116;
  63. BM 90b.
  64. See JT Ta'an. 1: 4, BT Ta'an 64a; S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (New York, 1942), 31f. For Jewish gladiators etc. in the Roman Empire, see Juster, loc. cit. ii. 239 n. 2.
  65. BK 86a; BM 64b.
  66. Sanh. 38a-b.
  67. Loc. cit. Introd.
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Publications, Articles and Reviews

Our aim is to provide every one of the 500 articles of the LJ bibliography. Rabbi Jacobs' teaching ›


View on-line 30 hours of Rabbi Jacobs teaching. Plus videos of Friends lectures.


Lectures and discussions from
2006 to date.

Community and Controversy

Community and Controversy

Access archives. 100's of scrapbook searchable pages on-line.