Thursday, March 22, 2012

Crowdsourcing the Bear

Eleven years ago, I began the biggest project of my writing career: The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom (click on this link for more info and a free sample chapter on leopards). Instead of working on the (projected) four volumes in order, I worked on which creature grabbed my interest at that time and sparked my creativity. For example, when I found a rarely-seen Mediterranean mole-rat, I started working on that entry; when I attended a halachic dissection of a stork, I worked on that entry. As a result, although I have written well over 100,000 words spanning many entries, no single volume is complete.

Eventually, I decided to focus on finishing the first volume, on chayos (wild animals), which is about 80% complete. Then I was distracted by the ban on my books and my academic career. I'm now trying to finish it off, but due to my doctoral dissertation and other projects, I can't give it my full attention. In addition, with each entry, there are sometimes a few sources that present difficulties.

And then I had the idea of crowdsourcing it. Here on this website I am blessed with an audience of over a thousand readers, many of whom are greatly learned. And so occasionally, I would like to present some sources and invite your input. Today's topic is bears, and following are two sources from Chazal that are giving me difficulties.

“...And two bears came out of the forest and tore up forty-two of the children” (Kings II 2:24, referring to the children that taunted Elisha). There was a dispute between Rav and Shmuel; one said that this was a miracle, and the other said that it was a miracle within a miracle. The one who said that it was a miracle is of the opinion that there was already a forest, but there were not any bears. The one who said that it was a miracle within a miracle is of the opinion that there was previously neither forest nor bears. But let there be bears without a forest? Because they would be afraid. (Talmud, Sotah 46b-47a)

Question #1: Why did Rav and Shmuel say that there was any miracle at all? Couldn't there just have been a forest and bears already there? Maharsha suggests that if so, the children would have been afraid to go there, and also that the deaths of the children would not have been attributable to Elisha's curse. Both those answers seem rather difficult.

Question #2: How would the rationalist Rishonim have understood this Gemara? Creation of bears and trees ex nihilo would surely be problematic for them.

Question #3: Kids can be cruel, but doesn't mass slaughter of them seem to be rather a disproportionate response?

Question #4: Is the Modern Hebrew expression "Lo dubim, lo ya'ar" based on a misunderstanding of the Gemara? (See, for example, here)

Next source: When Avraham attempted to prevent God from destroying Sodom, he argued that righteous people would also end up being killed if destruction was unleashed upon the city. The Midrash compares such unwanted results to a bear whose anger does not find a target:
“And Abraham drew near…” (Genesis 18:23) Rabbi Levi said: [It is comparable] to a bear that was raging against an animal, and could not find the animal to rage against, and raged against her children. (Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 49:8)
Bears are not known to ever do such a thing; their instinct to protect their young is incredibly strong. (I double-checked with the world's greatest expert on bear aggression.) I'm not averse to simply saying that it is zoologically inaccurate, but obviously it would be great to avoid having to do so - especially because this book is directed towards a broader audience than my other books. Matnos Kehunah says that the correct version is בבהמות not בבניה, which would certainly solve the problem, but is there any manuscript or other evidence for this?

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!


  1. Meir says
    To questions 1 and 3.
    Please see the mesivta gemoro who dwells on these questions and many others of exactly why a miracle or two had to happen.
    I may add which you dont mention that Elisha was punished for killing the children.

  2. I've heard that when the Navi says children, it's possible to interpret this non-literally, i.e. people with the maturity level of children. I don't remember what evidence, if any, there was for this, though.

  3. It would be worthwhile for you to read Hazony's article in the latest Commentary (not yet available on-line) about the Rav's approach to natural phenomena.

  4. "“And Abraham drew near…” (Genesis 18:23) Rabbi Levi said: [It is comparable] to a bear that was raging against an animal, and could not find the animal to rage against, and raged against her children. (Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 49:8)"

    Could this be a reference to eating the young? I'm not sure why it has to be a bear, but it seems possible that the phenomenon of animals eating their young was attributed to rage without another outlet.

  5. Maybe, but again, the problem is that while hamsters etc. eat their young if stressed, bears don't.

  6. When you have a midrash that says "it is comparable to a king who..." and goes on to tell some bizarre parable do you stop and ask, "you know, kings have never been known to ever do such a thing."

    In any event, perhaps the midrash compares God to a bear who destroys both the righteous and wicked because the author of Eicha uses a similar metaphor (3:10). But does a bear actually lie in wait for prey?

  7. No, it doesn't, as far as I know.

    I remember, about nine years ago, complaining to Rav Sholom Kamenetzky that it was so hard to write this encyclopedia because I was running into so many Torah-science conflicts!

  8. On #1, The miracle could have been the timing of it as opposed to something supernatural.

  9. Exactly - which is why I asked my question!

  10. It seems to me that the whole point of the Medrash is that it would be entirely unexpected of the bear to do such a thing, just as it is entirely unexpected that the Middas Hadin would be vented so indiscriminately. It goes against everything we perceive about Hashem.

  11. Hmmm... that's an intriguing suggestion!

  12. Arie:
    We do find in Chazal sometimes that the word "yeladim" means young men (for example, the gemara in Brachos refers to "yeladim" and their wives).

  13. To Question 3.

    It doesn't totally solve the problem, but I remember hearing an answer that by calling him essentially 'Baldy' it was also a way of saying that he was a lesser Navi than Eliyahu (who was very hairy). They weren't merely making fun of him, they were questioning his authority and his ability to match up with Eliyahu. This doesn't explain why they had to die, but it shows that it wasn't just a reaction to an insult, but perhaps it was showing them, and by extension all of Bnei Yisrael, that Elisha was for real.

  14. for #4 can we say her children refers to the children of the animal that the bear was seeking?

  15. I believe that the sages (Amora'im) were attempting to account for Elisha's action in their claim that he had divine assistance in the form of miracles. The point of their interpretation and of Elisha's curse was that denigrating the prophet by shouting 'Go away, baldy' is a sign of disrespect and rejection by their elders. The curse is therefore primarily a punishment of those elders even as it effected the lives of the children.

  16. Regarding the bears and Sotah, I just read the entire context of the story.

    It seems to me that the gemorah here is talking about the benefits of escorting people away, and focuses on this story of Elisha, with their main intent on pointing out that these "children" were not really children but rather people lacking in Mitzvot. Similar to the elders claiming to have killed victim between two cities because they did not properly escort them.

    The bears and forest must therefore be obvious cultural references to a manner of morality. Judging that the precursor to the story of Elisha are statements about trees in Bavel that have been around since the begining of Adam, it seems to me that the Forest and Bears would relate on some level to Gan Eden and the sin invovled there.

    You wrote earlier that bears were a reference to Persia (and someone commented that bears really meant demons or Divs)

    I thus read it as follows: Rav and Shmuel (this is used as a psudeograph, since neither position is attributed to either specific person) Argue, that there were either one or two miracles which caused the "42 children to be removed from Israel" which then turned into Ruth and Solomon being decendants. (stated later in the gemorah)

    One miracle, is that there were no persians. The other person says, there were two miracles, there were no persians, and there was no "forest" reminiscent of Gane eden and tree of knowledge of good and evil. (i.e. the Jewish people were sinning) The gemorah continues, and why not have Persians and the people doing mitzvot? Because otherwise they would have been scared to attack (since mitzvot protect).

    Now, I can think of a few things this might be refering to, and it might be refering to all of them.

    1. The Bar kochva revolt.
    2. The yeshivot in Bavel, status of the Jewish communities there.
    3. Some other Roman war?

    I think one would have to look more into what "current" political symbol the forest or "yaar" might be a pun on, or what else bears might represent in Midrash.

    Either way, I think the surrounding context of the gemora is important here, this psuedgraphic attribution to Rav and Shmuel likely points to which political situation they were commenting on.

  17. I don't have answers, but the final answer in that Gemara is an interesting ecological point that you cant have bears without their habitat - the forest, and even when God does miracles he will do them within the natural order.

  18. Another question: What's behind the machloket Rav and Shmuel?

  19. "Maybe, but again, the problem is that while hamsters etc. eat their young if stressed, bears don't."

    With the caveat that I know nothing about animals eating their young, I can google, and I saw some discussion and pictures of polar bears eating their young.

    It also seems like maybe using the bear was just a stand-in for animals in general. Some animals do eat their young. This may not be such an exact metaphor. Again, if the general phenomenon was explained by assuming that these animals are enraged and have no other outlet apart for attacking their own. Just a suggestion. Sometimes thin leads are worth thinking about, if not pursuing.

  20. Polar bears are not brown bears. And it wasn't their own young they were eating.

    But what do you think of Dov's suggestion at 6.32? Is it a plausible reading?

  21. Dov,

    how would your explanation work in the context of this maamar, i.e. the preceding mashal with the tax collector and the following mashal with the rose? It seems that the whole section tries to explain the deaths of righteous as some sort of a collateral damage.

    For what it matters, all famous mefarshim explain it kifshuto. Artscroll starts the story with the bear as "It once happened etc...".

    I like that - most people in that time (or now) didn't know or care about bear behavior, so the intent of the mashal was simply to give them a picture of undiscriminating rage. Why davka bear? Because of Eicha.

  22. Shimon S, good point about the surrounding parables. It's a pity, I really liked his explanation!

  23. When learning Medrash, it is safe to assume that there is a different nuance in each parable, trying to explain a Middas Hadin run amok. There is no point in repeating the same point three different ways.

    As a quick plausible reading:
    The first parable views this indiscriminate Middas Hadin as consuming someone who might deserve some measure of Din, but the current harsh sentence did not apply to him; he is caught in a maelstrom of harsh Din, and had he not been, he might have even been spared his deserved measure.

    The second parable views it as I said - it is inexplicable and shocking.

    The third parable views it as the wrong tool - one is supposed to pluck roses gently (i.e. everyone is supposed to die eventually), but when Divine wrath is poured out it is done in a fit of rage.

  24. Re: Question#3 - From the POV of Tanach it was completely justified. The kids mocked Hashem's prophet, which was akin to mocking Hashem. And that is not to be tolerated even by "little kids" - kal v'chomer anyone else. (Don't forget, Elisha had just taken over for Eliyahu, so people needed a stern message that Elisha was to be heeded and feared.)

    Here's my drash which you can add if you like... Why a bear attack? Because bears are the most feared and vicious defenders of their cubs. Hashem loved Elisha like a mother bear loves her cub, and when He saw Elisha being attacked, He sent bears against the attackers. The fact that they were small children attests to the fact that ANY threat, no matter how small, will not be tolerated by the mother bear.

    BTW, this is different than the POV of the Talmud, which is more ambivalent - it goes on to say that Elisha was punished with an illness for setting the bears against the kids (i.e. it was too harsh, not justified).

    Re: Questions #1&2 - Why even get into questions of miracles and creation ex nihilo? This isn't a rationalist encyclopedia, it's about animals!

    My sense is that reading anything about the nature of bears or their symbolism into the machloket of Rav and Shmuel is a stretch. I'd say simply that making Elisha's curse more miraculous adds to his kavod/stature as a navi. And Rav and Shmuel wanted to add to his kavod, which would be all the more reason for people to properly escort him (which is the subject of this gemara).

    Maybe... you could say they projected their Bavli-orientation, where there were no forests or bears, to say that one or both would be "miraculous" even in Eretz Yisrael. But that's total conjecture.

  25. It means something like this:
    I think that “Lo Matzaa” means “Could not quench her need for revenge” or something like that.

    Avraham tells G-d. “You are acting like the bear that did find satisfaction in killing the animal that she was pursuing, so she ended up killing her own cubs. That is totally illogical and no bear would do such a thing. Certainly you, Hashem, will not kill the tzadikim after having killed the reshaim. (Tzadikim being Hashems cubs)”

    The Elisha one is a hard one. A not related question I have is: Where did Elisha get a Heter to course someone in G-ds name? That might be considered a capital crime. (Some mefarshim on Parshas Emor)
    Would a rationalist like Rambam explain that it was a vision of sorts?

  26. I liked Ameteur's insight. I wonder if R' Slifkin might have been attracted to it more if a different pseudonym had been attached to the post. It's hard to be open-minded to a comment if there's a history of butting heads with that commenter.

  27. Regarding the expression לא דובים ולא יער, it seems that it's based on the proper understanding of the Gemara. The gemara is saying that that the forest and bears did not exist.

    Re the bear eating her young, I think Dov is right, and his approach can be applied to the surrounding parables as well.

  28. Re: Bear rage Medrash

    No anwers, but a couple of questions about some apparent mismatches between the mashal and nimshal.

    1. I'm assuming that the nimshal for the bear is G-d. What is the Midrash trying to say the the bear couldn't find the target of his rage? This is odd, b/c there were plenty of evil people that G-d was "raging" against in Sodom. This midrash would make more "sense" if the bear accidentally killed her children in the process of attacking her enemy, yet the Midrash does not say this.

    2. The same point could have been made more effectively if the Midash was about a man and not a bear. A man comes home raging about his enemy (or competitor or boss or a bad neighbor). The target of his rage is not in the house, so he takes out his anger against his kids. So why dafka a bear?

  29. I like Avraham Poupko's March 23, 2012 5:54 AM post, b/c it negates both questions I had on the second midrash, as I was understanding it.

    According to AP,

    1. The bear did indeed find the target. What it did not find was satisfaction.

    2. The lesson of the midrash would be better communicated through an angry bear rather than an angry man. While it's not unusual for a man to take out his anger on his children, it is highly unusual for a mother bear to do so on her cubs.

  30. David Meir wrote:

    "My sense is that reading anything about the nature of bears or their symbolism into the machloket of Rav and Shmuel is a stretch. I'd say simply that making Elisha's curse more miraculous adds to his kavod/stature as a navi. And Rav and Shmuel wanted to add to his kavod, which would be all the more reason for people to properly escort him (which is the subject of this gemara)"

    The gemora uses the story of Elisha and the bears, as proof, that if you don't escort people, then death and bad things will happen. Because the people of Jerico didn't escort him, he ended up killing 42 "children" (Which the gemorah also explains, means people lacking in mitzvot, not literal children)

    How does raising Elisha's honor with miracles, add to their general point, that anybody and everybody should be escorted?

    Secondly, which position is R Shimon's and which position is Ravas? Shouldn't that be important if its a real and true machlochet?

  31. Jentour, thank you. I agree with your observation. Personally, I'd use a random name generator, if allowed, so people could discuss ideas, rather than personalities.

  32. "Secondly, which position is R Shimon's and which position is Ravas? Shouldn't that be important if its a real and true machlochet?"

    Obviously, I meant Shmuel and Rav, not Shimon and Rava

  33. Amateur,

    (Which the gemorah also explains, means people lacking in mitzvot, not literal children)

    Pshat is "small children" - this is a drash, to teach that Elisha/Hashem would only punish fairly - never cruelly or without justification.

    How does raising Elisha's honor with miracles, add to their general point, that anybody and everybody should be escorted?

    Good point. Maybe to say that if even as great a navi as Elisha was not escorted, boy do we have a problem!

  34. regarding Elisha and the bears see R. Samet's piece on this chapter in his book Pirkei Elisha, an earlier edition can be found here:

  35. Some interesting approaches to the story of Elisha (not necessarily relevant to explain the Gemara):

    R' Menachem Leibtag (this part starts around 14:30)

    R' Gideon Rothstein (around 28:30)

  36. IMHO Dov’s suggestion answers the question but is overruled by Shimon’s arguments. Either way, רד"ק על הושע יג: ח says that among animals, the bear is especially attached to its children [because of certain difficulties associated with the birth process mentioned by “אומרים” (=gentile scientists of his day?) which I suspect are disconfirmed by modern scientists]. This would explain why the bear is singled out to show collateral damage [even to its especially beloved children!], according to Shimon. According to Dov, the Mashal is part of אברהם’s plea: certainly the bear would not vent on its children; please God, don’t vent on צדיקים. Have mercy on them like the bear has on its children. [This addresses Shimon’s question ‘Why Davka bear?’]

    [It is also in agreement with Dovid Meyer’s stat that mother bears are the most feared and vicious defenders of their cubs, and answers Tzurah’s Q#2.]

    As to the original question, I’m inclined to the reading “בהמה” because

    1-that is the wording of ילקוט. Actually MK cites ילקוט as saying “בהמות” in the plural. I don’t have ילקוט here, but if ילקוט starts with חיות in the plural it would continue with בהמות in the plural. מדרש רבה which starts with חיה in the singular would continue with בהמה in the singular.

    2-בהמה contrasts well with its ‘opposite’ that the מדרש mentions, “חיה”. The bear was originally enraged at a belligerent, predatory חיה, but then vented on an innocent, harmless בהמה.

    3-“בהמה”can easily corrupt into בניה, in two steps. First the ה is omitted [or assumed superfluous], leaving “במה”, whose מ is then corrupted [or assumed] into ני. Or the original seemed to say בהניה and someone decided to drop the first ה.
    [In older prints the מ frequently looks more like a ני & כי than a נו & כו. See also the “סימן” in מנחות קז: which reads קמ"ף ש"ע סימן. IMHO the מ should be emended and it should read קנז"פ ש"ע סימן and it stands for חז*קיה יוח*נן *זעירי בר *פדא *שמואל אושי*עא. I didn’t find anyone noting this - because they pay scant attention to the סימן?? In a way that's good so the unnoticed and uncorrected example of this error remains on the books in plain view. Thus, possibly, in מנחות the נז conjoined into מ, here the מ split into ני.]

    OTOH emendations need a firm basis. If the main basis is to reconcile the Midrash with science, I’m not certain that that is good enough.


  37. offhand:

    pasuk 23:
    וּנְעָרִים קְטַנִּים יָצְאוּ מִן-הָעִיר

    pasuk 24:
    וַתֵּצֶאנָה שְׁתַּיִם דֻּבִּים, מִן-הַיַּעַר

    Which is it, hayaar or ha'ir? It is perhaps important to note that one is a transposition of the letters of the other, such that an overeager Biblical scholar might try to assert that the former (הָעִיר) is a scribal error for the latter (הַיַּעַר). Along these lines, perhaps one can say that Rav, or Shmuel, noticed this Yaar popping out of nowhere, which drives the idea of it being a miracle.

    Again, off the cuff.

    kol tuv,

  38. "(Which the gemorah also explains, means people lacking in mitzvot, not literal children)

    Pshat is "small children" - this is a drash, to teach that Elisha/Hashem would only punish fairly - never cruelly or without justification."

    Are we talking about the Gemora on page 46b-47a of Sotah or not?
    Question 3 implies we aren't, the rest of the questions imply that we are. My point of sticking to this reading, is that this is all one large sugya meant to be read together, not individual small tidbits meant to be taken out of context.

    Anyway, I did some research about Shmuel and Rav and they appear to be the founders of the two major Yeshivot in Bavel.

    Also, it was the beginning of the time which Wikipedia calls the "Crisis of the Third Century", where there was Military Anarchy within the Roman Empire

    I also see that the Persians later took over Israel a couple of hundred years later, closer to when the Gemora was being written.

    So, one opinion is saying that the establishment of the Yeshivot, saving Judaism was a single miracle. We had mitzvot to protect us/(Something else that the tree of Knowledge would represent), but the situation in Persia to establish the yeshivot, came out of nowhere.
    The other opinion says that the Jewish people neither had the mitzvot to protect us/(Something else that the tree of Knowledge would represent), nor was the situation in Perisa obviously going to allow this to happen.
    But say that the politics in Persia were obvious but we were lacking mitzvot? Rav and Shmuel would never have relied on the situation in Persia alone, and not divine protection, merited by having mitzvot, to start such a project.

    The 42 children are then the communities in Israel which began to decline, (perhaps a reverence to the 42 levite cities?) but in it's place were Ruth and Solomon, the two Yeshivot in Bavel which would be the great descendants of Rav and Shmuel.

    Why is this so encoded? Because it would have made obvious sense to anyone living during that era. Just as talking about elephants and donkeys needs not explanation in America today.

    Why bring it up here? Because Rav was escorted from Israel to Sura.

  39. about #3

    g) (Beraisa): Elisha fell sick three times - "(1) Ve'Elisha Chalah (2) Es Chalyo (3) Asher Yamus Bo";
    1. These were for causing bears to ravage children (who had mocked him), for repelling Gechazi with both hands, and the sickness he died from .

  40. RavTzair, thanks so much for the reference to Rav Samet's material!

  41. If you're interested in a Christian's interpretation of the Elisha-and-the-bears story, check out: If you'd rather not post this, I fully understand.

  42. Even though bears will not kill their own personal infants, it was a big issue in Yellowstone NAtional Park, when they hunted the bears, the bears that moved into the new territory would cull their (now dead) competitors' young. The models that they used to set quotas did not take this into account. I can't find any better references than this, but with a bit of searching I can see what I can find

  43. I`ve always found this one of the more disturbing stories . It shows a servant of Hashem to be thin skinned and vindictive.

    Moishe rabeinu ,when confronted with a mutiny,cursed the Korach rebellion,but that was a very public event,with Hashem`s authority being challenged. Elisha seems to have taken out his grudge against a bunch of kids,who were not even responsible for their actions.

    By the way,is this the reason that nobody names their children after Elisha ?

  44. "Eventually, I decided to focus on finishing the first volume... Then I was distracted by the ban on my books and my academic career."

    C'mon, fess up: and your blog, too. :-)

  45. Here is my take:
    Regarding story of Avrhaham and Sedom, the moral lesson that is explicit is Hasham would not wipe out the rightous with the wicked. Bears are known to be very protective of thier young, so it is sort of a sarcastic statement, that would a bear kill its own young if it could not kill its preay? It is sort of a moral sarcasm regarding G-d/Sedom. If G-d would not kill sedom, he would not davka kill tzadikim just as a bear fiercely would protect her young. Sometimes midrashim seem so serious, we have a hard time hearing the sarcasm or the questioning tone that is supposed to be implied.
    Perhaps there is some kind of parallel with the children and the bears. Bears are known for protecting thier young. Elisha is the heir of Eliyahu, and is being tormented by the children. Bears whose children were just killed go on a killing rampage to avenge their own children. Perhaps some sort of protective parallel

  46. The (always impressive) Josh Waxman makes an intressante point re the transposition of the letters in "Yaar" and "Ir." Is this comment found elsewhere?

    As a bonus - because I know RNS is very conservative about these things - big names like Shadal distinguish between attributing scribal errors to the Torah, which is verboten, and to Nach, which is not.

  47. Peretz: First of all, I have a grandson named Elisha. Yes, the story of the bears is somewhat disturbing, but let us "bear" in mind that most of Elisha's acts in his wonder-working career were kindly deeds for the benefit of the public, or of individual persons in need. Just before the bear incident, Elisha arranges for the water supply of Jericho to be miraculously purified. Note that he ascribes this miracle to Hashem rather than taking the credit himself. So too with the bears: the way I see it, their sudden appearance and actions (miraculous, if only in the timing) came about because God in His wisdom decided that the mocking children deserved such a fate, not because He was compelled to act by some vindictive wizardry on Elisha's part.

  48. Note also that the opinion that Elisha was punished for the bear incident does not seem to be a unanimous point of view. In the Selichos we ask Hashem to answer us as He answered Elisha in Jericho!

  49. If Elisha's bears were miraculous, then they would not act according to their nature, and you can ignore them.

    On the other hand, if your greater mission is to reconstruct the symbology of the Tanach and Chazal, then you do need to answer the question of "why bears". Usually, it's lions.

    Maybe it's something geographical. Were there ever any forests near Yericho? I don't think so. The nearest forest would have been the southern area of Ephraim. What would have made them come that far south? In a drought?

  50. re the transposition of the letters in "Yaar" and "Ir."

    Children would come out of a city, bears would come out of a forest. It makes no sense to say there was a typo and the bears really came out of the city.

    It is extremely common throughout Tanach for words that appear in close proximity to have similar sounds and letters. It is poetic.

    One example is Adam and Chava were arumim (naked) and the snake was arum (clever). Or look at the last two pesukim of P' Bereishis: "....Nichamti ki asisim: VeNoach matza chein...." Or Shimshon who said, "I killed a thousand Plishtim with the jawbone of a donkey (chamor) and I heaped up heaps(chamor chamorasayim)."

    If I think of some better examples I'll come back here and post them here b'n.

    PS. Someone wrote here that maybe the angry bear doesn't eat its OWN children but if it can't find the animal that angered it, the bear eats /that animal's/ young. The nimshal might be that the children who were disrespectful towards Elisha had learned their contempt from their parents, but Elisha didn't curse the parents because the parents weren't present -- the kids were. So he cursed the kids to punish the parents. Doesn't it say somewhere that children [can] die because of the sins of their parents?

  51. "Note also that the opinion that Elisha was punished for the bear incident does not seem to be a unanimous point of view. In the Selichos we ask Hashem to answer us as He answered Elisha in Jericho!"

    That is not referring to his curse of the rude boys! It is referring to him changing the bitter water in the city to sweet water!

  52. To Toby Katz - Some use of alliterative sounds is deliberate, that's well known. Dick Friedman has a nice discussion of this in his transaltion to the Torah on teh possukl of "mayim hamiarrarim" by the Sotah. But that doesnt mean its always the case. If, as you claim, its meant to be poetic, what poetry is involved here with Eisha? Poetic Justice? [joke] You can beleive that if you wish, but Josh's suggestions is more convincing. Not 100%, just more.

    Reminds me of when I was in 3rd grade, and our teacher taught us about aliterations, and told us to come up with one. We came up with the usual, "flickering fireflies", "glimmering glowworms", things like that. But a friend of mine, brillinat in math but not in much else, came up with a great one: "She sat."

  53. " If, as you claim, its meant to be poetic, what poetry is involved here with Eisha? Poetic Justice? [joke]"

    It's poetic because it sounds nice when read out-loud... You are looking for modern methods of writing, when you should be looking for ancient ones.

    That being said, I think Kira makes some strong points here.

  54. I fully agree with Toby Katz on this subject and even implied some of her observations in my earlier comment. The self-labelled off-hand comment by Josh Waxman on a possible confusion of ha'ir and ha'yaar makes little sense to me - not that I believe the Mesoritic text to be entirely free of error. Little children aren't expected in forests - that's a place where one would find predators such as an angry bear. Bears certainly wouldn't be expected in a city. It is reasonable, then, to assume that no transmission error occurred here. The children came from the city and bears came from the forest.

    What remains unclear is the city of origin of the children. Elisha was on the road leading from Jericho to Bet-El. Children came out of one of those cities. It is tempting to assume a Jericho connection since the previous verses dealt with Elisha's curing the bitter Jericho waters, and would point to the ingratitude of the townspeople - as reflected in the mocking of their children. However, the question of there being a forest in the vicinity of ancient Jericho must be addressed (presumably by someone who is familiar with the area). If, on the other hand, Elisha was close to Bet-El, there, presumably, would have been a nearby forest.

  55. As far as the first source goes, perhaps the gemara is just trying to draw our attention to this seemingly un-miraculous event. It's as if we're being told "Hey! This wasn't a coincidence!" I can't imagine that Rav and Shmuel are to taken literaly.

  56. I see that I need to correct a statement in my previous post to make the argument more cogent. Kings II 2:23,24 states, "He (Elisha)went from there (Jericho) to Bet-El; he was ascending on the road, and small children came out of the city and mocked him...He turned around, saw them, and cursed them..."

    As I see it, the road in question lead from Bet-El to Mt. Carmel (his next destination) and the children had come from Bet-El. There is a suggestion in the cited talmudic portion that the children's parents had derived their livelihood by bringing water to Jericho. That function was no longer needed since Elisha had cured the local Jericho water. Someone with a better sense of the topography and distances involved could offer an educated opinion as to whether this scenario is reasonable or not.

  57. A nice thing about the internet today, is you can see the geography of Israel very easily.

    Map of Jerico, Beit El, and Mt. Carmel

    Beit El, can be near forests, but not really. Jericho is in the middle of an oasis in the desert. It's not unerasonalbe that if the Jordan river was poisioned and they couldn't get water from there, that they would try to get water from Beit El which might have been the closest location.


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Tech Tzorress

It has come to my attention that there is a problem with the mailing system for my blog posts. A number of people have been spontaneously de...