Saturday, November 16, 2013

Maniacal Dishonesty About Olives

I'm pleased to report that I was wrong in a prediction that I made. Many months ago, I posted a letter that I wrote to the journal Dialogue, in response to an article by Isaac Betech about the shafan. On this blog, I wrote that "given the make-up of their rabbinic board (Rabbi Miller, Rabbi Feldman and Rabbi Meiselman), it seems unlikely, to say the least, that they would be open to dialogue." Although I asked the editor to notify me if they would consider it for publication, I did not receive a reply.

I was therefore surprised to discover that they did indeed print it, which means that they are taking a different path than the late Jewish Observer. They did, however, take a step that is not quite following the norms for academic-style journals. Betech himself did not write a response, and so Dialogue arranged for someone else to write a full-length article in response! Not only that, but they asked two people to write responses - one response to my letter was not enough!

Rather unsurprisingly, the two people that wrote responses are Jonathan Ostroff and Dovid Kornreich (the self-styled "Freelance Kiruv Maniac"). Also unsurprisingly, despite a total of forty-four pages written in response to a five-page letter, they fail to address some important points that I raised, such as regarding the problems inherent in describing the hare or rabbit as maaleh gerah. And, also unsurprisingly, they consistently misrepresent what I write, and distort matters in their responses. Many of their arguments have already been addressed in the various posts that I wrote about the hyrax (and in the comments to those posts), but I plan to write several posts detailing their other errors and deliberate distortions. In this post, I will deal with just one topic: Kornreich's response to my approach to the kezayis. It's a great illustration of his utter dishonesty, and of Dialogue's negligence/ dishonesty in printing his article.

My monograph on the kezayis is one of the most popular pieces I have ever written, with many thousands of downloads. It presents an explanation as to why the measurement given today for a kezayis (one-third to one-half of an egg) is so much larger than an olive. The reason is, quite simply, that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz were not familiar with olives. In my letter to Dialogue, I mentioned this very briefly in passing, as an example of a mesorah from a particular region occurring due to unfamiliarity with flora and fauna of a different region. Kornreich spent two pages responding to this point alone.

Amusingly, Kornreich refers to my approach to the kezayis as one of my "attacks" on the Rishonim! If explaining that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz were unfamiliar with olives is considered an "attack" on the Rishonim, then what is the correct description of his rebbe Rabbi Meiselman's claim that all the Rishonim did not know the meaning of basic terms in the Gemara? And Kornreich himself, in this very article, says that the Rishonim of Europe were unfamiliar with the geography of Israel - is that not an "attack" on the Rishonim, by his definition?!

In his response to my approach, Korneich first addresses my claim that the Ashkenazi Rishonim never saw an olive, and says as follows:
"This is without basis. The Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe, and cured olives were exported throughout Europe." 
Now, I was a little taken aback to see this, because I had done my research on this topic pretty thoroughly. And so I therefore decided to type in the URLs that he had provided in the footnotes as sources for these statements. The results were fascinating. Kornreich's claim that "the Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe" was sourced to this page, which, as you can see for yourselves, says nothing of the sort. It says instead that the Roman emperors encouraged the cultivation of olives in Spain, with ramifications for Northern Europe, to which the oil was exported. And Kornreich's claim that "cured olives were exported throughout Europe" (as if ancient Roman tastes are relevant to medieval Tosafists) is sourced to this page, which simply says nothing at all about cured olives being exported anywhere!

Kornreich then asserts that "many Rishonim" said that the kezayis is half an egg, while "some Rishonim" say that it is a third. He completely fails to acknowledge the primary sources from the Spanish Rishonim that I cited in support of my thesis: Rashba, who states that an olive is "much less" than a quarter of an egg; Ritva, who says that an olive is around a ninth the size of an egg; and one of the Rishonim from Ashkenaz who says that "I saw olives in Israel and Jerusalem, and even six were not as large as an egg" - which is also testimony as to why the other Rishonim in Ashkenaz had the wrong size. (The only Rishon from an olive-growing region that Kornreich cites is Meiri, who takes the Ashkenaz approach of defining it as half an egg; presumably, Meiri was simply trying to make sense of the Gemara on its own terms, rather than considering an empirical study.) This gross distortion of the picture amongst the Rishonim will, unfortunately, not be noticed by people who fail to read my monograph. However, those who are aware of it will realize what kind of person we are dealing with.

In order to reconcile the Rishonim (at least, those that he cites) with the present-day reality of olives, Korneich asserts, as a matter of uncontested and incontestable fact, that olives used to be larger. He claims that the evidence that I offer for olives always having been the same size is the findings of ancient olive pits, and he argues that this is no evidence, since it was the flesh of the olives that was larger, not the pit. But this is a gross falsification of the evidence that I offer. First of all, I also offered the evidence that there are olive trees which are thousands of years old, and produce olives that are the same size as those of today (though he would no doubt respond that they used to produce larger olives). Second, and more relevant to his worldview, is that I also quoted Rishonim who said that olives are around a ninth the size of an egg, i.e. the same size as olives today!

Finally, Kornreich also fails to acknowledge that my thesis is not mine alone; as quoted in my monograph, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger was the first to point out that those who gave a larger size for kezayis did so because they had never seen an olive.

These are just a few examples of the dishonesty which is, unfortunately, rampant in his article. I will be writing further posts with numerous other examples.

66 comments:

  1. > I also offered the evidence that there are olive trees which are thousands of years old, and produce olives that are the same size as those of today (though he would no doubt respond that they used to produce larger olives).

    Isn't this a valid point? Don't trees and crops produce different yields depending on various factors? Soil conditions, environmental factors, air quality, and many other factors can vary the output from year to year, so isn't his response valid?

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  2. Sure, the output varies a little. But he's insisting that olive trees used to consistently produce fruit that were 7-10 times the size of the fruit that the very same trees consistently produce in recent history. Is it possible? Possibly. Is it reasonable? Not remotely.

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  3. The biggest mistake Kornreich makes actually stems from simple amaratzus. He claims that oliver were bigger until the churban bayis sheni, and then shrank because, as Chazal say, 'nital shuman hapeiros'. Unfortunately for him, the size of a kezayis is defined in terms of a then contemporary olive in the Tosefta, which was compiled after the churban!

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  4. To The Hedyot:

    We have pits from Pompei, so we know that the pits were the same size.

    Therefore, not only would the olives from the same trees have had to have been 7-10 times larger, but 7-10 times more flesh in relation to their pit than what we see now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ראה: ד"ר מרדכי כסלו, "כזית" – פרי הזית כמידת נפח
      "הממצאים הארכילוגיים"
      "תחומין" י, עמ' 429
      http://www.zomet.org.il/?CategoryID=290&ArticleID=386

      Delete
  5. "This is without basis. The Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe, and cured olives were exported throughout Europe."

    This is reminiscent of the debate here and on the "slifkin-opinions" blog about whether rabbits lived in Biblical Israel and whether or not Wabr means Rabbit in medieval Arabic. On that topic, there were various odd and false assertions about there being no evidence of what Wabr used to mean, "native" rabbits in Egypt, rabbits in "North Africa" having relevance to Israel, claims of incompetence of researchers in the use of a bone atlas, and claims that our mesora is unanimous on Shafan being rabbit.

    I suppose this reflects the general notion that one can "upshlug" scientific conclusions with a few silly observations, since the real source of knowledge are seforim in the "standard collection", and the rest of knowledge is just people going over unnecessary details or conspiring to convert the world to atheism.

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  6. i saw some sources stating that olives were grown in various regions in southern france. is it so crazy or even unlikely that some whole olives made it up north?

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  7. re. using Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger as a support source

    Without relating to your overall points, I don't think using him as a proof source is so helpful since it turns out he was rather controversial himself.

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  8. i saw some sources stating that olives were grown in various regions in southern france. is it so crazy or even unlikely that some whole olives made it up north?

    Yes, it's very unlikely. Exporting food was expensive, and all the more unlikely to be done for foods that would not have been in high demand. Furthermore, the issue to consider is not whether it is "crazy" or even "unlikely," but rather whether there is the slightest reason to believe that it actually happened. And there isn't; while there are several very, very good reasons to believe that it didn't happen.

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  9. using Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger as a support source

    Without relating to your overall points, I don't think using him as a proof source is so helpful since it turns out he was rather controversial himself.


    Sure, in some ways. Nevertheless, he was a talmid of Ksav Sofer and Maharam Schick. Furthermore, no matter how controversial he was, it should be mentioned that this was his idea first.

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  10. "Isn't this a valid point? Don't trees and crops produce different yields depending on various factors? Soil conditions, environmental factors, air quality, and many other factors can vary the output from year to year, so isn't his response valid?"

    It depends on the fruit. I had an etrog tree that normally produced regular sized etrogim. One year, there was a leak in a pipe near the tree, and the fruits got so large that the pulls the tree down to the ground. The etrogim were around the size of grapefruits or cantelope. (btw, the seeds were still the same size as normal)


    But I've never seen or heard of an unusually large olives.

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  11. By the way, there are Sevillano olives from Spain, that are larger than regular olives. It's possible that Meiri was thinking of this kind. But the Mishnah says that the olive used for kezayis is a medium-sized olive.

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  12. (Also, the Mishnah was obviously talking about olives from the region of Israel)

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  13. R. Kornreich: "This is without basis. The Romans cultivated the olive in Northern Europe, and cured olives were exported throughout Europe."

    The furthest northern reaches of the olive tree in Europe was central France and along the Mediterranean coast, south of the Alps. It is doubtful the olive trees in Europe south of the Prenees bore much fruit, certainly not the size and type for a table olive for pickling and while they might have been produced commercially and transported on efficient road systems during the short Roman Warming Period between around 200 BCE and 400 BCE, this was well before the time of the Rishonim. Regarding exports, the Muslim expansion and their control of the Mediterranean and the breakdown of the Roman road networks by the time of the early Middle Ages suggest that such heavy, semi-perishable and relatively low-value products such as pickled olives, which were never part of the Northern European diet in any case didn't get around much. Much more profitable it was to transport olive oil, which commanded high prices as it was used by the Church for ritual purposes and by the wealthy as a seasoning and a medicine.

    Temujin has been an olive maniac since early childhood and is munching on some now, but for whatever worth anecdotal histories may be, he recalls their total absence in Prague and once, as a child, searching for olives in cosmopolitan Vienna of the mid-70s, unable to describe them to shop-keepers in his neighbourhood, who found the idea of a salty, oily fruit quite bizarre. Hmm, and now, one more trip to the olive jar in the fridge...

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  14. Don't you consider a possibility that the Rishonim that wrote about the size of an olive made some (just some) effort to see a real one before they did so? Would it have been SO difficult? To examine just one?

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  15. 1) Yes, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get an olive.

    2) They would have had little interest in doing so (many people in antiquity did not value empirical investigation)

    3) Obviously they did *not* do so, because one Rishon said that he only got to see one in Israel, and the others said that an olive is half the size of an egg!

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  16. "Isn't this a valid point? Don't trees and crops produce different yields depending on various factors? Soil conditions, environmental factors, air quality, and many other factors can vary the output from year to year, so isn't his response valid?"

    There's a difference between a good yield or a lesser yield, vs. a crop yield that suddenly has fruits 10 times the size of normal. That would require genetic intervention.
    The yield is about how much crop is produced.

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  17. Obviously they did *not* do so, because one Rishon said that he only got to see one in Israel, and the others said that an olive is half the size of an egg!
    ...

    have not read your monograph for some time. but maybe he thought niskatnu and had seen an olive

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  18. I wonder if you could find any scientific or other evidence that in the land of Israel a cluster of grapes could be such a heavy that it had to be carried with a double pole? If not a posuk in Bamidbar, what would you say if for example a Rishon said that grape at that time was much larger than it is today?

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  19. R' Natan, your experience with the publishers of Dialogue reminds me of some incidents with the torah codes issue. Jewish Action published a critique of the codes work by Prof. Barry Simon, an Orthodox full professor of physics and mathematics at Cal Tech. The same issue had 2 rebuttal articles by codes people. Similarly, the project Genesis website run by R' Menken featured 2 full essays by both the owners of the site and a codes website rebutting the arguments against the codes raised by Rabbi Adlerstein. It seems that the frum world is more impressed with numbers or authority figures than with objective reasoning, and quickly goes on the offensive when some favorite notions are challenged.

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  20. An obvious case in point. Do you ever see today an olive tree randomly producing egg-sized olives because of favorable rainfall? (No). And then subsequently all olives are bigger afterwards? (No).

    (Oh, I guess the frum kiruv maniac is an evolutionists afterall, if he holds that all olives got bigger due to natural selection? Problem is, this bit of purported evolution has no documented evidence to support it having happened).

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  21. "Isn't this a valid point? Don't trees and crops produce different yields depending on various factors? Soil conditions, environmental factors, air quality, and many other factors can vary the output from year to year, so isn't his response valid?"

    There's a difference between a good yield or a lesser yield, vs. a crop yield that suddenly has fruits 10 times the size of normal. That would require genetic intervention.
    The yield is about how much crop is produced.


    Various commenters seem to be missing the main point. No Rishonim claimed to have measured the olive and seen that it is equal to half or third of an egg. They all used indirect textual arguments to try to determine the size of the olive. All of the Rishonim who used observation saw the olive as smaller.

    You find the same phenomena around the supposed danger of leaning to the right on Pesach. The Rishonim who maintained that there was a special danger to leaning to the right, in addition to the agreed upon danger of leaning back, did so in order to make the text of the Gemara flow easier, not based on any examination of anatomy. Anyone who examined anatomy maintained, like Rashi, that the danger was only in leaning back (there is also a position that leaning to the "strong-hand" side, left or right, is the problem, since that would lead to eating at an awkward angle in order to use the strong hand).

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  22. We assume that the European rishonim never saw a small popular mediterranean fruit called an "Olive"; Yet we also assume that they annually were able to acquire a rare citrus species called an "Esrog".
    Are these equitable assumptions?

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  23. I am very glad you wrote this as I bought a copy of Dialogue and was anxious to see your response.

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  24. @david k,
    Ina responsa, The Rema wrote that the minhag is to use lemons.

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  25. It seems to me that if the Rishonim that say tah a cezayis is far larger than an actual modern day olive had seen olives then they would / should have mentioned the fact that this is far larger than nowadays olives.

    The only way to say these Rishonim had seen olives and yet still say that a cezayis is far larger would be to say olives have reduced in size since *their* time.

    If so, we presumably have better evidence of the size of olives from the middle ages than we do from times of Chazal?

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  26. David Ohsie,

    "Various commenters seem to be missing the main point. No Rishonim claimed to have measured the olive and seen that it is equal to half or third of an egg. They all used indirect textual arguments to try to determine the size of the olive. All of the Rishonim who used observation saw the olive as smaller."

    I haven't missed any point. My comment was in reply to the claim by the maniac and others that olives changed size and became smaller. I'm pretty sure many rishonim didn't see an olive. The maniacs of the world can't except that premise. But regardless of that, they also insist that olives used to be larger. So what point did I miss?

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  27. I’ve just noticed something highly amusing. Charedi rabbanim, such as R. Benish and R. Margolin, were able to write that the Ashkenazi rishonim developed their shiur kezayis due to a factual error in Charedi publications such as Beis Aharon Ve’Yisrael, with little opposition. Yet when R. Slifkin makes exactly the same point, he is attacked by Maniacs.

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  28. Student V said...
    David Ohsie,

    "Various commenters seem to be missing the main point. No Rishonim claimed to have measured the olive and seen that it is equal to half or third of an egg. They all used indirect textual arguments to try to determine the size of the olive. All of the Rishonim who used observation saw the olive as smaller."

    I haven't missed any point. My comment was in reply to the claim by the maniac and others that olives changed size and became smaller. I'm pretty sure many rishonim didn't see an olive. The maniacs of the world can't except that premise. But regardless of that, they also insist that olives used to be larger. So what point did I miss?


    My apologies, I wasn't referring to you; I was referring to commenters such as the one that you responded to. I should have added the words "moreover".

    I meant to say that not only is it unlikely, based on your argument, that olives moved to the north; the Rishonim with the large olive don't even claim to base their size on any actual olive.

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  29. To amplify David's point: Why did the Rishonim define the size of the olive in terms of eggs? Why not define the size of eggs in terms of olives? The answer is that they didn't have olives!

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  30. "To amplify David's point: Why did the Rishonim define the size of the olive in terms of eggs? Why not define the size of eggs in terms of olives? The answer is that they didn't have olives!"

    Don't they define both olives and eggs by "fingers"?

    I've also seen it argued that the kzayit, beytza, etzbah etc, were all set measurements, not actually based on those items. Just like a foot is always 12 inches, and a stone is always 14 pounds, and a bushel is 8 gallons.

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  31. "I wonder if you could find any scientific or other evidence that in the land of Israel a cluster of grapes could be such a heavy that it had to be carried with a double pole?"

    Does my neighbor's vine in his backyard count? Those things are huge!

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  32. One point: Olives were, simply, not eaten before (at the earliest) the 19th Century. In fact, olives are inedible as such- the ones you get today are pickled and treated in all sorts of ways in order to be edible, and lots of people still don't like them. (I love olive oil; I can't eat olives. I've heard it's an acquired taste, but as Jackie Mason puts it, you don't have to develop a taste for something good.)

    In short: Northern Europeans would never have seen olives because there would be no reason for them too. They probably barely encountered olive oil. (They used candles on Chanukkah.) Again, most people, even in Southern Europe, who weren't growing olives or making oil, never saw them.

    An interesting side point is that this is true of most if not all of the Seven Species. Grapes were made into wine- they were rarely eaten as such until recently. ("Table grapes" are a modern invention.) Wheat and barley, of course, were made into flour and bread. Figs were pressed into cakes, and they and dates were made into honey. Pomegranates were also made into a sort of wine. It seems that all were seldom eaten fresh. (Which makes sense, as there were no refrigerators.)

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  33. A slight correction, Nachum. It was certainly in the nineteenth century that the table olive became better known in Europe, mostly because of its popularity among the peoples of the Ottoman Empire, but this was a re-introduction after a long absence. The commercial process for leeching the olive of its bitter flavour with lye and salt was developed by the Romans and was never lost in the olive regions. Table olives were probably known as a rare delicacy before that time, just that the process was too lengthy and troublesome and then, just as now, the commercial viability of any product is reduced with long storage times. This man can attest that one can make even green olives edible by letting them air-ripen first and then soaking them in brine for...nearly a year.

    Temujin is upset that you do not hold the table olive in as high regard as he and will now go and have an olive or two to feel better.

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  34. Rabbi Sifkin wrote:

    "To amplify David's point: Why did the Rishonim define the size of the olive in terms of eggs? Why not define the size of eggs in terms of olives? The answer is that they didn't have olives!"

    Um, in your monograph you cite the Rambam who measured dried figs in terms of eggs and the Rashba who measured olives in terms of eggs.
    By your logic, does that mean these rishonim also didn't have didn't have dried figs or olives?

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  35. Ameteur said...
    "To amplify David's point: Why did the Rishonim define the size of the olive in terms of eggs? Why not define the size of eggs in terms of olives? The answer is that they didn't have olives!"

    Don't they define both olives and eggs by "fingers"?


    The translation from eggs to fingers is implied by the Gemara. This is what leads to the claim that eggs have shrunken by half. However measurement error of just 25% in length leads to approximately 100% error in volume, so these results are also questionable.

    In the case of olives, there is no explicit chain of measurement equivalents to the egg or the finger.

    I've also seen it argued that the kzayit, beytza, etzbah etc, were all set measurements, not actually based on those items. Just like a foot is always 12 inches, and a stone is always 14 pounds, and a bushel is 8 gallons.


    Someone here more scholarly will give a more complete answer. But in the ancient world, the standardization was often localized. So there were various greek "feet" leading, for example, to confusion about what exactly Erathostenes meant when he said that the circumference of the earth is 252,000 stadia. I think that the Romans has better standardization.

    You can see that the Amah was standardized to some degree as there are is an Amah of five Tefachim and an Amah of six Tefachim. You can see that as well on this wikipedia page on persian measurement units:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_units_of_measurement

    From a halachic PoV, there are sources that indicate that you can remeasure based on what exists in your day. R. Slifkin brings sources from the Gaonim related to the olive, and I know that R. Moshe made his own measurement of the Tefach and implied Amah.

    That said, even if there was a standard olive, it would not likely be 2 times or more the regular olive.

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  36. Jewish Observer said...
    Um, in your monograph you cite the Rambam who measured dried figs in terms of eggs and the Rashba who measured olives in terms of eggs.
    By your logic, does that mean these rishonim also didn't have didn't have dried figs or olives?


    Rambam had to give the amount of eighteen figs, which is hard to picture - defining it in terms of eggs simply makes things easier. Rashba did NOT set out to define olives in terms of eggs - rather, it's something that emerges incidentally from his discussion.

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  37. Temujin, I stand corrected. In any event, they certainly weren't available to Ashkenazi Rishonim.

    Enjoy your olives! Have some extra for me!

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  38. The claim that olives shrank at the time of hurban sheni, reminds me of another popular claim used by people who choose not to fulfil Hashem's command to wear Tekhelet. This is that the Hilazon was lost at the time of Hurban Sheni. I happen to know that a "gadol" cited this argument and was totally stumped when it was pointed out that amoraim wore tekhelet all the way up to the codification of the Bavli. Apparently he believed that Midrash Tanhuma and Bamidbar Raba were written by Tanaim.

    My point is this. We tend to assume that the obscurantists know a lot of Torah, but not much science, archaeology etc., but is this really true? Sure they have "learned" a lot, but are they actually taking anything in, do they have the critical skills to do so? There are plenty of proofs from the Mishnah and Gemara alone that a kezayit is much smaller than a half an egg (e.g. you can fit two in a kemitzah, they are smaller than a dried fig or date etc.), if you just stop to think a second.

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  39. http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/i-didnt-expect-kind-of-spanish.html


    The only thing Slifkin had to say about the Meiri was this:

    ...presumably, Meiri was simply trying to make sense of the Gemara on its own terms, rather than considering an empirical study.

    For some reason, only the Meiri is allowed to try to make sense of the gemara in its own terms instead of simply referring to the size of an actual olive. Inexplicably, Natan Slifkin will not grant the Rishonim of Ashkenaz the liberty of taking the same internal halachic approach in ascertaining the size of a halachic kezayis.
    No! no! no! They MUST have arrived at their kezayis only out of ignorance!

    ................


    please could you respond to the above

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  40. It's a speculation as to what the Rishonim of Ashkenaz would have said had they had access to olives. (Kornreich insists that empirical investigation was irrelevant to their halachic methodology - but if so, why is he so desperate to try to prove that they did have olives, and the olives were bigger?)
    I suppose it's possible to say that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz would have ignored the factual reality and just dealt with the Gemara on its own terms. But it's far from an ideal approach. There are plenty of occasions where Rashi and Tosafos will adjust their interpretation based on empirical knowledge (e.g. with the tzvi). Remember, the large kezayis causes internal difficulties (no pun intended!) - with Hillel having eaten a kezayis each of matzah, maror and charoses simultaneously, which was problematic for those who believed that two olives was the maximum that the throat can hold. And thus one of the Rishonim said "To me there is no difficulty, for I saw olives in Israel and Jerusalem, and even six were not as large as an egg." Also, if it was just a matter of dealing internally with the Gemara, why say that an olive is bigger? Say that an egg was smaller!

    (Incidentally, I hadn't been aware of the Meiri, and I will certainly now update my monograph. I cannot for the life of me understand Kornreich's excuse for omitting the Rashba and Ritva, who were discussing the size of the halachic kezayis.)

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    Replies
    1. It's Ok if you missed the Meiri. He's not part of the mesora (according to RMM on p 656). Ironically, for all the talk of mesora I think Kornreich is breaking with his Rebbi's mesora by citing the Meiri.

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  41. Pardon my profound ignorance, but to what extent was Meiri influenced by the early Rishonim of Ashkenaz (Rashi and Tosafos)? Is it possible, or even likely, that in presenting the size of the olive as half an egg, he was simply repeating the conclusions of prior rabbinic scholarship, without having conducted an empirical investigation of his own?

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  42. DES said...
    Pardon my profound ignorance, but to what extent was Meiri influenced by the early Rishonim of Ashkenaz (Rashi and Tosafos)? Is it possible, or even likely, that in presenting the size of the olive as half an egg, he was simply repeating the conclusions of prior rabbinic scholarship, without having conducted an empirical investigation of his own?


    I had a similar thought. Meiri often focuses on summarizing and categorizing prior opinions. Where is that Meiri?

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  43. By way of illustration: Suppose R. Moshe Feinstein, in a responsum, said that an olive is half the size of an egg. R. Moshe Feinstein had access to both eggs and olives. But if I read such a responsum I would assume that R. Moshe was simply basing himself on the Rishonim and Acharonim. I would not think that he had examined olives and eggs and drawn conclusions about their relative sizes. Perhaps Meiri did the same thing.

    This explanation, of course, does not account for the earliest Rishonim who stated that an olive is half the size of an egg, because that assessment was originated -- not merely recapitulated -- by them. R. Slifkin's arguments remain valid with respect to those earlier authorities.

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  44. "(Incidentally, I hadn't been aware of the Meiri, and I will certainly now update my monograph. I cannot for the life of me understand Kornreich's excuse for omitting the Rashba and Ritva, who were discussing the size of the halachic kezayis.)"

    What's the beef? Kornreich is only out to defend the Ashkenazi Mesorah. The Rashba and Ritvah aren't relevant to his point because he's not out to attack the legitimacy of the Geonic/Sefardic mesorah whatsoever.
    Are you also upset that he didn't quote the position of the Geonim and he only mentions Rav Chaim of Volozhin to represent that whole school??

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  45. "why is he so desperate to try to prove that they did have olives, and the olives were bigger?"

    Didn't sound so desperate to me.
    Did you read his post?
    He does not say their olives were bigger. Only that Chazal's olives from before Churban bayis sheni were bigger.

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  46. but if so, why is he so desperate to try to prove that they did have olives, and the olives were bigger?)

    korneich is not so adamant about that.

    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/i-didnt-expect-kind-of-spanish.html

    'But as I said, this comment was a side point. I'm willing to grant for argument's sake that the Ashkenazi Rishonim never saw an olive, just as they never saw an elephant.
    '


    'Now I understand Natan Slifkin is upset at me for not citing the two newly discovered sources of Sefardic Rishonim who said a halachic kezayis is the size of an olive. But as usual, his point is largely academic. '

    '''

    is kornreich's point that they were talking about the size of a kezayis in their times, and they were going in the shitas hageonim each olive in its generation. which would not mean anything regarding the size of kezayis in chazal. (acc. kornreich it is temple time as there were tenaim then)


    'I suppose it's possible to say that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz would have ignored the factual reality and just dealt with the Gemara on its own terms. But it's far from an ideal approach'

    ok not ideal. but it explains the beis yosef when he says olive is half an egg. and it removes the certainty that one should have an 8 cc olive


    'Also, if it was just a matter of dealing internally with the Gemara, why say that an olive is bigger? Say that an egg was smaller!'

    this question is on the meiri, not just kornreich. was it the nodah yehudah who said in a related context regarding niskatnu ha beizim that yeridas hadoros, means that it is unlikely that humans are bigger now than in the times of chazal.

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  47. "What's the beef? Kornreich is only out to defend the Ashkenazi Mesorah. The Rashba and Ritvah aren't relevant to his point because he's not out to attack the legitimacy of the Geonic/Sefardic mesorah whatsoever. "

    He's asserting as a matter of fact that olives used to be bigger, and that the shiur of a kezayis follows that larger shiur. Hence he is asserting that the view of the Rashba and Ritva regarding the shiur kezayis is wrong.

    (In his article, he was also asserting that the olives of the Ashkenazi Rishonim were bigger; it's only "for the sake of argument" that he is willing to concede that olives were the same size and they never saw them. In his blog post, he is trying to backtrack from his article.)

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  48. did you see the meiri and if so where is it ?

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  49. Let's be clear about one thing. I am the original Freelance Kiruv Maniac. I invented the term (you can verify with Rabbi Ephraim Epstein - no relation - of Cherry Hill, NJ) and it was picked up by several Yeshiva Shaarei Torah high school boys (including, apparently, Dovid Kornreich).

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  50. for anyone who wants to see the meiri online it is on left column dibur hamaschil pirshu

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=36399&st=&pgnum=117

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  51. DES said...
    Pardon my profound ignorance, but to what extent was Meiri influenced by the early Rishonim of Ashkenaz (Rashi and Tosafos)? Is it possible, or even likely, that in presenting the size of the olive as half an egg, he was simply repeating the conclusions of prior rabbinic scholarship, without having conducted an empirical investigation of his own?

    I had a similar thought. Meiri often focuses on summarizing and categorizing prior opinions. Where is that Meiri?


    Pardon my even profounder ignorance; my guess was wrong.

    The Meiri asks his own text-based question: The gemara seems to equate 2 meals with 18 (or somewhat less than 18) figs. The "gaonim" equate 2 meals with 6 eggs, which works out to 3 figs per egg. But a fig is bigger than an olive, and the "beis habliah" (some part of the throat) can only accept 2 olives (and certainly less than three), while it can squeeze in one egg. So the max olives per egg less than 3, so certainly 3 figs per egg is too high.

    He doesn't make any mention of the actual size of an olive compared to an actual egg.

    As an aside, the text that he quotes doesn't prove a large olive. Suppose that the limit on what you can put in the "beis habliah" is based on one dimension instead of all three dimensions (for example, the issue is squeezing them through a circle of given diameter).


    Then length of one dimension of a cross section of the egg would be 2 times the length of the cross-section of the olive. This would make the egg 2x2x2 = 8 times as big as the olive. If you use 3, then it would be 27 times as big.

    I'm sure I'm not the first to point this out.

    ReplyDelete
  52. @David
    I made a similar comment on the olive discussion:
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/03/evolution-of-olive.html

    I was answered by Anonymous:
    Anonymous said...
    @530nm330hz
    @Reuven Lewis
    closer examination of the Gemara in Krisos 14a will show that the gemara was not referring to swallowing actual olives, but to a piece of meat (Chelev) equal to the volume of 2 olives

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  53. So the max olives per egg less than 3, so certainly 3 figs per egg is too high.
    ...

    ie an olive is between a half and a third of an egg

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  54. "We assume that the European rishonim never saw a small popular mediterranean fruit called an "Olive"; Yet we also assume that they annually were able to acquire a rare citrus species called an "Esrog".
    Are these equitable assumptions?"

    Yes. One esrog will serve an entire community. I've spoken to old timers who told me that decades ago an entire shul would use the rabbi's esrog. So a community in a remote village could pool their resources to import a single esrog. Obviously, an olive can't be shared, and it's unlikely that these communities would squander their meager earners for imported goods.

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  55. @Ephraim: So a community in a remote village could pool their resources to import a single esrog. And Heavens help the poor blighter who broke off the pitom. Ouch!

    As a supplementary to Ephraim's point about etrogim, Temujin would like to remark that Jews have traditionally been traders in citrus fruit since the Crusades opened up new sea routes, when European states and principalities began securing the roads and Jewish money lenders and bankers devised payment transfers through promissory notes, the precursors of the cheque and the banknote. Up until recently, Jews of England had a virtual monopoly on the trade and popularized the non-bitter lemon and the popular sweet orange, the aranja, varieties of Spain and Portugal (Port of the Gauls...e.g., portokali for oranges). The names "Citron," "Lemmon" and such are reminders of that time.

    Yet another Fascinating Trivia Moment™ brought to you by Temujin, brave steppe warrior, herder and purveyor of astonishing curiosities.

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  56. PS, another common citrus trade-related Jewish name just popped in for a visit to Temujin's cerebrum: Pomerantz and variations thereof from pomme organge/aranj for "golden apple," the old name for oranges.

    Alright then, that's it for that. As you were, fellows...

    ReplyDelete
  57. @David
    I made a similar comment on the olive discussion:
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/03/evolution-of-olive.html

    I was answered by Anonymous:
    Anonymous said...
    @530nm330hz
    @Reuven Lewis
    closer examination of the Gemara in Krisos 14a will show that the gemara was not referring to swallowing actual olives, but to a piece of meat (Chelev) equal to the volume of 2 olives


    Possibly I am misunderstanding the p'shat, but I don't see that. The Gemara is discussing why the Mishneh has only 4x Chatas, and not 5x Chatas incuding Pigul. The answer is that it would have to be a different K'zais from a different animal and the Mishneh only implies 1 K'zais when it says 1 Achilah.

    Q: But the Misnheh says that one Chatas is for Y"K and that has a larger Shuir.

    R Zeira: He ate the kidney along the Chelev to fill the shiur for Y"K.
    R Papa: He ate small dates to fill the shuir for Y"K.

    R Ada Bar Acha: Indeed the Mishneh is 5x Chatas and the fifth is a Kezais Pigul from another animal.

    Now the Gemara asks, according to R Ada Bar Acha: once you allow for additional stuff, why not go for 6x Chatas with a K'zais of blood added to the rest?

    Answer: The Mishneh says only one "Achilah" and only two olives can fit. So more than 2 would not be 1 "Achilah".

    Thus the Gemara is referring to eating 2 separate pieces of olive sized meat in one shot.

    Understand that I don't know that they were working with the cross-section model. I'm just arguing that we don't really know what model they were working with, so it is hard to draw any conclusions or contradict any known food sizes.

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  58. shimon said...
    So the max olives per egg less than 3, so certainly 3 figs per egg is too high.
    ...

    ie an olive is between a half and a third of an egg


    Correct, using a text-based argument, not an observation about olives and eggs. Also assuming the interpretation of text A has primacy over interpretation of text B, since they give contradictory results.

    ReplyDelete
  59. The subject of talmudic shi'urim and how they evolved in time is more demanding than the opportunity afforded to comment on a post. I should just say that R' Natan is clearly correct that halachic shi'urim that are current in Hareidi circles today have little connection to reality or a proper understanding of basic sources. That the 'little' olive, the smallest of the volume shi'urim of the talmud, has been taken first as 1/2 of our 'standard' egg of commerce and then 1 such egg, is strange. If one looks at the relevant gemaras, Keritot 14a states that the human throat can accomodate 2 olive volumes or 1 date (kotevet) - all, presumably with their pits. Yoma 80a states in the name of Rav Avahu that the throat can accomodate 1 egg. This appears to be the basis for the equation 2 zayit volumes = 1 egg volume. However, as noted previously, those citations may not be referring to volume, but width (or cross-sectional area). If the maximum width of 2 olives is meant, then the 2 olive widths per egg width equates to an olive volume 1/8 that of an egg - as was mentioned by David Ohsie. Now, Eruvin 80 and 82b equates 2 minimal meals of a volume of 18 pressed figs with 1/4 or 2/9 of 24 eggs. According to this equation, 3 or 27/8 pressed figs, respectively = 1 egg volume. Now a dried fig (grogeret) is considered larger than an olive. Hence an egg, according to the above scheme, is more than 3 olive volumes and there is no inherent contradiction with Kritot or Yoma.

    What falls out of the above gemaras is an asssumed throat capacity with the equation 2 olives = 1 date = 1 egg. An ascending series of volumes is also presented: olive < dried fig < date = egg < jumbo date. The first is the shiur for eating matzoh at the seder, the last is the shiur for violating the biblical eating prohibition on Yom Kippur.

    The above listings also make it clear that the eggs of those times were considerably smaller than current commercial eggs since it appears to equate an egg volume with a date and to assume that a person could swallow a whole egg (hard-boiled egg without the shell?).
    The issue of the increase in egg volume in 'modern' times is mentioned in the Aruch Hashulchan witten at the turn of the 20th century. He states that the eggs in Lita were half the current size until a breed of hens was imported which produced much larger eggs. Cross-breeding with the local roosters then made such eggs common. This could also account for the supposed need for doubling the egg shiur, i.e., they were using much smaller eggs.

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  60. My previous comment about the size of eggs in talmudic times must also be viewed in the light of a calculation based on the talmudic citation of the minimum size of a mikva. They equated a minimal immersion size of 1x1x3 amot to a volume of 40 seah. In terms of etzba'ot and eggs this comes to 24x24x24x3 cubic etzba'ot= 40x24x6 egg volumes. This works out to 7.2 cubic etzba'ot per egg. If an etzba is 2 cm (0.8 inches, corresponding to about 19 inches per ama), then 1 cubic etzba is 8 cubic centimeters (cc) and the egg volume is 58 cc. That is about the volume of the contents of an extra-large commercial egg (2 fl.oz.). [The intact egg is larger due to the air pocket that it includes, but not much larger.] The issue, then, is to reconcile this measurement with those of my previous comment that were based on an egg volume = to a date and ostensibly swallowable (unless their dates were much larger than those available here in eastern USA). Rav Yechezkel Landau (author of Nodeh Biyehuda and Tzlach) also noted the apparent inconsistency of the egg volume based on the mikva requirement and what he measured empirically (although he may have used a relatively large etzba). He attributed the difference to smaller eggs in his time (the basis of the doubled egg size 'requirement'). We can't justify such a presumption, however, with our eggs that are definitely much larger than what was commonly available then in Europe (see my prior citation of the Aruch Hashulchan on the shi'ur of a revi'it for the seder). Hence, the issue is still unresolved to my understanding.
    Note: Please don't test out your swallowing capacity by trying a peeled hard-boiled egg or even 2 ordinary olives. It's possible that the sages measured such capacity by fitting these items in the throat of a corpse.

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  61. There are two posts that address reconciling the size of an egg and the size of an etzba. See Measure for Measure and A revolution in measures. the underlying documents are Linear Measurement in the Halacha and Have Eggs Gotten Smaller Since Matan Torah?.

    Avraham

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  62. The cited articles by (physics) prof. Avi Greenfield are very informative (yasher koach to Avraham for citing them). In particular the evidence marshalled for the view that the etzba is the depth of the thumb at the 1st joint - not the width is impressive. He calculates that etzba measurement as 1.95 cm giving a 46.8 cm ama (18.4inches) This value is close to what I had used above (2.0 cm). It doesn't help, therefore, to resolve the problem that I noted about disparate measures of an egg volume (58 cc corresponding to 7.2 cubic etzba'ot vs. the size of a date or the maximum amount that can fit in a throat). I should add that a modern commercial large size egg is larger than 58g or 56 cc (using 1.03 g/cc as the egg density). Hence the above calculation based on a presumed etzba gives a modern large sized egg. Dates, on the other hand are listed in Wikipedia and other places as having a maximum length of 7 or 7.5 cm and a maximum width of 3 cm. This calculates to a volume of 33 or 35 cc using the formula for an ellipsoidal solid of pixLxW^2/6, i.e., much smaller than the above egg volume. If, however, an etzba were 1.85 cm, corresponding to an ama of 44.4 cm (17.5 in), then 7.2 cubic etzba'ot (the talmudic egge volume) would be 45.6 cc. This corresponds to a small modern egg size and is closer to a date size. I highly doubt that the etzba measurement can be made significantly less than 1.85 cm, so the discrepancy of talmudic measurements is not thereby resolved. Perhaps the date sizes used then were larger than the 'maximum' date size listed in Wikipedia? _

    ReplyDelete
  63. http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/read-it-and-weep.html

    but someone recently pointed out to me that in Natan Slifkin's own essay, right there on page 9 in footnote 22 he qutoes the Sefer Hachinuch who is in agreement with the Ashkenazi Rishonim!

    So here we have not only the Meiri, but a contemporary of the Rashba--living right there in Barcelona eting the same olives as the Rashba--and still drawing the same conclusion as Tosfos that a kezayis is 1/2 an egg! (Not to mention that the Rashba also says a kezayis is between 1/4 and at minimum 1/5 of an egg--nowhere near the size of contemporary olives!)

    ........


    please could you respond to the above.

    ReplyDelete

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