My article on "The Evolution of the Olive," which explains how the measurement of a kezayis got to be so big if olives are so small, is probably the most widely-read of all my articles. Although there's nothing really controversial about it, many anti-rationalists nevertheless deem it problematic. This is partly because they are very uncomfortable with saying that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz did not know the size of an olive (although strangely they seem to be fine with Rabbi Meiselman repeatedly saying that all the Rishonim are wrong), and perhaps in part simply because it was written by me. The charedi polemical journal Dialogue included an article that fabricated some sources and ignored others in order to challenge me on this topic and to claim that olives used to be bigger. Someone told me that he asked Rav Aharon Feldman about my article on kezayis, and Rav Feldman replied that he is writing a full-length rejoinder to be published soon.
Well, last week somebody presented me with a fabulous sefer written by Rabbi Hadar Margolin. Titled Hiddurei HaMiddos, it mostly focuses on the size of a kezayis. And, albeit in a much more yeshivishe manner, it makes all the points that I made in my article and in my blog posts:
- Olives were always the same size as those of today.
- The Rishonim of Ashkenaz only said otherwise because they had no access to olives.
- There are sources from several Rishonim that the kezayis is the same size of the olives of today.
- Eggs were likewise never any bigger than they are today.
- The only reason to assess a kezayis in terms of a proportion of an egg is if you don't know how big an olive is.
- The kezayis is supposed to be a minimum, less than which is not even an act of eating; it's certainly not a "target" that one should struggle to get down.
I asked Rabbi Margolin if I could make his sefer available for my readers, and he kindly consented. So here is the entire work for download! (it is a 16mb PDF). This is one small step for mankind, and one giant leap for Rationalist Judaism!