Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Berachot 28b: How many vertebrae in the human spine?

In Berachot 28b:
To what do these eighteen benedictions correspond? R. Hillel the son of Samuel b. Nahmani said: To the eighteen times that David mentioned the Divine Name in the Psalm, Ascribe unto the Lord, O ye sons of might.15  R. Joseph said: To the eighteen times the Divine Name is mentioned in the Shema'. R. Tanhum said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: To the eighteen vertebrae in the spinal column.
and then:
These eighteen are really nineteen? — R. Levi said: The benediction relating to the Minim18  was instituted in Jabneh.19  To what was it meant to correspond? — R. Levi said: On the view of R. Hillel the son of R. Samuel b. Nahmani,20  to The God of Glory thundereth;21  on the view of R. Joseph, to the word 'One'22  in the Shema'; on the view of R. Tanhum quoting R. Joshua b. Levi, to the little vertebrae in the spinal column.
Thus, there are eighteen or nineteen vertebrae in the spinal column. This does not seem, at first glance, to correspond to modern science, nor to what we know of contemporary science. For reading on this subject, see here, here and here. It might just be a matter of which bones they counted and which they did not.

One approach, which seems iffy to me:


  1. You don't say where that scan is from - who makes this claim?
    Also, I find this gemara intriguing not only because it contradicts modern medicine, but also because it contradicts the mishna in Ohalot (1:8). According to that Mishna there are 18 vertebrae in the spine. Nobody corrected that mishna to take account of the extra beracha added into the Amida. It would seem that there are halachic implications in terms of which bones are metameh be-ohel. Is the sixth lumbar vertebra on a tall person not metameh?

  2. Second link, towards the end. I called the approach "iffy", so I thought it would be better to forgo the name...

  3. Of course the 6th lymbar vertebra is metame be'ohel since who is to say which are the original 5 and which is the 6th. It is the 19th that is added in gemora berochos that should be the question. However that too seems to be not considered metame be'ohel and it is only added with the 18 like the other reasons quoted by the other opinions as to why there are 18 berochos, noone would say that 'kel' and hashem are the same name, but since it is too with the 19th vertebra, it is similar but not the same. The only question left if how it fits in with science

  4. Who says they're referring to the human spine? See Zeir Anpin

  5. It stands to reason. What does Zeir Anpin say?

    Meanwhile, see the Mishna in Ohalos 1:8:

    which begins
    מָאתַיִם וְאַרְבָּעִים וּשְׁמֹנָה אֵבָרִים בָּאָדָם

    and continues:
    וּשְׁמֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה חֻלְיוֹת בַּשִּׁדְרָה, תִּשְׁעָה בָרֹאשׁ, שְׁמֹנָה בַצַּוָּאר, שִׁשָּׁה בַמַּפְתֵּחַ שֶׁל לֵב, וַחֲמִשָּׁה בִנְקָבָיו.

    "There are two hundred and forty eight limbs in the human body... And eighteen vertebrates in the spinal chord: nine in the head, eight in the neck, six in the openings of the heart, and five around its cavities..."

    That does seem to strongly suggest that Chazal had a count of 18 for humans.