Sunday, September 23, 2012

Berachot 51a: Asparagus in the gemara and in Pliny the Elder

In the gemara, Berachot 51a:
תנו רבנן אספרגוס יפה ללב וטוב לעינים וכ"ש לבני מעים והרגיל בו יפה לכל גופו והמשתכר הימנו קשה לכל גופו מדקתני יפה ללב מכלל דבחמרא עסקינן וקתני וכל שכן לבני מעים והתניא ללע"ט יפה לרמ"ת קשה כי תניא ההיא במיושן כדתנן קונם יין שאני טועם שהיין קשה לבני מעים אמרו לו והלא מיושן יפה הוא לבני מעים ושתק אסור בחדש ומותר במיושן שמע מינה:
Or, in English:
Our Rabbis taught: Asparagus brew6  is good for the heart and good for the eyes, and, needless to say, for the bowels. If one uses it regularly it is good for the whole body, but if one gets drunk on it it is bad for the whole body. Since it is stated that it is good for the heart, we infer that we are dealing with a brew of wine. Yet it states that it is, needless to say, good for the bowels; but surely it has been taught: For La'AT7  it is good. for Ramat8  it is bad? — Our statement9  was made with reference to a brew of old wine,10  as we have learnt: If one takes a vow to abstain from wine because it is bad for the bowels and they say to him, Is not the old wine good for the bowels, and he says nothing, he is forbidden to drink new wine but permitted to drink old wine.11  This proves [that we are dealing with old wine].
To expand the roshei teivos:
  1.  L = leb (heart); 'A = 'ayin (eyes); T = tehol (milt).
  2.  R = rosh (head); M = me'ayim (bowels); T = tahtonioth (piles).
Asparagus is the name of a genus; it need not mean the specific asparagus we commonly eat. See the Koren Talmud for an image and description.

Can we support the gemara's deduction that wine is mixed in it, and that mixed with different ingredients, it has different effects? Let us look to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, volume 4.

Looking at Pliny, perhaps the divergent braytot are referring to different parts of the aspargus; the seed, the root, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Could it be indisputably proven that the Pharisees of early 1st century Israel would have drunk alcoholic wine? Is there a citation for this--some teaching they lived by that you can cite?