Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shabbat 26a: Murex trunculus, Cappadocia, and the authenticity of the Zohar

On Shabbat 26a:
ירמיהו נב, טז) ומדלת הארץ השאיר נבוזראדן רב טבחים לכורמים וליוגבים כורמים תני רב יוסף אלו מלקטי אפרסמון מעין גדי ועד רמתא יוגבים אלו ציידי חלזון מסולמות של צור ועד חיפה:
But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers [kormim] and husbandmen [yogbim].3  'Kornim:' R. Joseph learnt: This means balsamum gatherers from the En Gedi to Ramah. Yogbim: These are those which catch hilazon4  from the promontory of Tyre as far as Haifa.5
We see from here, ציידי חלזון, that the chilazon is something which has to be caught. Indeed, the gemara elsewhere (Shabbat 75a) discusses tzeida of the chilazon. And on 74b, that the issur of tying derived from the Mishkan is that they would tie nets to catch the chilazon.

Some have tried to use this to demonstrate that the murex trunculus snail could not possibly be the chilazon. They are wrong. Here is the proper response to this assertion:

A bit later on the same amud, we find Cappadocia:
גופא ר"ש בן אלעזר אומר אין מדליקין בצרי וכן היה רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר צרי אינו אלא שרף מעצי הקטף ר' ישמעאל אומר כל היוצא מן העץ אין מדליקין בו ר' ישמעאל בן ברוקה אומר אין מדליקין אלא ביוצא מן הפרי ר' טרפון אומר אין מדליקין אלא בשמן זית בלבד עמד רבי יוחנן בן נורי על רגליו ואמר מה יעשו אנשי בבל שאין להם אלא שמן שומשמין ומה יעשו אנשי מדי שאין להם אלא שמן אגוזים ומה יעשו אנשי אלכסנדריא שאין להם אלא שמן צנונות ומה יעשו אנשי קפוטקיא שאין להם לא כך ולא כך אלא נפט אלא אין לך אלא מה שאמרו חכמים אין מדליקין
[To turn to] the main text: R. Simeon b. Eleazar said: One may not kindle [the Sabbath lamp] with balsam. And thus did R. Simeon b. Eleazar say: Balsam [zari] is merely the sap of resinous trees. R. Ishmael said: All that proceeds from trees, one may not light. R. Ishmael b. Berokah said: One may light only with the produce of fruit.11  R. Tarfon said: One may light [the Sabbath lamp] with nought but olive oil. Thereupon R. Johanan b. Nuri rose to his feet and exclaimed, What shall the Babylonians do, who have only sesame oil? And what shall the Medeans do, who have only nut oil? And what shall the Alexandrians do, who have only radish oil? And what shall the people of Cappadocia12  do, who have neither the one nor the other, save naphtha? But you have nought else but that concerning which the Sages said, One may not kindle [therewith].13
As Soncino notes, this is a district of Asia Minor. From the context here and in other places Cappadocia is mentioned, it is clear that Cappadocia is outside of Eretz Yisrael. It appears here alongside those of Bavel, Maday, and Alexadria.

See what I write on parshablog about Cappadocia and the authenticity of the Zohar. The Zohar seems to assume that Cappadocia is a place inside Eretz Yisrael. And in defense of the Zohar, a modern writer points to this very gemara!


  1. With respect, Pliny talks a lot of nonsense. Do you really believe that murices can be caught this way? In the section immediately preceding his discussion of the murices he describes pearls, which (according to him) are soft when first removed from the oyster and are a gourmet delight. In the section following he has the following remarkable claim:

    Belonging to the shell-fish tribe there is the pinna1 also: it is found in slimy spots, always lying upright, and never without a companion, which some writers call the pinnotheres, and others, again, pinnophylax, being a small kind of shrimp, or else a parasitical crab. The pinna, which is destitute of sight, opens its shell, and in so doing exposes its body within to the attacks of the small fish, which immediately rush upon it, and finding that they can do so with impunity, become bolder and bolder, till at last they quite fill the shell. The pinnotheres, looking out for the opportunity, gives notice to the pinna at the critical moment by a gentle bite, upon which the other instantly closes its shell, and so kills whatever it has caught there; after which, it divides the spoil with its companion.

  2. right, Pliny does make remarkable claims, many of which are false.

    but firstly, that does not mean that everything he describes is false. knowledge of human conduct has a greater chance of being true.

    and secondly, i've never tried to catch a murex in this way. but as this fellow writes, modern fishermen indeed do use nets to bait and catch murex in similar way.

    and thirdly, and most importantly, the truth of how to catch murex does not matter. what matters is what *Chazal* believed was the truth about how to catch murex. if contemporary experts said this was the way to catch murex, then it fits perfectly with gemaras that say that this is the way to catch the chilazon.

    sort of like how Chazal say
    ת"ר דג טמא משריץ דג טהור מטיל ביצים כל המוליד מניק וכל המטיל ביצים מלקט חוץ מעטלף שאף על פי שמטיל ביצים מניק

    and Pliny says:
    "No oviparous animal has mammae, and those only have milk that are viviparous ; the bat being the only winged animal that has it. As for the stories that they tell, about the screech-owl ejecting milk from its teats upon the lips of infants, I look upon it as utterly fabulous . From ancient times the name "strix," I am aware, has been employed in maledictions, but I do not think it is well ascertained what bird is really meant by that name."