Today, with much of the water diverted for agricultural and other uses, there is little left of the Jordan River south of the Kinneret, although there are currently attempts to revive it.
On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned that a group of animals must be within a certain area if they are to be considered a herd for the purposes of animal tithes. The Mishnah concluded with a comment made by Rabbi Meir that “the Jordan River is regarded as forming a division as regards the tithing of animals.”
On today’s daf, Rabbah bar bar Hannah quotes Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that the Jordan River is only considered to be a significant division from Bet Yeriho and south.
This teaching is considered problematic by the commentaries who ask why it is only the Southern part of the Jordan River – from the area of Jericho to the Dead Sea – that is considered significant. This is particularly difficult given the continuation of the Gemara, which quotes a baraita that teaches that the Jordan issues from the cavern of Paneas, flows through the Lake of Sibkay, the Lake of Tiberias and the Lake of Sodom, and proceeds to run into the Great Sea, concluding “and the real Jordan is from Bet Yeriho and below.”
Thus, the source of the Jordan River is identified as the Banias spring; it continues to the Hula Lake and on to the Sea of the Galilee (Kinneret) and the Dead Sea. Why then should it become significant only below Jericho?
Rashi explains that because the Jordan River combines with lakes and marshes in its northern part, it loses its significance. Tosafot rejects this approach, arguing that the Jordan River flows on its own far to the north of Jericho. They suggest that it is the Gemara’s identification of the Jordan with the boundaries of the tribe of Binyamin – whose eastern border runs from just north of Jericho to the Dead Sea – that establishes that area as the “real Jordan.”
An alternative approach is not to identify “Bet Yeriho” as Jericho, rather with a small settlement called Bet Yerah that stood at the southern tip of the Kinneret, near today’s Kibbutz Degania. Based on this, the “real Jordan” begins immediately after it begins to flow on its own, past the Sea of the Galilee.