כ׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ו (April 28, 2016)

Kiddushin 49a-b: Ten Measures Descended to the World

In an aggadic passage, our Gemara lists specific traits that are stereotypes of different communities. In each case the Gemara states that ten measures of a given attribute were given to the world, and a certain city or community received nine of them. Here are some examples:

  1. Ten measures of intelligence (hokhma) were given to the world; the Land of Israel received nine while the rest of the world received one.
  2. Ten measures of beauty (yofi) were given to the world; Jerusalem received nine while the rest of the world received one.
  3. Ten measures of wealth (osher) were given to the world; Rome received nine while the rest of the world received one.
  4. Ten measures of poverty (aniyut) were given to the world; Babylon received nine while the rest of the world received one.
  5. Ten measures of magic (keshafim) were given to the world; Egypt received nine while the rest of the world received one.

At its height, the Roman Empire collected large sums of money in taxes from all of the countries that were subject to its rule. Among other things, these monies were used to provide food for the citizens of the city, for public entertainment and for building huge government buildings. People who were in the position to do so often received shares of those monies, as well, which allowed them to live lives of luxury, which gave the impression of great wealth in the city.

Regarding Babylonian poverty, the reference is probably to the Jewish community in Bavel, which was known to be poor. Most members of the Jewish community worked in agriculture, and since few of them owned their own lands, they were forced to pay rent or to work as sharecroppers. Those Jews who were independent craftsmen also were not doing well financially, and apparently there were few successful businessmen in the community.

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