כ״א בשבט ה׳תשע״ד (January 22, 2014)

Yoma 75a-b: A Return to the Desert

In trying to determine the definition of inuy (suffering), the Gemara turns to the passages in Tanakh where the term is used. For example, the Torah describes the act of feeding manna to the Jewish people in the desert as a type of inuy (see Devarim 8:3). This allows the Gemara to segue into a discussion of the bread and meat eaten by the Israelites in their travels through the desert – the “bread” being manna and the “meat” being slav, usually translated as quail.

Many descriptions of manna are given. For example, Rabbi Akiva interprets the passage in Tehillim 78:24-25 as teaching that the manna was the food of angels. Rabbi Yishmael objected to this explanation, arguing that spiritual beings cannot be perceived as eating food. He explains the pasuk in Tehillim as meaning that the manna was the perfect food – it was completely absorbed by the body with absolutely no waste (i.e. no need for excretion). It can be assumed that Rabbi Akiva agrees that the heavenly angels did not eat as human beings do, and he was speaking metaphorically that the manna was a manifestation of a supreme level of spirituality, similar to the makeup of angels. Rabbi Yishmael objects even to the metaphor which may be misunderstood.

As far as the slav is concerned, Rav Hanan bar Rava teaches that there are four separate birds called slav. We cannot identify each of these birds with certainty, but it appears that they are all members of the pheasant family of birds, which are similar to chickens. The birds mentioned in the Gemara are variously identified as Alectoris, Francolinus, Ammoperdix and Phasianus, all of which have similar body structures and make up a natural family. The pheasant (Phasianus) is raised as poultry in many places. Standard quail – Coturnix coturnix – is the smallest of the birds related to the chicken. Due to its short neck and legs, it appears fatter and rounder than other related birds, even though the fat in its body changes, particularly after a lengthy migration. Migration patterns take these birds from Europe to Africa in large flock, and many birds fall from the sky due to exhaustion on the shores of the Mediterranean. Some types of quail remain in Israel and its environs for nesting.

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