This whole sugya returns to identifying the places listed in Joshua 19:35. These were mentioned in the previous daf because Rakat was identified earlier as Tiberias.
R. Yohanan identifies the three places in Joshua 19:35 and then provides a “folk etymology” for their original names.
Rava, the Babylonian amora, says that Rakat is not Tzippori, as R. Yohanan said. Rakat is Tiberias. As proof he cites several traditions concerning mourning in Tiberias for great Torah scholars who died in Babylonia. When eulogizing the people of Tiberias refer to their city as “Rakat.” This eloquent and retro way of referring to Tiberias proves that Rakat is not Tzippori.
Rava says that Rakat is Tiberias. It is called Rakat because of the great worth of its inhabitants. Even the least worthy of them, the “rekanim” perform many mitzvoth.
Interestingly, these amoram find “folk etymologies” for Tiberias, not for Rakat, as was the trend above. Rakat is the real name.
Obviously, Tiberias was named after the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was established in 20 C.E. during Tiberius’s rule. I don’t know whether Babylonian amoraim knew this. Even if they did, they may be trying to “Judaicize” the name of the city. After all, the city was one of the great centers of Judaism, and even at times considered holy. They could not have been happy that such a Jewish city was actually named after a Roman Emperor, Indeed, this may explain why they attempted to identify Tiberias with the biblical cities named in Joshua.
Today’s section is about another biblical city in the Galilee—Kitron, which is identified with Tzippori.
This section contains an extended midrash on Judges 5:18. It is brought here because Kitron seems to be in the tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun complains that its tribe did not receive good land. Indeed, it received lakes and rivers, for it was on the coast. God responds that Zevulun will receive the hilazon, the snail that produces the dye used for making the blue in tzitzit. Zevulun complains more. They fear that people will come and take the snail without properly compensating the tribe. God further promises Zevulun that people will pay for just as they would not benefit improperly from a sacrifice, so they won’t steal the hilazon snail from Zevulun.
The problem is that if Kitron was Tzippori, then why was Zevulun complaining about its land. After all, Tzippori is excellent land. It is “flowing with milk and honey” -16 square miles of it. If you were to say that this isn’t so much, then we could respond that in all of the land of Israel there is only 22 parasangs by 6 parasangs. Since a parasang equals 4 miles, it turns out that Zevulun has about 1/8 of the milk and honey of all of Israel, more than its fair share.
The answer is that Zevulun preferred fields and vineyards over milk and honey. Thus Kitron is Tzippori, but Zevulun still complained about his lot.
This sugya continues with some more geography.
R. Abbahu identifies Ekron with the Greek city, Caesarea, which he calls daughter of Edom. Edom is related to Esau and in rabbinic literature is associated with Rome/Greece. I should note that I’m not sure if this is the same Caesarea that still exists to this day. I believe that it is a different one, for Ekron is located further south, in the area that is today Gaza.
This city was a thorn in the side of the Jews during the Hasmonean period, and when the Hasmoneans conquered it they called it “the capture of the tower of Shir.”
R. Yose b. Hanina now interprets a verse from Zechariah containing a prophecy against Zur. The prophecy mentions Ekron which was the topic above.
The midrash on the prophecy is understandable, I think. Note the theme of theaters and circuses becoming synagogues. This is a frequent theme in rabbinic literature.
Leshem is a city conquered by the tribe of Dan. Pamias is the Greek name of the city.
Caesarea is again identified as Ekron. According to this statement, it seems to be a place where kings are made. I assume that this is related to the name of the city—Caesarea, after Caesar.
The continuation of R. Yitzchak’s statement points out that Jewish culture and Greco-Roman culture (symbolized by Caesarea and Jerusalem) exist in an inverse relationship. When one thrives, the other suffers.
To be honest, I think this remains one of the great challenges of American Jewish existence. Can the “Greco-Roman” side, the part of us that wants to integrate with the modern world, adopt modern values and lifestyles, thrive at the same time that the traditional Jewish side thrives.
This section contains several more statements by R. Yitzchak related to Esau and Rome.
This section contains R. Yitzchak’s midrash on Isaiah 26:10. Isaac pleas for mercy (favor) for Esau. God responds that he is wicked. Isaac persists—how can you judge him when he never learned righteousness. God responds that he will deal wrongfully with “the land of uprightness.” Rashi interprets this to mean that Esau, in the form of his descendants in Rome, will come and destroy Jerusalem. Finally, Isaac relents, responding that such a destroyer should not see the majesty of the Lord.
R. Yitzchak applies this verse in Psalms to Jacob, pleading before God not to grant Esau again in the form of their descendants in Rome, the ability to carry out their wicked plans. He refers to “Germamia” which Rashi explains as the name of a kingdom, based on the following passage. Jastrow reads this as Germany, which if let out would destroy the whole world. If this reading is correct, and it seems likely that it is, I find it incredibly prescient.