SOME OF OUR ENLIGHTENED PEOPLE are of the opinion that while death and destruction raged in Palestine the scholars of that country secluded themselves within the walls of the synagogues and debated irrelevant religious problems. Such a view is highly superficial. In between wars and aside from the Talmudic discussions the people pursued their normal occupations. They sowed their fields, they engaged in various trades and they developed a highly complex Jewish cultural life.
There are but few sources of information concerning the mode of life of that time. The Talmud is the most trustworthy of these, although it was written much later when many of the previous customs were nearly forgotten. In addition to the Talmud there are less faithful descriptions in the writings of Josephus Flavius, the geographer Strabo and the naturalist Pliny.
During all these centuries the overwhelming majority of the Jews were agriculturists. These tillers of the soil were but little affected by the numerous incursions of the Romans. In the worst cases their cattle and produce were robbed but the farmers and their families were not molested. Even when the Romans were determined to destroy Judaism they understood that the farming population was the foundation of the productive forces in the country and should be spared. It is therefore certain that even when many Jews were exiled from the country the farmers were left to till their fields.
It must also be borne in mind that the Jewish farmer of that time was religious more than he was patriotic. As long as the Romans did not interfere with his offering of sacrifices he was satisfied and probably indifferent whether he paid his taxes to the Jerusalem aristocrats, who looked down upon him, or whether the taxes were collected by the Romans.
When the Hasmoneans ruled Palestine they acquired a number of seaports but the merchants and sailors of these cities were largely Phoenicians. Jews were then in the initial stages of learning the arts of commerce and navigation and their share in these occupations was negligible. Even the Jews of Galilee who were close neighbors of the Phoenicians excelled in agriculture and fruit growing rather than in commerce and Josephus described their land as “covered with fields of grain and resembling a large garden.”
The Bible described Palestine as a land of milk and honey but this blessing was not always realized. The Biblical curse that the heavens shall be like copper over their heads and the earth shall be like iron under their feet often approached nearer the truth when periods of drought affected the land. Nevertheless the tillers of the soil always managed to secure their bread despite the fact that the country was rocky and sandy to a large degree. The Jews loved their land and each one was convinced that it was the most beautiful in the world. They learned to improve the soil and to fertilize it artificially, to clear it of stones and to destroy obnoxious weeds. The fields were surrounded with cactus fences to prevent the cattle from trampling them and those that were located on steep hills were terraced. Every handbreadth of land was utilized and there were no more diligent workers than the farmers of Palestine. Agriculture was highly regarded by all and was especially revered by the Romans. Whereas in other lands the Romans encountered difficulties in persuading the people to till the soil, Palestine farmers were happy if they were left to pursue that labor.
The fertility of the soil of Palestine varied in different regions of the country. Jericho and its environs was praised by the writers of all times as “the city of dates.” Other districts excelled in wheat growing. It was said that the grain growing about the city of Ophroim attained such height that it provided sufficient straw for the needs of the whole country. The wheat of Galilee was also famous for its quality and some said that it excelled even the wheat of Judea. Rye, oats, barley, sorghum and other grains grew in abundance. Bread made out of barley meal was considered to be the staple article of food of the poorer elements. There was a great abundance of this meal and considerable quantities of it were exported to other countries from which rice was introduced and sowed in Palestine.
In ordinary years the grain crop was between five and ten fold that which was sown, but in years when the rains descended in time and the sun did not scorch the germinating seed the crop reached as much as a hundred fold. In years of bumper crops Palestine exported grain, but during lean years grain had to be imported from Egypt. Palestine abounded in all kinds of greens and vegetables such as cabbage, cucumbers, onions, garlic, radishes and various beans. In time new vegetables which had not grown there previously were introduced into the country. These different kinds of vegetables were avidly consumed. Due to the stringent regulations governing the offering of sacrifices people often abstained from eating meat and indulged in it only on Sabbaths and holidays or other festive occasions. After the destruction of the temple, when the offering of sacrifices was done away with, many people gave up meat altogether as an item in their diet.
Many varieties of fruit trees thrived in Palestine including figs, grapes, olives, carobs, oranges, ethrogim, plums, cherries, walnuts, almonds, dates, mulberries, pomegranates, apples and pears. In addition to these, new improved varieties were introduced and cultivated. Palestine was especially renowned for its wine, dates and wheat. The coins that were minted by the Hasmoneans bear ears of wheat, bunches of grapes and date palms as symbols of the fertility of the land. The vineyards of Judea were considered the most beautiful in that part of the world. Between the rows of trees and vines flowers were planted which filled the air with their fragrance. Raisins and date honey were commonly used as food. Oil, which was plentiful, was exported in great quantities, and just as Judea was renowned for its wine Galilee was famous for the quality of its oil. The oil was used as food and also for medicinal purposes and it was widely sold in Sidon, Syria and Egypt.
Pliny, the Roman “Natural-philosopher,” declared that Judea was famous for its dates just as Egypt was known for its incense. In the Talmud we find a story told by Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai that on his way from Lud to Ono, a distance of three miles, he waded ankle deep in fig honey.1)כתובות קי״א ב׳.
The shores of the Dead Sea were covered with balsam and the districts of Gilead and Jericho were especially noted for it. Balsam was used as a medicine and also as incense. It was a very expensive commodity and the Romans declared that the Jews did not plant it elsewhere in order to maintain its rarity and to be able to sell it for a high price. After the destruction of the temple the Romans said that the Jews uprooted all the balsam trees in revenge on the Romans.
Sheep and cattle abounded in the land as a result of the need for sacrifices. There were many Jewish shepherds at that time and some of these also traded in cattle or in wool. This was especially true in the regions east of the Jordan. The women of Judea spun the wool and the women of Galilee spun flax and the garments were sold in the nearby cities. Many of the known varieties of fowl were introduced into the country at a later date. This is obvious from their Hebrew names which were never mentioned in the Bible. Geese, ducks and chickens were among the imported species and although they were not used for sacrificial purposes they were used as food. Many people also raised cattle and goats and considerable quantities of dairy products were consumed and exported.
Although some Jews engaged in hunting animals and birds the number of these was not great due to the numerous laws regarding unclean animals and the restrictions affecting slaughter. But many people engaged in fishing especially in Galilee. The sea of Gennesaret (sea of Galilee) abounded in many of the varieties of the best edible fish and scores of fishing villages dotted its shores. A great part of the catch was also exported.
The Dead Sea occupied a prominent place among the natural resources of the country. Various salts were extracted from its waters (salt of Sodom) as well as asphalt. These were sold far and wide and were used for medical purposes and also in the manufacture of cosmetics. Historical descriptions of Palestine also mentioned metal mines. Iron was mined in the Lebanon mountains and in the region north of Idumea. Josephus Flavius mentioned an iron mountain which extended to the boundary of Moab and in later years this metal was also mined in Trans-Jordania.
The trades and occupations of the Jews of that time are a subject of endless interest. The Talmud is the best historical source on this subject and it lists the following occupations as being most widely engaged in: tailoring, shoemaking, building, quarrying, carpentry, hairdressing, metal working, weaving, dyeing, tapestry-weaving, bee raising, pottery, glass blowing, engraving, tanning, ink and arms manufacturing.
But although all these trades were commonly practiced and Jewish artisans were accorded social recognition, they did not constitute a majority of the population. Farming engaged the efforts of the majority of the nation. This is evident from the fact that the Talmud devoted itself more to the interests of the farmers than it did to the interests of the artisans.
From the available historical data we may conclude that the Jewish artisans could not compete with the artisans of the foreign countries and when vessels or garments of higher quality were desired they had to be imported. This conclusion is also substantiated by the fact that the Talmud refers to all superior vessels or garments by their Greek names. This was also true of vegetables for some time, but as the years went by the superior varieties were cultivated also in Palestine. However there was a common conviction that articles of foreign manufacture were superior in quality and people of means bought their garments and decorated their houses with foreign importations.
Among the farming population the poorer peasants were in a majority. These were referred to in the Talmud as “Baal Habaith” and they usually possessed only a small tract of land from which they barely eked out a living. Together with the members of his family such a peasant would work in his field from dawn till sunset. Most of his produce he used for his own household and the remainder, after he paid his taxes and tithes, was marketed in the nearby cities where it was bartered or sold for money. Under such circumstances, the poorer peasants suffered every time a drought occurred or some other calamity overtook the country. He was then forced to hire out as a farm hand or to pawn his land to a richer farmer. But even when no unforseen calamities occurred, the poor peasant often had to become a wage-earner by working for another farmer. The parcelation of the land when it was being divided between the heirs left each of the heirs such a small holding that many were forced to hire out even during normal years. Those who could find no employment were forced to turn to begging or to brigandage.
In Galilee and Judea there existed a small class of rich farmers who owned considerable stretches of land and had a comfortable income. It was these people who loaned money to the poorer peasants and in time increased their holdings by seizing the land in payment of outstanding debts. They were also the merchants in grain and the Talmud refers to them as ״עתירי נכסין״ (men of much property). Although their number was small, they were socially prominent and exerted an influence on the administration of the land. They were generally the officials, the elders and members of the priestly families which accumulated the land of the poor. It is told that they engaged “Ikonomusin” (managers) and “Apitropsim” (overseers) to supervise the cultivation of their fields and vineyards while the owners remained in the city or travelled about in connection with their business ventures.
Thus the Talmud relates that Rabban Gamliel II, also known as Rabban Gamliel of Jabneh, employed a great number of laborers2)דמאי פרק ג׳ משנה א׳. and he also leased a part of his lands.3)בבא מציעא פרק ח׳ משנה ח׳. Such a procedure was engaged in by people who did not live on their land. Rabban Gamliel was presiding officer of the Sanhedrin and had to reside in the city. He administered his lands through the agency on an “Economos” or an “Apitropos.”
Hired laborers were engaged for a definite period which may have been as much as a year or as little as a day or half a day but never for more than six years. Among the laborers there were men who owned small plots of land as well as those who owned no land at all. Those unskilled in agricultural work hired out as common laborers and engaged in the most difficult work.
The scholars always sided with the laborers when they had complaints against their employers. They also established definite regulations concerning the food and drink to which the laborers were entitled, and although it is possible that most of these rules defining the rights of the workers remained theoretical, it is nevertheless certain that the social differentiation between poor and rich was not as sharp among the Jews as it was among the other nations of that time. The persecution at the hands of the Gentiles to which Jews poor and rich were subject partly accounted for this state of affairs.
Contract farming was also a known phenomenon. A contractor would undertake to cultivate a field and he was responsible for all the operations. He would buy the seed, hire the laborers and work together with them. He was responsible for the payment of the taxes to the government and the tithes to the priests as well as for all other expenditures. In compensation he received half the crop. In addition there were “Arisim” (tenants) who received the seed, the tools and the animals required for cultivation from the owner. Tenants supplied only their labor.
Artisans and peasants in Palestine were free men. They could choose their own occupation and when they hired out they were free to leave at any time and the employer was legally bound to pay whatever wage was coming to them for the work which they had accomplished. The condition of the slaves was entirely different. In some respects the slaves were in a better position than the hired laborers but socially they occupied the lowest level. The slave was assured of his food and shelter, but he was not free to choose his occupation and he was dependent on the whims of his owner who could force him to work day and night.
The condition of the Jewish slave was peculiar. It was only on rare occasions that a Jew bought a Jewish slave. When the Gentiles from the surrounding countries brought Jewish slaves to sell, they were ransomed and immediately freed. But there were occasions when a Jew was in debt and he voluntarily sold himself into slavery to be able to repay his debt. Similarly, when a man was caught stealing and he had to pay twice the value of the article stolen, the court would sell him into slavery if he could not pay the required sum. Like the artisan and farm laborer, the Jewish slave sold only his labor power, but he did not have definite working hours and he could be called upon to perform some task at any hour of the day or night. However, he enjoyed the privilege of resting on the Sabbath and the holidays together with his owner.
Because of the preferred treatment which the owner had to accord a Jewish slave there were not many that were anxious to own them, and a statement current at the time declared that “He who buys a Jewish slave buys an overlord.” But there undoubtedly existed slave owners who did not grant their Jewish slaves any privileges and on the year of the Jubilee the courts had to force them to liberate their Jewish slaves. Human nature did not change much during the centuries and it is apparent that the generations of the time of the Talmud had to contend with the same problem that was recorded by Jeremiah (Ch. 34) that king Zedekiah commanded that all Jewish slaves be liberated and their owners soon enslaved them again.
Jewish slave owners were enjoined to treat their non-Jewish slaves with humaneness. Although the owner could beat his slave at will he was strictly warned not to starve him, and in case the slave was crippled through the loss of an eye or a limb, he was immediately liberated. If a slave died as a result of a beating, the Torah commanded that the owner be put to death; but when the slave survived his punishment by a day or more, the owner was not to be put to death.
Judging from numerous circumstances we may conclude that Jewish slaves felt a greater kinship to their owners than the non-Jewish slaves. They participated actively in the various rebellions against Rome and Josephus relates that during the war which ended with the destruction of the temple Bar Giora proclaimed the liberation of all Jewish slaves as the first step in his mobilization of an army. At the same time the Romans announced that all non-Jewish slaves who would betray their owners would be granted their freedom.
Non-Jewish slaves were brought from the markets of Tyre and Sidon. Their treatment in Palestine could compare favorably with their treatment in other countries. Every slave was branded on the forehead or he was given a cap with a bell on it to wear that he might be recognized. Compared with the treatment of slaves in other lands, these measures were relatively humane.
Slaves were the unrestricted property of their owners. If the owner so desired he could marry a slave to his mother or sister. But the marriage of a slave was of no significance and the owner retained his rights of possession. Children of slaves also belonged to the owner and could be sold at will. All possessions of a slave automatically belonged to his master who also claimed any object found by the slave. In addition the owner could rent the labor power of his slaves to others without consulting the slaves.
The Midrash relates the case of a man who persuaded his neighbor to divorce his wife because of her immoral conduct. When the husband complained that he could not divorce her because he did not have enough money to pay her dowry, the man offered to loan him the necessary sum. After the woman was divorced the creditor married her and enslaved her previous husband for inability to repay his debt. The man thus became the slave of his ex-wife and he was forced to witness her relations with his creditor.
But if the position of the male slave was unenviable, the condition of the women slaves was even worse. In addition to their labor they were held at the disposal of the owner and his sons. It is therefore remarkable that some women were sold by their own parents into such life.
There undoubtedly were many Jews who treated their slaves in a more humane manner. In many homes the slaves were employed in skilled work and were trusted with all confidence. Some of them were tailors or barbers; others were bakers and cooks. In some cases the owners even entrusted the education of their children to the slaves. Among the women slaves there were singers and dancers who entertained their owners and their guests.
The Mishna tells that Rabban Gamliel of Jabneh owned a slave named Tabbai whom he respected greatly and for whom he mourned a long time after his death. Another slave of Rabban Gamliel was called “father” and his wife was referred to as “mother.” It is quite probable that these were not isolated instances and that the lot of the slave of a Jew was better than that of a non-Jewish owner.
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It must be borne in mind that the whole Jewish people was not mourning constantly for the destruction of the temple and the cessation of the sacrifices. It is even related that when Jerusalem was destroyed the people of Betar celebrated the occasion. It is also quite certain that the institution of sacrifices had lost much of its significance in the minds of many leaders and some of them were satisfied that Jabneh had been saved as a cultural center. Others, however, were convinced that the destruction of the temple was temporary and that it would soon be restored even as the first temple was rebuilt a short time after its destruction. This belief found a deep echo in the hearts of large sections of the population who looked upon themselves as people whose house had been burned and who were waiting for the construction of a new house. There is also no definite proof that the institution of sacrifices ceased with the temple and that small groups did not gather secretly to offer sacrifices. It is even possible that they brought their offerings on the site of the demolished altar. The fact that the regulations pertaining to the priests and the tithes were observed for a long time after the destruction is ample proof of the expectations of the people of a rapid restoration.
This was not an impossibility under the political conditions then prevailing. It was quite likely that some emperor would grant permission to rebuild the temple out of respect for the Jews or through the intercession of some influential person who could also pay for the right. But these hopes vanished with the rebellion of Bar Kochba against Hadrian. Over half a million Jews were killed in the uprising and hundreds of thousands of others were sold into slavery. The country was devastated and a temple to Zeus was erected in Jerusalem. Jews were not even allowed to approach the gates of the city.
But this was not the final expulsion from Palestine. Jews continued to reside in other cities and subsequent Roman emperors allowed them to visit Jerusalem on the ninth day of Ab to mourn for the destroyed temple.
Various historical events of that time are described in the Jerusalem as well as in the Babylonian Talmud and also in the Midrash. Most of these descriptions were not clearly understood until a recent date when certain Jewish historians made a careful study of these sources. Whenever the Talmudic descriptions are not in agreement with the facts as they are related by Roman historians it is safer to rely on the Talmudic sources.
That the destruction which followed the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus was not complete was also a result of other factors. Many people did not actively participate in the rebellion and after the war they rearranged their lives to conform with the situation that had been created and they maintained peace with the Romans. But the zealots who participated in the war were branded as bandits after the conflict. Their desparation in the struggle also harmed the interests of the people and hastened the ultimate destruction.
Titus and the rulers that immediately followed him did not intend to interfere with the religious practices of the Jews. According to Josephus, Titus even commanded that the temple be spared and it was the princess Berenice who set fire to it out of conviction that the Jews would never surrender as long as it remained in existence. After the revolt was quelled Titus did not wish to do any further harm. In all religious matters the Jews remained free and they retained the right of judgment in religious and also in secular cases. Even non-Jews often appeared before a Jewish court when in dispute with a Jew and the Roman authorities allowed Jewish courts to handle all cases when both parties consented to be tried by it. The Church-father Origines even declared that Jewish courts tried cases involving life although they were not authorized to do so.
The teachings of the Pharisees then developed to an extent which would have been impossible had the temple been in existence. The Sadducees disappeared altogether and the oral law became the dominant influence in Jewish life. All national life concentrated about the religious regulations which were strictly observed. In their devotion to the Torah and in the observance of its commandments the people found consolation for the destruction of the temple; Jabneh took the place of Jerusalem and the offering of gifts to the scholars in Jabneh took the place of the offering of sacrifices on an altar.
Sixty years after the destruction of Jerusalem, during the reign of Hadrian, another uprising took place which affected the whole people. The cause of this uprising is sought in the events which occurred during the reign of the preceding emperor Trajan. During his reign Babylonia rebelled against Rome and the Jews extended aid to the insurgents. (The Talmud refers to this revolt as “Polemos Quietus.”) A number of Jews from Palestine also joined this uprising in the hope that the defeat of the Romans would lead to the liberation of Palestine.
Trajan entrusted the conduct of the war to general Lucius Quietus and he commanded him to execute all Jews that would fall into his hands. After he quelled the revolt, Quietus was appointed governor of Palestine. Uprisings of the Jews occurred simultaneously in Egypt, Cyrenaica and Cyprus and the rebels vented their pent up anger on the neighboring Greek population and slaughtered many of them. Greek authors of that time speak of hundreds of thousands of slain Greeks, but these numbers were undoubtedly highly exaggerated. Marcius Turba was dispatched to quell the revolt and he triumphed over the Jews in “Bikat Yadaim” (Alexandria). A Talmudic legend describes the slaughter that followed and states that twice as many people as left Egypt were killed at that time.
Hadrian was by nature a peace loving and kindly man and he is said to have permitted the restoration of the temple, but the Samaritans objected to such a step and he withdrew his permission. One legend states that when the foundations for the new temple were being excavated flames burst out from the diggings and consumed the laborers. The Jews then asked that the work be stopped because of their belief that this was an omen of God’s desire that the temple should not be rebuilt. However, it has been historically established that the relations between the Samaritans and the Jews during the reign of Hadrian were friendly and they also participated on the side of the Jews during the uprising.
Recent historical investigations ascribe the rebellion to Hadrian’s prohibition against circumcision. Both the Jews and the Samaritans observed the law of circumcision and they therefore united against Rome. It seems inexplicable why the Romans, who did not interfere with the religious customs of the subject peoples, should have prohibited circumcision, but the Christian historian Schuerer explains this in the following manner: Emperor Domitian issued a law against castration as a barbaric custom. This law Hadrian extended to include circumcision and the death penalty was established for those who broke the law. This explanation is obviated by the fact that Antoninus Pius again allowed the Jews to practice circumcision and his edict declared the practice to be an old Jewish custom and not to be confused with castration. In issuing this edict he was also influenced by the stubborness with which the Jews clung to this practice.
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When Moses sent spies to Palestine they reported that the cities of Palestine were well fortified (Numbers, 13:28). Moses informed the Jews that they would find “cities great and fenced up to heaven” (Deut. 9:1). It is therefore remarkable that after so many invasions and wars the people believed that many of the gates and fortresses dated back to the days of Joshua ben Nun. The Bible mentions that the Jews lived in “Ir” (city), “Chatzer” (court) and “Kefar” (village). The Talmud makes no mention of “Chatzer” but contains the additional concept of “Kerach” (large city) and in addition to the “Ir” (city) it makes mention of “Ayarah” (town). There are differing opinions concerning the exact meaning of “Chatzer”. Some declared it to be a suburb; others maintained that it referred to an enclosure or a group of houses where a large number of people lived. We also find references to cities named “Hatzar” (Numbers, 34:4; Joshua, 19:3), and these probably developed from small groups of houses. The name “Kefar” appears both in the Bible and in the Talmud. The size of a “Kefar” (village) was not definitely determined but Josephus declares that the smallest “Kefar” in Palestine contained fifteen thousand inhabitants. However, his statement may be discounted as exaggerated. There were also cities in Palestine which developed from villages as is indicated by their names: “Kefar Haamoni,” “Kefar Hananiah” and “Kefar Aziz.”
When the scholars tried to define the difference between a city and a village they said that a city is a place where there are always ten “Batlonim” (idlers) available for various religious functions which require that number.4)מגלה ג׳ ב׳.
The name “Kerach” was derived from the Aramaic. The name signifies a fortified city. The Talmud sometimes refers to the same city by all three names (Kerach, Ir, Kefar), but it is obvious that “Ir” usually referred to an unfortified city.
The fortified “Kerach” was surrounded by a wall as protection against sudden attacks and was generally situated on the top of a mountain or on a rocky hill which was difficult of access and could be easily defended. Whenever an “Ir” was fortified it was expressly referred to as a walled city.
A “Kerach” was limited in area by its walls and could not grow indefinitely; the name therefore described the strength of the city and not its size. Whenever we find statements such as “the great Kerach of Rome” these refer to the defenses of the city rather than to its size.
The Talmud relates that when God wanted to determine the size of Jerusalem the angels said: “You have created so many Kerachim of the Gentile nations without determining their size. Why should you do so for your own city?”5)בבא בתרא ע״ה ב׳. This legend is interpreted by some to indicate that “Kerach” referred to Gentile cities or to those whose garrisons were largely non-Jewish. The Talmudic reference to Betar, which was a Jewish city, as “Kerach” they hold to be an exception.
The walled cities of Palestine were thus named “Kerachim” and were considered as Gentile places of residence. There were ten such cities which bore the collective name of Decapolis. In the course of time they developed into separate centers of activity apart from the rest of Palestine,6)שקלים פרק ג׳ משנה ד׳. although some of them were surrounded by Jewish settlements.7)חגיגה כ״ה א׳. The administrators of these cities discriminated against the Jews who were denied privileges enjoyed by the other inhabitants. This was also a distinction between a “Kerach” and an “Ir” which was not autonomous. The “Kerach” contained garrisons; this is evident from the reference of the Talmud to “Burganin,” that means the barracks which housed the soldiers or the government tax collector.8)שבת ק״ג ב׳.
This fact explains the Talmudic saying that a man who is about to enter a “Kerach” should pronounce the following prayer: “May it be Thy will to lead me into this Kerach in peace.” Once within the city one was supposed to recite another prayer which said: “I am thankful to You that You brought me into the city in peace.” Upon leaving, one said: “May it be Thy will to lead me out of this city in peace,” and after one was out of the limits of the city he was to say: “I thank You for leading me out of the city in peace and I pray that You shall further lead me and protect me in peace and that You shall save me from any enemy who may lurk by the roadside.”9)ברכות ס׳ א׳.
This prayer was instituted because of the danger of entering and leaving a “Kerach.” It was composed during the rule of the Romans who afforded no protection to Jewish travellers when they did not molest them themselves. But despite the danger, Jews constantly had to visit these cities because of their business enterprises. Sometimes they only had to pass through these cities, as in the case af sea journeys when the ships touched at these ports. The scholars therefore at times forbade entrance into these cities or even into towns which were located in their neighborhood, but these prohibitions were usually ignored out of necessity.10)תוספתא עבודה זרח פרק א׳.
Even wicked kings who ruled the land with brutal force and persecuted the Jewish religion could gain the admiration of the people by building a new city. This act was enough to justify many of his cruel deeds in the eyes of the people. Such was the case of Omri, the king of Israel, who encouraged idolatry, nevertheless the Talmud declared that he gained the kingdom for four generations of his successors because he built the city of Samaria.11)סנהדרין ק״ב ב׳.
The number of cities in Palestine was usually highly exaggerated. Speaking of the conquests of Alexander Jannai, R. Jochanan thus declared that the area occupied contained 600,000 cities each of which was inhabited by 600,000 people. The total number would thus be larger than the population of the whole world today. Similar exaggerations we find in the writing of Josephus who said that there were 1200 cities in Galilee alone and in the writings of the Greek historian Dio Casius who related that during the uprising of Bar Kochba the Romans conquered 950 fortified cities.
We may conclude, however, that the large cities were subdivided into quarters each of which was significant in itself. From the descriptions of ancient Jerusalem we know that the city was divided into an upper and a lower part. During the time that we are dealing with, Jerusalem was in ruins and uninhabited, and when the scholars attempted to describe the beauty of the city they relied upon their imagination of the Jerusalem of the future after Messiah would come. But the descriptions of ancient Jerusalem were not exaggerated. The image of the city lived in the memory of all the people and they sought to make the other cities resemble Jerusalem in appearance. Most of the Palestine cities were built on mountain tops and the synagogues were erected at the highest point so as to be seen from all sides. The court which dispensed justice and controlled the observance of the commandments of the Torah also held its sessions there. The academies were located nearby and the sexton of the synagogue blew the Shofar there to announce the beginning of the Sabbath. The watch tower was also located in that vicinity to observe the countryside over a great distance and to announce the coming of an enemy.
Nearly all Palestine cities had suburbs which were called in Hebrew “Migrash” or “Parvar” (Kings II, 23:11). Houses in these suburbs were part of the cities for purposes of taxation and maintenance of order, but in time of war they were abandoned except such houses as bordered on the city walls.
The scholars established a rule by which all inhabitants of a city were compelled to build a wall with gates about the city. This rule was enforced in those towns that were near the border of the country and were subject to attacks. Every city also had one or more market places and was traversed by streets.
Speaking of the greatness of Jerusalem, a Midrash relates that the city contained twenty-four palaces each of which had 24 entrances. Near every entrance there were 24 large market places, each of which was divided into 24 small ones. Each small market place had 24 courts in each of which there were 24 houses.12)איכה רבתי פּרשה א׳ פּיסקא ב׳.
Every market place was usually designated by a name which described the type of merchandise that was sold there. Thus there were poultry markets and fish markets. Others were named after the people that lived in the neighborhood such as “the market of the Arameans.” “the market of Rabbi Yitzchak” and “the market of Rabbi Chanin.” In addition every city had “corners” (Kranoth) where different stores were located and where idlers (יושבי קרנות) congregated awaiting strangers from whom they could earn something.
The ״מבוא״ (entrance) to the city also served as a market place and frequently resembled a court which extended for some distance and led up to various houses and courts within the city. The “Mavo” was significant and played an important role in the development of the rules pertaining to “Eruvin.”*)The law concerning the transportation of objects from one place to another on Sabbath. The inhabitants living in the neighborhood of the “Mavo” were also responsible for its upkeep.
The Romans were great city builders and they generally laid out new cities in squares. Jewish scholars therefore developed the theory that cities should be built in that form in order to facilitate defining the 2000 ell limit outside of the city which was the distance allowed to walk on the Sabbath.13)ערובין נ״ג א׳. Jews also built the walls surrounding their cities with uneven surfaces. The unevenness of the walls increased their defense capacity and when the enemy attempted to demolish them with iron rams the upper stones would fall on the attackers. The numerous corners and turns in the walls were also strategically important and hard to conquer.
As a result of the limited space within the walled area, houses were built close together and some of them were built into the protecting walls. Such houses generally served as gates to the city. Thus we find that during the conquest of Jericho, Rahab’s house was built into the city wall and it was also said of one of the “Amoraim” of Palestine that the gate of the city led into his house.14)ירושלמי שבת פרק ו׳ הלכה א׳. Some cities had double walls for greater protection in face of a superior enemy. The Romans were in the habit of erecting imposing gates on each side of the city, but such gates were built only in the Gentile inhabited cities. Jewish cities, on the other hand, presented a poor appearance architecturally both in the construction of their houses and protecting walls.
Life in the cities differed greatly from that in the villages so far as food, clothing and general behavior was concerned. Life in the cities was more refined in all its aspects when compared to the primitive mode of life in the villages. For the convenience of the city dwellers there were markets and hostelries where food supplies were sold and travellers were accommodated. These two institutions also served as the foundation for commerce in the country. On certain days of the week the villagers would bring their produce to the cities and would buy those necessities which they could not raise themselves. These market days were called ימי הכניסח (days of entrance) and occurred on Mondays and Thursdays. In honor of the visitors a chapter from the Torah would be read in the synagogue on those days and other religious needs of the villagers would be fulfilled. The court held its sessions and the scholars lectured on religious questions. Friday was another market day when the villagers brought food supplies such as fowl, cattle, fish and wine for the Sabbath. The artisans also had their shops in the city and the villagers paid them for their labor with their farm produce. Among these were also the scribes, the doctors and the teachers.
This trade was defined in the Talmud as “give and take” (משא ומתן) because it largely consisted of barter. It was only rarely that the villagers possessed any money. Cities were generally built near a supply of water, but when there were no springs or wells in the vicinity, water would be brought in pipes or aqueducts from some distance. Many cities also had reservoirs to store water in anticipation of drought or the drying up of wells and the people knew how to utilize water pressure to raise it to higher levels. Some cities had canals for drainage purposes and these canals were also used to bring the water to the fields for irrigation purposes. Wells were provided with buckets for raising the water.
The abundance of water in Palestine enabled people to maintain cleanliness and its effects on the health of the population was noticeable. The need and the justification of baths was recognized by the Talmud and was expressed in the following words: “If a city dweller does not allow his wife to bathe at least once a week or a villager does not allow his wife to bathe at least once in a fortnight the woman may demand a divorce and the full payment of her dowry, likewise if a villager forces his wife to go barefoot three months in succession, or if a city dweller commands his wife to go barefoot one day.”15)ירושלמי פּסחים פרק ח׳ הלכה א׳, כתובות פרק ז׳ הלכה ד׳.
Every city was surrounded by fields and in some cases part of the fields were within the city walls. This was also true of wine cellars and threshing floors which sometimes were found within the confines of the city walls. Although numerous trees were grown within the cities the orchards and the gardens were outside the walls. The roads leading through the gardens were often lined with avenues of trees. Torches and oil lamps were used to illuminate the entrances to the courts. These were provided by the owners of the houses at their own expense.16)תרומות פרק י״א משנה י׳, פּסחים נ׳ ב׳.
In addition to the weekly market days every city had special fairs once a month or once every half year. At these fairs various kinds of merchandise from distant places and foreign lands were sold and money changers (״שולחני״) were present to exchange the coins of the foreign merchant who came to buy Palestine products.
Aside from their economic significance market places were also social centers where people congregated to look at the displays of merchandise and at the artistic arrangement of fruit. The grains most commonly marketed were rye or wheat for bread. In addition there were articles of apparel and flax, wine, wool, leather and slaves. Stores provided the city dwellers with all their needs in addition to the markets. These stores contained all possible articles including arms. In the smaller towns and villages there were also peddlers who carried their wares from house to house and many villagers preferred to dispose of their goods in this manner out of fear of being cheated in the cities.
The more refined tastes of the city people was apparent also in the food which they consumed and the Talmud mentions the difference in the flour which they used as compared to the flour used by the villagers.17)פּסחים מ׳ א׳. A delicacy frequently used at that time consisted of dough baked in honey, but in the cities this was made with much honey while in the villages only a trace of it was used.18)ברכות ל״ז ב׳. The villagers also ate coarse bread which was not liked in the cities.19)ערובין פּ״ב ב׳. Similar differences were apparent in the garments worn. The garments of the villagers were primitive and are referred to in the Talmud as בגדי בני חקליתא (garments of the farmers); in the cities various styles were used and it was often impossible to distinguish between the garments of men and women.20)שבת י״א א׳.
Difficult as conditions were in the cities, the farming population met with still greater hardships. Their struggle for existence was more arduous and they were also exposed to ridicule. Villagers were called “Am Haaretz” and even those scholars who showed respect for the city artisans often expressed disdain for the “Am Haaretz.” In later years the name “Am Haaretz” was no longer used and ״בן כפר״ (villager) was substituted instead, but even then it was pointed out that a great difference existed between the city dweller and the villager. The contempt in which the villager was held is apparent from many descriptions and popular sayings of that time. From these it is obvious that only city dwellers were considered as civilized and the rural population was held to be ignorant.
Cities were held to be the home of wisdom and only their inhabitants knew how to show proper respect to scholars and to prominent men. Whenever a villager did not accord the proper respect to one greater than himself, he was not punished and it was ascribed to his ignorance.
The most striking analysis of the difference between city and village inhabitants is contained in the statement of the scholars concerning the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel both of whom described their visions of God and his heavenly retinue. Isaiah described what he saw as a city dweller who had frequent opportunities to see the king, but Ezekiel described his vision like a villager who may have seen the king only once in his life.21)חגיגה י״ג ב׳.
All political upheavals of that time originated in the cities, for only there the people showed understanding of political events. Villagers were not much concerned with political matters and they suspected everyone of trying to rob them. This state of mind resulted partly from the fact that the country was overrun by Jewish as well as non-Jewish bands of robbers in addition to soldiers, tax collectors and others who prayed upon the villagers.
The entire mode of life of the villagers was thus on a low plane. Their food was poorer, their garments coarse, their furniture made of unplaned boards. The regulations of the Talmud concerning cleanliness of vessels specifically mentions a “bowl of the villagers” which was different from those used in the cities.22)ביצה ל״ב א׳.
Villagers were allowed to celebrate Purim earlier than the city celebrations. Although the Book of Esther expressly states that Purim should be observed on the 14th and 15th days of the month of Adar, the Mishna declared that villagers may read the Book of Esther on market day when they come to the city on a Monday or Thursday even when those days are only the 11th, the 12th or the 13th of the month.
As soon as darkness fell, all villagers were afraid to leave their houses because of the wild animals that roamed the land23)ירושלמי ברכות פרק א׳ הלכה א׳. and also for fear of the soldiers and of robber bands. But whereas the soldiers would only rob the farmer and force him to provide all their needs, the robber bands, which were common in peace time as well as during years of war, frequently killed their victims if any resistance was offered. Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta therefore said that the life of a villager might be compared to that of wanderers in the desert who were never sure of their lives, and whose wives and children could be seized.24)ערובין נ״ה ב׳.
The doors of city houses were usually locked and when they were open there was always a bell present to announce the visitors. But the houses in the villages were always open and visitors with honest intentions could always be sure of generous hospitality.
But despite the disabilities of the villagers, their mode of life had certain advantages. Due to the crowded conditions in the cities contagious diseases were common and frequent bathing did not counteract them. The disease germs bred in the walls of the houses, as may be seen from the Biblical laws concerning leprosy.
The scholars ruled that every city must possess ten things for the convenience of its inhabitants. These were: a court, a charity fund, a synagogue, a bath house, a comfort station, a doctor, a barber, a scribe, a butcher and a teacher.25)סנהדרין י״ז ב׳. But all of these did not suffice in time of epidemics and the inhabitants sought refuge in the villages.
By far the greatest difference between city and village consisted in matters of administration. The cities possessed courts and a police force to maintain order; each one was also taxed a definite sum for the city government and also for charitable purposes. In the villages, on the other hand, anarchy reigned and he who was more powerful could do as he pleased.
Jews exhibited a dislike for dogs and only in rare cases were dogs allowed in the cities and then they had to be chained. The opinion was common that one who keeps a dog is like one who raises pigs, and stories were related of pregnant women miscarrying when frightened by the barking of dogs.26)בבא קמא פּ״ג א׳. But in the villages dogs were common, especially for herding purposes.
Villages were often traversed by many people when they journeyed in connection with their business enterprises or to announce the regulations of the Sanhedrin. There were also travelers who went about to acquaint themselves with different peoples and lands. All of these found shelter and hospitality in the villages where they stopped overnight for fear of robbers who hid along the highways. Tax collectors especially were subject to such robberies when it was known that they carried considerable sums.