How Broad Is a Handbreadth? Archaeologists May Have Found an Answer

One of the main practices of the holiday of Sukkot, which begins at sundown tonight, is dwelling in a sukkah, or booth. Naturally, rabbinic tradition sets forth numerous prescriptions for how a sukkah must be constructed, including minimum and maximum dimensions, for which the unit is a tefaḥ, or handbreadth. In the past century, various rabbinic authorities have argued for conversions from this and other biblical and talmudic measurements into modern units. Some ancient jars may settle this question once and for all:

[T]hree Israeli archaeologists . . . found an astonishing common denominator among storage jars in Israel over a period of 350 years—the inner-rim diameter of the jar’s neck was almost identical. The distribution of this diameter is consistent with measurements of the palm of a male hand and, according to the three, this match is not coincidental. It appears to reflect the use of the original metrics for the biblical measurement of the tefaḥ, a unit of measurement that was used primarily by ancient Israelites and appears frequently in the Bible and is the basis for many Jewish laws.

The team did three-dimensional scans of 307 Iron Age jars found in Khirbet Qeiyafa from the time of the Judaean kingdom in the early 10 century BCE, “hippo” jars found in northern Israel from . . . the 9th century BCE, and royal Judean storage jars from the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.

The researchers observed large variations between the jars-even those from the same time period and geographic region. Only one measurement remained constant—the averaged inner-rim diameter which always measured, with a standard deviation, between 8.85 and 8.97 centimeters [about 3.5 inches]. The distribution of this diameter is statistically identical to the handbreadth of modern man.

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Read more at Israel Today

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Halakhah, Hebrew Bible, Sukkot

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine