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Talmud for Today: A Series of Talmudic Readings for the Holidays

Sukkot: Reaching for the Heavens

The Symbolic Meaning of the Minimum Height of a Sukkah

Richard Hidary

Sources and Parallel Texts

Source #1 – Fragment from the Cairo Genizah –
Cambridge University Library T-S Misc 26.19

This response by Sherira Gaon (906-1006CE) records and explains the opening biographical note in Bavli Sukkah 4b. Fascinatingly, this response is written in the margin of a magical text listing ten criteria for deciding propitious times for given activities.

לרבנו שרירא גאון ובנו רבנו [האי נ'ע'] שהשיבו למר יהודה בן יוסף נ'ע' ואשר אמרו מאי טעמא מה . . . . חביבא [בכולי] סדר מועד [כל כי] האיי זווא חלופי ר' יוחנן מעייל ר' יונתן. הכין הוה שמיע ליה לרב חביבא והכין אגמרוי וכי דמשמע הוה מתני.

Written by our Rabbi Sherira Gaon and his son [Hayye, his soul in Eden] who responded to master Yehudah the son of Yosef, his soul in Eden: That which they said, what is the reason for … Haviva [in the entire] Order of Festivals [anytime] this pairing appears, replace Rabbi Yohanan and insert Rabbi Yonatan. This is how Rav Haviva heard the tradition and this is how he taught it. Just as he heard it, so he repeated it.

Geniza Sherira2.jpg

Source #2 – Talmud Yerushalmi Sukkah 1:1, 51d (ms. Leiden)

Source 2

The Talmud Yerushalmi inquires into the source that the height of ten handbreadths serves to separate vertically between domains. This sugya also appears verbatim at Yerushalmi Shabbat 1:1, 2d, where it is more germane to the context there that a raised platform within the public domain is considered a private domain if it is ten handbreadths high.  Although it seems that this derivation was first applied to the laws of domains on Shabbat in the Yerushalmi, the Bavli sugya incorporates it as an integral part of the symbolism of the Sukkah. 

The first verse cited by Rabbi Abbahu demonstrates that God speaks from above the ark-covering. The second verse proves that God speaks from heaven, a principle applied not only to the original context at Sinai but to the continuing communication in the Sanctuary. Therefore, the ten-handbreadth height of the ark and its covering serve as a source for the general borderline between upper and lower domains.

The Yerushalmi does not make explicit the symbolic meaning of the sukkah as holy space. Nor does it go into detail about communicating and passing between the separate boundaries, the question at the heart of the Bavli. Nevertheless, the Yerushalmi establishes the fundamental building blocks upon which the Bavli elaborates and fleshes out the spiritual symbolism of the sukkah and the deep tensions involved in relating human and divine realms.



מניין למעלה מעשרה שהיא רשות אחרת? 
רבי אבהו בשם רבי שמעון בן לקיש ונועדתי לך שם ודברתי אתך מעל הכפרת (שמות כה, כב).
וכתיב אתם ראיתם כי מן השמים דברתי עמכם (שמות כ, יט) מה דיבור שנאמר להלן רשות אחרת אף דיבור שנאמר כאן רשות אחרת 
וארון לא תשעה טפחים הוא? דבית רבי ינאי אמרין וכפורת טפח


What is the source that above ten handbreadths is considered a separate domain?


Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: I will meet with you there and I will speak to you from above the cover (Exodus 25:22). It is also written, You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens (Exodus 20:19). Just as the speech mentioned there is from a separate domain, so too the speech mentioned here is from a separate domain.
But isn’t the ark only nine handbreadths? The school of Rabbi Yanai say, the ark covering is one handbreadth.

Source #3 - Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishamel, Yitro, baHodesh 4

Source 3

מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל יתרו - מסכתא דבחדש פרשה ד 
וירד ה' על הר סיני. שומע אני על כלו, תלמוד לומר אל ראש ההר.
יכול ממש שירד הכבוד והוצע על הר סיני, תלמוד לומר כי מן השמים דברתי עמכם. מלמד שהרכין הקדוש ברוך הוא שמים התחתונים ושמי השמים העליונים על ראש ההר, וירד הכבוד והוצע על גב הר סיני, כאדם שהוא מציע את הכר על ראש המטה, וכאדם שהוא מדבר מעל גבי הכר, שנאמר כקדוח אש המסים מים תבעה אש להודיע שמך לצריך מפניך גוים ירגזו (ישעיה סד, א). וכן הוא אומר, בעשותך נוראות לו נקוה מפניך הרים נזולו (שם סד, ב).
רבי יוסי אומר, הרי הוא אומר, השמים שמים לה' והארץ נתן לבני אדם (תהלים קטו, טז), לא עלה משה ואליהו למעלה ולא ירד הכבוד למטה. אלא מלמד, שאמר המקום למשה הריני קורא לך מראש ההר ואתה עולה, שנאמר ויקרא ה' למשה.

And the Lord Came Down upon Mount Sinai. I might understand this to mean upon the entire mountain. Scripture therefore teaches: To the top of the mount (Exodus 19:20). 
One might think that the Glory literally descended from heaven and spread out on Mount Sinai. Therefore Scripture teaches: I spoke to you from the very heavens (Ex. 20.19); this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, bent down the lower heavens and the upper heavens of heaven, lowering them to the top of the mountain, and thus the Glory descended and spread out upon Mount Sinai as a person who spreads a cushion at the head of a bed and like a person who speaks while on the cushion.  As Scripture states: As when fire kindles brushwood, and fire makes water boil, You make Your name known to Your adversaries, so that nations will tremble at Your Presence (Isaiah 64:1). Likewise it states: When You did wonders we did not expect, [You came down and] mountains quaked before You (ibid., 62:2).  
R. Yose says: Behold, it states: The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He gave over to man (Psalms 115:16). Neither Moses nor Elijah ever went up to heaven, nor did the Glory ever come down to earth. Scripture merely teaches that God said to Moses, “Behold, I am going to call you from the top of the mountain and you will come up,” as it is said: The Lord called Moses (v. 20). 

This Tannaitic midrash on Exodus 19:20 presents two opposing views about the Sinaitic theophany. The opening thesis already rejects a literal reading of God’s movement: He did not descend upon the entire mountain but only to its top, and even there He did not cross the boundary to earth but spoke only from the heavens. The first view allows for the heavens themselves to arch downwards until the Divine Glory rests on the top of the mountain. That is how God could descend to the top of the mountain without leaving the realm of heaven. The second view of Rabbi Yose rejects even that bending of the upper realms. Instead, he interprets the verse to mean that God merely summoned Moses in a voice that was heard coming from the top of the mountain, as if God were at its top.

The sugya in Sukkah 4b-5a [B] cites the opinion of Rabbi Yose and defends his position through two challenges [1] and [2]. It concludes, however, with a thesis [3] similar to the first opinion of the Mekhilta here and even further allows for a possible one-time breach between the two realms. The editor of the Bavli sugya drew upon this midrash or a version similar to it as source material, adding to it and modifying it according to the needs of the message of the sugya.

Source #4 – Midrash on God Breaking Boundaries

Source 4

The prooftexts and theme of Bavli Sukkah 4b-5a finds a parallel in a midrash about the revelation at Sinai. The midrash appears in the Amoraic work, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, dating from the 5-6th cent. CE, as well as in the later midrashim, Exodus Rabbah and Tanhuma. However, the clearest and most complete version of the midrash is recorded by Rabbi Isaac Arama in his commentary Akedat Yishak.  This midrash may have been available as source material for the aggadah in Bavli Sukkah 4b. In all versions, Psalm 115:16 proves that the world began with two separate realms of heaven and earth that may not meet. In the Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, the separation is fundamentally undone at the revelation of Sinai and going forward; whereas in the Bavli, there is only the slightest breach at the border of the two realms just at the moment of the revelation to Moses. The Bavli minimizes the possibility of the descent of the Divine Presence and emphasizes the impenetrable border between the two worlds. This strict separation fits better with the lived experience of the Rabbis in an age lacking prophets and miracles. It furthermore reflects the architecture of the sukkah and the sekhakh covering as the liminal space between the divine and human realms. The Bavli editors thus seem to have reworked the earlier midrash from the land of Israel to suit the symbolic message of the sukkah as understood in the Bavli sugya.

Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, 12:11 (Mandelbaum, 212; Braude, 236-7)

א"ר אבא בר יודן למלך שהיה משיא את בתו וקבע קרטיסין בים ואמר, בני רומי לא יחתון לסוריא, ובני סוריא לא יסקון לרומי, וכיון שהשיא את בתו התיר קרטיסים 

כך עד שלא ניתנה התורה, השמים שמים לי"י והארץ וג' (תהלים קטו, טז), אבל משניתנה תורה מן השמים, ומשה עלה אל האלהים (שמות יט, ג), וירד י"י על הר סיני (שמות יט, כ).

Rabbi Aba the son of Yudan said: A parable of a king who was marrying off his daughter. He had issued a decree across the sea and said, “The people of Rome may not descend to Syria and the people of Syria may not ascend to Rome.” When he wanted to marry off his daughter, he permitted the decree. 
So too, until the Torah was given, The heavens belong to YHVH, but the earth He gave over to man (Psalms 115:16). However, once the Torah was given from the heavens, Moses went up to God (Exodus 19:3) and YHVH came down upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20).

Rabbi Yishak Arama (1420-1494), Akedat Yishak Exodus 44, Yitro

במדרש מאי דכתיב (תהלים קלה, ו) כל אשר חפץ ה' עשה בשמים ובארץ. משל למלך שגזר על מלכותו בני רומי לא ירדו לסוריא ובני סוריא לא יעלו לרומי. לימים בקש המלך לישא אשה מסוריא עמד וביטל הגזרה ואמר מכאן ואילך ירדו בני רומי לסוריא ויעלו בני סוריא לרומי. ואני אתחיל. 

כך כשברא הק"בה את עולמו בתחלה אמר (שם קטו, טו) השמים שמים לה' והארץ נתן לבני האדם וכשבקש ליתן תורה לעמו ישראל אמר מכאן ואילך יעלו תחתונים אל עליונים וירדו העליונים אל התחתונים ואני ארד תחלה דכתיב וירד ה' על הר סיני (שמות יט, כ) ואח"כ ואל משה אמר עלה אל ה' אתה ואהרן נדב ואביהוא וע' איש מזקני ישראל (שמות כד, א). הוי כל אשר חפץ ה' עשה בשמים ובארץ:


What is the meaning of the verse: Whatever YHVH desires He does in heaven and earth (Psalms 135:6)? A parable to a king who decreed on his kingdom that those in Rome may not descend to Syria and the Syrians may not ascend to Rome. After some time, the king wanted to marry a woman from Syria. He arose and cancelled the decree and said, “From now on those in Rome may descend to Syria and those in Syria may ascend to Rome. I will be the first.”

So too when the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world, he first said, “The heavens belong to YHVH and the earth He gave to mankind” (Psalms 115:16). When He wanted to give the Torah to His nation Israel, He said, “From now on the lower realm may ascend to the upper realm and the upper realms may descend to the lower realm. I will descend first.” As it is written, YHVH came down upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20). And after that, He said to Moses, “Come up to YHVH, with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel (Exodus 24:1). Thus, Whatever YHVH desires He does in heaven and earth, in the seas and all the depths.


Source #5 – Avot d’Rabbi Natan A 34

Source 5

This Amoraic source assumes God descended to the terrestrial world many times. It takes this as a simple reading of the verses without any hint at the pushback expressed in the Bavli sugya because of philosophical or exegetical considerations. Significantly, the two verses cited in the Bavli sugya [B][1] to prove that God descended to earth are both listed in Avot d’Rabbi Natan.


עשר ירידות ירדה שכינה על העולם
אחת בגן עדן שנאמר וישמעו את קול אלהים מתהלך בגן (בראשית ג, ח). 
ואחת בדור המגדל שנאמר וירד ה' לראות את העיר ואת המגדל (שם יא, ה). 
ואחת בסדום שנאמר ארדה נא ואראה הכצעקתה הבאה אלי (שם יח, כא). 
ואחת במצרים שנאמר וארד להצילו מיד מצרים (שמות ג, ח). 
ואחת על הים שנאמר ויט שמים וירד (שמואל ב' כב, י). 
ואחת בסיני שנאמר וירד ה' על הר סיני (שמות יט, כ). 
ואחת בעמוד הענן שנאמר וירד ה' בענן (במדבר יא, כה).
ואחת במקדש שנאמר השער הזה יהיה סגור ולא יפתח וגו' כי ה' אלהי ישראל בא בו (יחזקאל מד, ב).
ואחת שעתידה להיות בימי גוג ומגוג שנאמר ועמדו רגליו ביום ההוא על הר הזיתים (זכריה יד, ד):

Ten descents did the Shekinah make down to the world:
Once in the Garden of Eden, as it is said, And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8).
Once in the generation of the Tower of Babel, as it is said, And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower (Genesis 11:5).
Once in Sodom, as it is said, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me (Genesis 18:21).
Once in Egypt, as it is said, And I came down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:8).
Once on the Red Sea, as it is said, He bowed the heavens also, and came down (2 Samuel 22:10).
Once at Sinai, as it is said, And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20).
Once in the pillar of the cloud, as it is said, And the Lord came down in a cloud (Numbers 11:25).
Once in the Temple, as it is said, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened . . . for the Lord, the God of Israel hath entered in by it (Ezekiel 44:2).
And one will take place in the future, in the days of Gog and Magog, as it is said, And His feet shall stand that day upon the mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).



[1] Compare Mishnah Sukkah 2:6 with Mishnah Hagiga 1:6. See Yakov Nagen, Water, Creation, and Immanence: The Philosophy of the Festival of Sukkot (Otniel: Gilui, Yeshivat Otniel, 2008), 33; and idem, The Soul of the Mishnah (Dvir, 2016), 228-32. The analysis in this chapter is heavily indebted to Nagen, Water, 44-52.


[2] Sifra `Emor 17:11. See parallel at Bavli Sukkah 11b and analysis at Jeffrey Rubenstein, The History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), 239-243.

[3] Temple Scroll 42:3-17. Rubenstein, ibid., 65.

[4] Text and vocalization follow manuscript Kaufmann, which is considered the most reliable text of the Mishnah. It was written in 12th century Italy making it the earliest complete manuscript of the Mishnah.

[5] This section of Bavli Sukkah comes to us in several versions. One torn Geniza fragment exists for this section of Talmud in the Cambridge University Library T-S F2(2).49. Manuscripts (abbreviated to ms. and plural mss.) Oxford 2677 (Heb. e. 51; Sussman 858) and JTS Rab. 218 (EMC 270; Sussman 5966) are both Yemenite manuscripts written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively. Although written relatively recently, these manuscripts generally preserve a highly authentic text.

Mss. Munich 140 (Sussman 7206) and JTS Rab. 1608 (ENA 850; Sussman 6045) are both Sephardic from the 13th century. Ms. Oxford 366 (Opp. Add. Fol.23; Sussman 627) was written in Provence from the 14-15th century.

Manuscripts from Ashkenaz are ms. British Library 400 (Harley 508; Sussman 1059) dating back to 11-12th century, ms. Vatican 134 (Sussman 7407) from the 13th century, and ms. Munich 95, the only extant complete manuscript of the Bavli written in 1342.

The earliest printed edition is from Soncino Press in Pesaro 1515. Next is Daniel Bomberg’s complete printing of the Bavli in Venice 1521. We add a comparison to the Vilna edition in common use today both in print and online at

The text presented here is diplomatic, choosing the best exemplars for each variant but with strong preference for the Geniza fragment where available, and the Yemenite and Sephardic versions. Only major variants are cited in the notes and readers can consult the manuscript charts at The Friedberg Project for Talmud Bavli Variants at and for further details. For a full description and analysis of the manuscripts see Rabin Shushtri, ”The Text of Tractate Sukka in the Babylonian Talmud,” [Hebrew] (PhD thesis, Bar-Ilan University, 2009).

[6] מנא לן: following mss. Munich 140 and JTS 1608. Oxford 366 reads מנא הני מילי. Mss. British Library 400, Vatican 134, Munich 95, and printed editions read מנלן. Mss. Oxford 2677 and JTS 218 lack these words altogether, on which see Yakov Nagen, Sukkot in Rabbinic Thought: Motifs in the Halacha of Sukkot in Talmudic Literature, PhD Diss. (2003), 80 n. 47.

[7] מתני: following mss. Oxford 2677, JTS 218 and JTS 1608. Mss. Munich 140, British Library 400, Munich 95, Oxford 366, Vatican 134 and all printed editions read מתנו. מתני is also recorded in the parallel at Megilah 7a mss. Munich 140 and probably British Museum 400; see also Dikduke Sofrim to Shabbat 54b.

[8] זווא: following Geniza fragment CUL T-S F2(2).49; citation by Sherira Gaon (Source #1); Oxford 2677 similarly reads זוה; and ms. JTS 218 reads זו. Mss. Munich 140; JTS 1608, Oxford 366, British Library 400, Munich 95, and printed editions read זוגא. Both words have the same meaning of “pair.”

[9] Following mss. Munich 140 and JTS 1608. Ms. Munich 95 reads until ודברתי וגו'. Mss. British Library 400 and ed. Venice read until הכפורת. Mss. Oxford 2677 and JTS 218 continue the verse until העדות. Eds. Pesaro and Venice misquote the verse and read ונועדתי בתוך בני ישראל ודברתי לך שם.

[10] נחום: so mss. Oxford 2677, JTS 218, Munich 140, British Library 400, and Rabenu Hananel. Ms. Munich 95 and printed editions read תנחום. Ms. JTS 1608 reads חנני. Bavli Shabbat 88b cites this same tradition in the name of Rabbi Nahum.

[11] Ed. Vilna inserts here למטה מעשרה, adding an answer to which the next line responds with a new question. However, all other witnesses omit these works so that Rabbi Nahum’s statement is the first part of one extended question.

[12] מכל מקום...נקט ביה: These words, which serve to clarify the focus of the questions, are present in Geniza fragment CUL T-S F2(2).49, mss. JTS 1608, Munich 140, Oxford 366, Vatican 134, and printed editions. These words do not appear in mss. Oxford 2677, JTS 218, British Library 400, and Munich 95.

[13]  Following mss Oxford 2677, JTS 218, Munich 140, and British Library 400. Mss. Munich 95, JTS 1608, eds. Pesaro, Venice, and Vilna insert עד עשרה.

[14] This interpretation follows Sherira Gaon in a Geniza fragment responding to a question about this line. See Source #1; and Israel Lewi, Introduction to Commentary to Yerushalmi Nezikin, Netuim 5, 1999, 89-99, n. 22 (translation from German); and Hanokh Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (Tel-Aviv: Dvir, 1987), 445 n. 467. Rashi and Tosafot at Shabbat 54b, “Rav” comment that all four Amoraim taught this statement, assuming a reading of מתנו, see manuscript variants (the citation in Tosafot in Ed. Vilna strangely reads מתני, though eds. Soncino and Venice read מתנו.

[15] This statement is cited as a baraita at Bavli Sanhedrin 7b, also in conjunction with Exodus 25:22. This statement is introduced by, “the master said,” at Bavli Shabbat 92a and Eruvin 4b. See also Talmud Yerushalmi Sukkah 1:1, 51d = Yerushalmi Shabbat 1:1, 2d for a similar statement in the name of the school of Rabbi Yannai as well the same measurement mentioned at Bavli Niddah 26b. See further below n. 22.


[16] This insight can explain why for the ark’s height, the one handbreadth thickness of the ark-covering is included in the total to make ten handbreadths, while in the sukkah the space below the covering must be ten handbreadths and the sekhakh lay above the walls. In both cases the protective item, the cherub or the sekhakh, rests just above the ten handbreadth height.

[17] Ephraim Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abrahams (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 37-65; and “Shekhinah,” Encyclopedia Judaica 18 (2007): 440-66.

[18] Exodus 19:18; Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2, 13:21-22, 24:16-18, 40:38; Numbers 9:15-16, 14:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 9:3. See analysis of this theme in the Bible and in midrash at Rubenstein, The History of Sukkot, 243-260.

[19] See further analysis at Michael Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 2002), 399-404.


[20] Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 1, 4 (Mandelbaum, 9), which also cites Exodus 19:20 as an example of God descending; Exodus Rabbah, Va’era 8:1; Numbers Rabbah, Naso 12:11 and 14:3; Bavli Eruvin 43a-b.

[21] Mishnah Kilayim 2:8, 4:3, 4:7, 6:1-2; Shevi`it 3:6; Shabbat 11:3; Eruvin 1:6, 9, 2:1, 4, 5, 7:5, 8:3, 6, 8, 10:7, 9; Baba Batra 3:5; 4:1; Middot 2:3; and Nega`im 13:12. See also David Kraemer, Rabbinic Judaism: Space and Place (New York, Routledge: 2016), 88.

[22] The Bavli has a parallel discussion at Shabbat 92a and Eruvin 4b; however, those discussions are likely secondary to this one in Bavli Sukkah 4b (see Tosafot to “asarah tefahim menalan”). That Bavli Sukkah 4b applies the proof from the Ark directly to the Sukkah, and not general partitions, can be demonstrated by several details: (1) the question in the Bavli does not seek the source that ten handbreadths is a separate domain as in the Yerushalmi, but rather simply, “how do we know this,” referencing the law of Mishnah Sukkah; (2) the inclusion in the ensuing discussion of Zechariah 14:4, which speaks about Sukkot; (3) the full sugya appears only in Bavli Sukkah while Bavli Shabbat 92a and Eruvin 4b cite only a snippet of the sugya with the formula, “the master taught,” typical of citation from elsewhere; and (4) the continuation of the Bavli, which eagerly seeks a source for the penetration of the upper and lower boundaries, is not relevant to the technical height of partitions for Sabbath boundaries, but significantly highlights the symbolic liminality of the sekhakh. The Yerushalmi’s inquiry for the source of ten handbreadths, by contrast, is likely primary in the context of Sabbath domains, on which see further below Source #2.

[23] The continuation of the Talmud focuses on this verse in its second source for ten handbreadths, but this first response in the Talmud already seems to have it in mind as it leads up to the second response. See further below in compositional analysis and Nagen, Water, Creation, and Immanence, 50.

[24] See Assaf Rosen-Zvi, “Even Though there Is No Proof to the Matter, there is an Indication of the Matter’: The Meaning, Character and Significance of the Phrase in Tannatitic Literature,” Tarbiz 78 (2009), 323-44.

[25] Rubenstein, History of Sukkot, 260-270.

[26] See Mishnah Sukkah 2:2, 9.

[27] Ephraim Urbach, The Sages, p. 38.

[28] See Nagen, Water, Creation, and Immanence, 73 n. 42, citing Israel Burgansky, “The Babylonian Talmud Tractate of Sukkah: Its Sources and Methods of Compilation” [Hebrew] (Ph.D. thesis, Bar Ilan University, 1979), p. 74.

[29] See above n. 22.

[30] See Abraham Joshua Heschel, Torah from Heaven in the Speculum of the Generations [Hebrew] (New York: Soncino, 1962), 192.

[31] See Genesis Rabbah 4 for a more detailed elaboration of this imagery.

[32] The parable is based on Roman law and historical events, though molded to fit the literary context of the midrash. Under Roman law, only two Roman citizens and those granted the right of conubium could officially contract a legal marriage called justum matrimonium. Marriage between citizens and non-citizens was called matrimonium injustum with legal consequences for the status of the children and inheritance. This regulation was relaxed over time and became obsolete in 212CE when Caracalla granted citizenship to all free men in the Empire under the Constitutio Antoniniana. Significantly, Caracalla’s parents were the Emperor Severus and the Syrian-born Julia Domina. Although her father was a citizen and Severus married her before he became emperor, their marriage may still have inspired the marriage between an emperor and a Syrian in the parable. The theme of a king permitting himself to violate his own law so he could marry an otherwise forbidden relation is also reflected in Julia’s rumored advice to her son: “If you wish, you may; are you not aware that you are the emperor and that you make the laws and do not receive them?” (Historia Augusta, The Life of Antoninus Caracalla, 10, 2 [Loeb edition vol. 2 p. 27]). See further at Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary, 1942), 10-12; David Cherry, “The Minician Law: Marriage and the Roman Citizenship,” Phoenix 44 (1990), pp. 244-266; and Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 294.


[33] Translation from Judah Goldin, The Fathers According to Rabbi Natan (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1955), 140-1, with slight modification.

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