February 13, 2007
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On yesterday's daf (=page) we learned that Hizkiya asserted that Tiberias was a walled city dating back to the time that the Jewish people entered the land of Israel at the end of their exodus from Egypt. This assertion is supported by a passage in Sefer (=the Book of) Yehoshua (19:35) that lists walled cities included in the area set aside for the tribe of Naftali, and includes cities in the vicinity of the Kinneret, including one that is identified as Tiberias.
Contemporary Tiberias was established in the year 18 CE by King Herod, who named the new city in honor of the Roman Caesar Tiberius. Although the city was built anew, it was established on the ruins of an ancient city ? according to most opinions in the Gemara, of the city Rakat. Due to its having been built on an ancient Jewish city, the Sages dealt with the problems of burial grounds that were no longer marked, and kohanim did not settle in the city.
The discussion of identifying ancient cities (a practice that still inspires debate and discussion in Israel today) leads the Gemara to discuss other cities and their history. One of the cities is Caesarea, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast. The city was established at the beginning of the second Temple era by the king of Sidon. Over the generations it became less and less important, and Alexander Yannai captured it and included it in the Kingdom of Judea. By the end of the second Temple period, King Herod had once again built it into an important port city. Nevertheless, from its beginning it was a city with a non-Jewish and even pagan quality to it. Caesarea became the administrative center of the Roman rule in Israel in the year 6 CE, and the tension between Jerusalem, the symbol of Jewish rule and independence, and Caesarea, is clearly expressed in the stories related in our Gemara. With the destruction of Jerusalem, Caesarea became the de facto capital of the country until the Muslim capture of the country.
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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Next: Megillah 7a-b