Biblical mile

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Biblical mile (Hebrew: מיל‎, romanized: mīl) is a unit of distance on land, or linear measure, principally used by Jews during the Herodian dynasty to ascertain distances between cities and to mark the Sabbath limit, equivalent to about of an English statute mile, or what was about four furlongs (stadia).[1] The basic Jewish traditional unit of distance was the cubit (Hebrew: אמה‎), each cubit being roughly between 46–60 centimetres (18–24 in)[2] The standard measurement of the biblical mile, or what is sometimes called tǝḥūm šabbat[3] (Sabbath limit; Sabbath boundary), was 2,000 cubits.[4][5]


The word mīl, as used in Hebrew texts between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, is a Roman loanword, believed to be a shortened adaptation of the Latin mīliarium, literally meaning, "milestone,"[6] and which word signifies "a thousand" [passuum <paces> of two steps each]; hence: Roman mile. The word appears in the Mishnah, a compendium of Jewish oral law compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince in 189 CE, and is used to this very day by religious Jews in the application of certain halachic laws.

Halachic applications

  • On Shabbat, one is not allowed to travel further than 1 biblical mile outside one's city; this law is known as techum shabbat. A procedure known as eruv techumin allows one to travel up to one more biblical mile.
  • The rabbinic ordinance of washing hands prior to eating bread requires of people travelling the roads to go as far as 4 biblical miles if there is a known water source that can be used for washing. This applies only to when the water source lies in one's general direction of travel. However, had he already passed the water source, he is not obligated to backtrack unless the distance is within 1 biblical mile.[7]
  • Sliced pieces of meat that are to be cooked in a pot require salting before they are cooked. The first process is rinsing in water followed by salting with any coarse salt, while laid over a grating or colander to allow for drainage. The salt is allowed to remain on the meat for the time that it takes to walk one biblical mile[8] (appx. 18– 24 minutes). Afterwards, the residue of salt is rinsed away with water, and the meat cooked. Salting in this way helps to draw out the blood.

Divergent methods

Nearly two thousand years of Jewish exile from the Land of Israel have given rise to disputes over the precise length of the biblical mile observed by the ancients. Some hold the biblical mile to be 1,152 m, while others hold it to be 960 m, depending on the length they prescribe to each cubit. Originally, the 2,000 cubit Sabbath limit was measured with a standard 50-cubit rope.

Divergent methods espoused by the Rabbis
Scholar Cubit Biblical mile
Avraham Chaim Naeh 48 centimetres (19 in)[9] 960 metres (3,150 ft)
Chazon-Ish 57.6 centimetres (22.7 in)[10] 1,152 metres (3,780 ft)
Ḏerāʿ (Egyptian cubit) 52.9 or 52.3 cm [11] 1,058 metres (3,471 ft)[12]

Distances between cities

See also


  1. Although a furlong (stadion) is an obsolete measure of length, according to the historian Josephus there were about four furlongs to a biblical mile. The Southern Wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is 922 feet (281 m) in length, and which Josephus equates as being equal to the length of one furlong (Greek: stadion). See: Josephus, Antiquities (15.11.3; XV.415–416), who described the dimensions of the Temple Mount in the following terms (apparently not including the extension made to the Temple Mount): “This hill was walled all round, and in compass four furlongs; [the distance of] each angle containing in length a furlong (Gr. stadion).” Compare Mishnah Middot 2:1 which states that the Temple Mount measured five-hundred cubits (Heb. amah) by five-hundred cubits. If it can be ascertained that Josephus' stadion is equivalent to the 500 cubits mentioned in the Mishnah, and being that the Southern Wall measured 281 meters, this would place each cubit (Heb. amah) at 56.205 cm. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, on the other hand, holds that a stadion was equivalent to only 470 cubits (v. Uziel Fuchs, "Millot HaMishnah" by R. Saadia Gaon — the First Commentary to the Mishnah, Sidra: A Journal for the Study of Rabbinic Literature, pub. Bar-Ilan University Press (2014), p. 66), in which case , each cubit was 59.792 cm, close to the 60 cm. cubit espoused by the Chazon-Ish.
  2. Depending on the standards given by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Naeh and the Chazon-Ish.
  3. Shulhan Arukh (Orach Chaim §297:2)
  4. Mishnah - with a Commentary of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (ed. Yosef Qafih), vol. 1, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1963, s.v. Kippurim 6:4
  5. Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 51a
  6. Moshe Fischer, Benjamin Isaac and Israel Roll, Roman Roads in Judaea II - The Jaffa-Jerusalem roads, B.A.R., Oxford 1996, p. 26 ISBN 0-86054-809-0
  7. Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Hil. Bikkurim 8:11); Jerusalem Talmud, Hallah 2:2; Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 34a; ibid. 46a
  8. Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah § 69:6; § 69:16; § 69:19
  9. Abraham Haim Noe, Sefer Ḳuntres ha-Shiʻurim (Abridged edition from Shiʻurei Torah), Jerusalem 1943, p. 17 (section 20)
  10. Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 39:14
  11. Dieter, Arnold (1991), Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press
  12. Figure represents the cubit of 52.9 cm.
  13. Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 2b); cf. Tosefta (Eruvin 7:2)
  14. Ishtori Haparchi, Sefer Kaftor Ve'ferah (vol. 2), ed. Avraham Yosef Havatzelet, Jerusalem 2007, (chapter 11) p. 56
  15. Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 46a)
  16. Jerusalem Talmud (ʿErūvin 5:7 [36b]); implied
  17. Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 24b)
  18. Babylonian Talmud (Ketubbot 111b). Historical geographer, Yoel Elitzur, in Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land - Preservation and History (Jerusalem 2004, pp. 383–384) has noted the following: "The distance from Lod to Kafr ʻĀna, commonly identified as Ono (today between Or Yehudah and Neve Monosson) is greater than specified in the Talmud (Ket. 111b). In Midrash Shir ha-Shirim, edited by Grünhut from a manuscript, the talmudic saying is cited with a significant difference: 'The distance from Lod to Ono was five miles,' but this particular source may reflect a later period, after the destruction of Ono itself."
  19. Jerusalem Talmud (Shevi'it 6:1); cf. Numbers 33:49