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July 12, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah – Mattot- Masei

This week’s Torah portion contains something that, at first glance, looks like the first urban growth boundary– a line drawn around the city to limit suburban sprawl.  It states that Levites shall have dozens of cities and that open land “shall be from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about” (Numbers 35:4) and that the Jews shall measure two thousand cubits around the city in every direction (35:5).

But this section is a bit confusing- first it says 1000 cubits and then 2000. What’s up with that? Rashi and Rashbam explain that this means that there shall be two 1000-cubit rings around the towns- one for open space and the other for agriculture.

One other thing I just noticed: the limits apply to the suburb-like rings around the towns.  In other words, the towns themselves can grow without any Torah-dictated limit.  So in theory you could have a large city surrounded by a 2000-cubit ring. (A cubit is about a foot and a half, so this means 3000 feet, or slightly over half a mile, in any direction).  On the other hand, these 2000-cubit rings wouldn’t support millions of people, so they’d be less useful near a larger city.  On the other other hand, the larger city might just have to import a larger amount of food etc from other places.  I would guess that in the context of First Temple Judaism, these issues wouldn’t matter much, because no town would be very big.


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