The Holy City of . . . Lod?
A side story on today’s daf seems to have a negative view of the city of
Lod. The Gemara reports a conversation between Rabbi Simlai and Rabbi Yochanan where Rabbi Simlai asks Rabbi Yochanan to teach him Sefer Yochsin (Divrei HaYamim). Rabbi Yochanan wants to know where Rabbi Simlai is from and upon hearing that he is from Lod and lives in Nehardea, refuses to teach him. Rabbi Yochanan claims that we do not teach people from Lod and from Nehardea and you are from both those places!
Why does Rabbi Yochanan look down on Lod (Nehardea is not in Eretz Yisrael so someone else will have to deal with that question!)? Lod is an ancient city, located in central
We already hear about it in Tanakh, it is in the tribe of Benjamin and is resettled in the time of Ezra and Nehemia. It is centrally located, about a day’s walk from
Jerusalem, and on the border between the coast and the Shfelah (lowlands). Lod was known as a wealthy city and its merchants were well known. Some products were even named after the city: “Lodian” barrels, a special “Lodian” cake made from wheat.
Most significantly for our purposes, Lod was a city of scholars. Among the important rabbis who resided in Lod were Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Rabbi Tarfon (both wealthy men as well). We hear about other scholars who pass through Lod or reside there for a time: Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yosi haGelili are notable ones. In fact, Rabbi Akiva examined forty pairs of new moon witnesses in Lod (Mishnah Rosh haShana 1:6).
Lod is also well known for the rabbinical meetings held there. Certain homes seem to have hosted the rabbis and their pronouncements became associated with these places. The most famous of such meetings was held in Nitza’s attic (עליית בית נתזה) where the rabbis determined the list of sins that one must be killed for, rather than transgress (Sanhedrin 74).
So if Lod was so wealthy and prominent why does Rabbi Yochanan hold such a low opinion of Loddites? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that all the rabbis mentioned above are Tannaim, who lived from the early-mid second century CE. Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Simlai are Amoraim, from the mid third century CE. By that point, after the Bar-Kokhba revolt, the areas near
Jerusalem had lost much of their Jewish population and the center of intellectual life moved north, to the Galilee. Rabbi Yochanan himself is based in Tiberias. Maybe he cannot imagine that a strong Jewish life can be rekindled in the south and therefore is reluctant to entrust secret knowledge to someone from Lod.
An interesting postscript to the story is a discovery made in Lod in 1996, many centuries after our story takes place. In the course of road construction, an amazing mosaic floor was discovered:
It is filled with images of animals, but not of people, and it does not contain any religious symbols. It dates to the late 3rdcentury but its artist and owner did not leave us any clues as to their ethnicity or religion. Could it have belonged to one of the Jews still left in Lod at that time?
Thanks to the book ארץ הצבי ואתריה במקורותינו by Rav Shraga Weiss.