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Tractate Peah, Chapter 2, Tosefta 21

August 26th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
Tractate Peah, Chapter 2


Tosefta 211

[A farmer] who sprinkles2 his field [with water for the purpose of irrigation], to the point that the poor people will not enter it, [because it is too wet], is permitted [to do so], if the damage that is caused to him [by not sprinkling that much water] is greater than [the damage] caused to the poor people [by them not being able to collect the gifts to the poor from his field that day].3 But if the damage caused to the poor people [by them not being able to collect the gifts to the poor from his field that day] is greater than [the damage] caused to him, [then] it is forbidden4 [for the farmer to water his field to that extent.] Rebbi Yehuda says, either this way or that (i.e. does not matter whose damage is greater) [since the poor people cannot enter the field, the farmer] has to collect [the gifts to the poor from his field himself] and put them on top of the fence5 [around the field], and the poor person will come and will take what is [rightfully] his.6

מסכת פאה פרק ב

תוספתא כא

הַמְּרַבֵּץ אֶת שָׂדֵהוּ עד שֶׁלֹּא יִכָּנְסוּ עֲנִיִּים לְתוֹכוֹ, אִם הָיָה הֶזֵּיקוֹ מְרוּבֶּה עַל שֶׁל עֲנִיִּים מוּתָּר, וְאִם הֶיזֵּק הַעֲנִיִּים מְרוּבֶּה עַל שֶׁלּוֹ אָסוּר. רבי יְהוּדָה אוֹמר בֵּין כָּךְ וּבֵין כָּךְ מְלַקֵּט וּמֵנִיח עַל גַּבֵּי גָדֵר וְהֶעָנִי בָּא וְנוֹטֵל אֶת שֶׁלּוֹ.


1. Since the previous Tosefta mentioned irrigated fields, this Tosefta states a new law regarding irrigated fields and gifts to the poor. It seems to me that this Tosefta is not commenting directly on any particular Mishna. In Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 5:3, Daf 26b) this Tosefta is quoted on a Mishna (Peah 5:3) that discusses the argument between Rebbi Meir and the Chachamim (Sages) regarding the permissibility of “spinning the Tofeach” right before the poor people would come into the field to collect the gifts to the poor. Spinning the Tofeach refers to watering the field with an irrigation device called in Hebrew, טופיח (Tofeach), which is known in Greek as ἀντλία (Antlia), meaning “a water pump”, or πολυκαδία (Polukadia), meaning “many buckets”. In English it is known as a Persian waterwheel. The name Tofeach is referring to a clay pitcher, or a set of pitchers, that is attached to the rope pulled by the wheel, which is automatically refilled with water from a water source over which the wheel spins. After the pitcher rises it spills over onto a wooden trough which then directs the water through a series of channels onto the field. The pitcher goes back down into the water and the cycle repeats. Such devices were common throughout the Roman empire, as mentioned by the Roman poet Lucretius (On the Nature of Things 5:516) and by the famous Roman architect Vitruvius (On Architecture 10:4). The source of energy that drove the wheel was either rushing or falling water or if there was none, then the wheel was spun by another wheel which was in turn spun by animals or slaves. The earliest extant source that depicts a Persian waterwheel is a fresco from the Wardian Tomb in Alexandria, Egypt, dated to the Hellenistic period, 2nd century BCE, which depicts two oxen spinning a wheel which turns the waterwheel with the buckets. The fresco is currently housed in the Graeco-Roman Museum, in Alexandria, Egypt, location: 83. There are still a few Persian waterwheel wells extant in Israel, in Ashkelon Archaeological Park, Nachalat Reuven Museum in Nes Tziona, and in Mazkeret Batya. For more information on this device and its use in antiquity see John Peter Oleson, “Greek and Roman Mechanical Water-Lifting Devices: The History of a Technology,” Springer, 1984, p. 325-370.

Persian water-wheel, used for irrigation in Nubia. Lithograph by Louis Haghe from a painting by David Roberts from 1838 in Egypt. Notice that the wheel itself is spun by oxen.

Persian waterwheel well, in Mazkeret Batya, Israel, originally constructed in 1883 and reconstructed in 1994. Photo: Avishai Teicher, Wikimedia Commons.



Wardian Tomb fresco from 2nd century BCE, which depicts two oxen spinning a wheel which turns the waterwheel with the buckets. Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, Egypt, location: 83. Photo: Werner Forman Archive, used with permission. 

The Yerushalmi connects this Tosefta with that Mishna, because the reasoning behind the Mishna’s argument seems to be that the water wheel puts so much water on the field that it prevents the poor people from entering to collect the gifts to the poor. The comparison between the rulings of the Mishna and the Tosefta is logical, however it does not seem to that this Tosefta was written as a direct comment on that Mishna, but rather as a separated, unrelated statement, which is why they look completely dissimilar in the way that they are phrased.

2. In the Erfurt manuscript the word הַמְּרַבֵּץ (Hamerabetz) is spelled הַמַרְבִּיץ (Hamarbitz). According to Marcus Jastrow both spellings are correct and may reflect different pronunciations due to variations in the spoken Hebrew dialect at the time of the Tosefta, which is what implied from different sources throughout the Talmudic literature where this word appears. Regardless of the spelling and pronunciation the meaning of this word remains the same, which is “irrigation by sprinkling” or just “sprinkling”, as opposed to the word השקה (Hashaka), which literally means “contact”, but more specifically “making water in one vessel connect with the water in another vessel by direct contact of the water contained in both vessels”. The key subtlety being that during sprinkling a droplet of water flies through the air before it lands and therefore there is no direct contact between water in the vessel from which it is sprinkled and the water in the vessel into which the droplet lands. See Marcus Jastrow, “Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature”, 2nd Edition, 1926, p. 1445, entry רבץ.

3. The Tosefta does not explain how such damage can be assessed, which would seem to be an almost impossible job.

4. The Tosefta states that the farmer is forbidden from watering his field that much, but it implies that if he violated the law and did it anyway, he would not need to compensate the poor for the produce which they could not collect, as implied from the following statement of Rebbi Yehuda.

5. It does not literally mean that the farmer has to put the produce on top of the fence. But rather he has to put it in a way that it is accessible without entering inside the field.

6. It seems to me that Rebbi Yehuda argues on the opinion of the Tanna Kama due to the non-practical resolution of the case. As I mentioned in the previous note it is not really possible to determine who will suffer a bigger loss. Also it will cause animosity between the farmer and the poor, because regardless of who in reality shares the bigger loss and has the law on his side, the farmer will always feel that his field is being ruined due to lack of irrigation and the poor will always feel that they are not getting their share of the gifts. Rebbi Yehuda says that in the end all we are concerned with is that the poor get the produce to which they are entitled. Since the matter can be solved by letting the farmer use which ever irrigation methods he wants, that is the best compromise. Rebbi Yehuda provides a solution from which both the farmer and the poor gain from. Since the farmer is responsible to collect all of the gifts to the poor from the field and put them on the outside of the field for the poor to take he would be allowed to water his field however he wants.


  1. Laurence Shore
    July 31st, 2013 at 20:16 | #1

    Welcome back. The English is much clearer than previous.

  2. Yaakov
    January 7th, 2014 at 22:13 | #2

    Pretty upset. I know your busy but was really hoping this would be an ongoing thing.

    Thank for all the hours you already put in.


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