Biblical and Talmudic units of measurement

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The ancient Israelites used a distinct system of measurements, which appears within the Hebrew Bible as well as in later Jewish writing, such as the Mishnah and Talmud. These units of measurement are still an important part of Jewish life today.

There is much debate, within Judaism, as well as by outside scholars, about the exact relationship between measurements in the system and those in other measurement systems, such as the International Standard Units system used in many parts of the modern world, and in modern scientific writing. Classical statements, such as that an Etzba was seven barleycorns laid side by side, or that a Log was equal to six medium-sized eggs, are so indefinite and vague as to be nearly useless.

Nevertheless, the entire system of measurement corresponds almost exactly with the Babylonian system, and in all probability the Israelite measurement system was derived from the Babylonian, with some lesser level of influence from the Egyptian system.[1] It may therefore be assumed that the relationship between the Israelite measurements and SI units is the same as the relationship between the Babylonian system and SI Units.[1]

Note: The measurements have lowest and highest acceptable halakhic value in terms of conversion to either metric or Imperial measurements.


Length and distance

The original measures of length were clearly derived from the human body - the finger, hand, arm, span, foot, and pace - but since these measures differ between individuals, they must be reduced to a certain definite standard for general use. The Israelite system thus used divisions of the fingerbreadth (Hebrew: אצבע, Etzba; plural etzba'ot), palm (Hebrew: טפח, Tefah/Tefach; plural Tefahim/Tefachim), span (Hebrew: זרת, Zeret), ell (Hebrew: אמה, Amah, plural Amot), mile (Hebrew: מיל, Mil; plural milin), and parasang (Hebrew: פרסה, Parasa). The latter two are loan words into the Hebrew language, and borrowed measurements - the Latin mile, and Persian Parasang, respectively; the Persian Parasang was approximately (but not exactly) equal to 4 Roman miles. The Israelite measurements were related as follows:

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