Saturday, April 02, 2016

Where's The Fork?

I came accross an interesting line in the Gemara the other day. Kiddushin 46a cites a baraita which the Amoraim find confusing. Rabbi Yohanan describes the confusion as follows:

Said R. Johanan: Behold a table, meat and knife, yet we have no mouth to eat!

Soncino explains (based on Rashi) the obvious meaning of the metaphor:

The Mishnah stands before us, but it is inexplicable.

All fine. But my question is: "Where's The Fork?" How were the Amoraim planning on eating their meat after having placed it on the table and cut it with the knife?

Steel and iron-gilt French forks from 1550-1600.

The answer is obvious but not necessarily well-known. The humble table fork was not invented or used until hundreds of years after the time of the Gemara.

It is true that In Shemot 27:3 the Torah states

וְעָשִׂיתָ סִּירֹתָיו לְדַשְּׁנוֹ וְיָעָיו וּמִזְרְקֹתָיו וּוְעָשִׂיתָ סִּירֹתָיו לְדַשְּׁנוֹ וְיָעָיו וּמִזְרְקֹתָיו וּמִזְלְגֹתָיו וּמַחְתֹּתָיו לְכָל-כֵּלָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה נְחֹשֶׁת

And thou shalt make its pots to take away its ashes, and its shovels, and its basins, and its flesh-hooks [mazleg], and its fire-pans; all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass.

Similar usage of the term mazleg are found in Shemot 38:3 and Bemidbar 4:14

And also in I Shmuel 2:13 the verse states:

And the priests’ custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook [mazleg] of three teeth in his hand.

As well as in the next verse in Shmuel and twice in Divrei HaYamim.

But each time it refers to a cooking implement, rather than an eating implement.

In the mishna the term mazleg appears twice (Shabbat 17:2 and Keilim 13:2) and in both cases refers to cooking implements (in Keilim it is an attachment stuck on to one end of a zoma listra) rather than to eating implements.

But forks didn't join the dinner table until much, much later.

Well after the time of the Amoraim, in the 11th century, St. Peter Damian had this to say about forks (which presumably had begun to enter the cutlery set by that time

God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating.

So how did the Amoraim eat their meat? By stabbing it with their pointed knife and putting it into their mouths of course. Except that with regard to this line of Gemara the Amoriam have no mouth to eat.

No comments:

Post a Comment