I take the position that everything in the Talmud is there for a reason. That reason could be transmitting relevant facts through the generations. Even if they are not facts, surely there is a lesson there to be learned.

But then I hear rabbis comparing the size of their male attributes:

Rabbi Yochanan said: The male organ of Rabbi Yishmael son of Rabbi Yosei was as large as a nine-kav canteen. Rav Papa said: Rabbi Yochanan's male organ was as large as a five-kav canteen; others say, three kavs. The male organ of Rav Papa himself was as [large as] a Harpanian basket. [Bava Metzia 84a]

I hear a rabbi boast of his own beauty:

Rabbi Yochanan said: I am the only one remaining of Jerusalem's men of outstanding beauty ... When the daughters of Israel come out of the mikvah, let them look at me, that they may bear sons as beautiful and as learned as I am. [Bava Metzia 84a]

Rabbi Eleazar fell ill and Rabbi Yochanan went in to visit him… He noticed that… Rabbi Eleazar was weeping, and he said to him: Why do you weep?... He replied to him: I am weeping on account of this beauty [of yours] that is going to rot in the earth. He said to him: On that account you surely have a reason to weep. And they both wept. [Berachot 5b]

I hear rabbis comparing the beauty of various women:

The Rabbis taught: There have been four women of exceptional beauty in the world: Sarah, Rahav, Abigail and Esther… Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: [Actually, I heard that] Esther was sallow, [even though she was] endowed with great charm. [In that case, they said], Vashti should replace Esther in the list. Our Rabbis taught: Rahav inspired lust by her name [alone] ... Rabbi Isaac said: Whoever says “Rahav, Rahav!” has an immediate orgasm. Rabbi Nahman said to him: I say “Rahav, Rahav!”, and nothing happens to me. [Rabbi Isaac] replied: I was speaking of someone who [really] knows her and is intimate with her... Yael inspired lust by her voice, Abigail by the memories she left in people, Michal, Saul’s daughter, by her appearance. [Megillah 13a, 15a]

And I wonder: Why are these stories there? Even if factual, what can we learn from them?

Here is my conclusion. These stories are there to teach us that it is OK for men to talk like that among themselves. If great rabbis do it, so can we. It is not sinful, not lashon hara', nobody is being insulted. It is a harmless concession to human vanity.

Am I right? If not, what other explanations are there?

  • Partial duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/37458/… – Alex Dec 20 '19 at 3:13
  • See Maharsha and Maharal to all those gemarros. They try to justify their existence in the gemarra – robev Dec 20 '19 at 3:16
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    VTC as too broad. All of these have answers, but they're very different answers from one another. Focus on each one on its own and I can write up an answer for you. – DonielF Dec 20 '19 at 3:25

Maimonides in his Introduction to the (his) Commentary on the Mishnah explains that Ravina and Rav Ashi, the authors of the Talmud, wanted a way to pass on the inner-most secrets of Torah (known as Torat Ha'sod) so they hid it in the Talmud by use of code. And that's the reason there are many many odd stories in the Talmud - they aren't meant to be taken at face value. Their true meaning is much deeper.

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