I did some research regarding ancient structures, and it appears that at the time of the conquest (15th century BCE, Bronze age) there were no multi-story structures in Israel (or Canaan cultures).

Toward the 10-8th centuries BCE (Iron age), there were two-story houses, but they were relatively low - not higher than 2m (7ft) (the Gemmorah rules that a 1m (some say 0.7m - 2-3ft) high structure can legally be considered a house). See canaan Home &Family. We have lots of such structures excavated, and a lot of much later generations, scattered all over Jerusalem hills. In addition, they didn't have hard ground around the houses, which also made dying hardly possible.

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This leads me to the conclusion, that the wording of the verse is rather exact - the verse does only mention the fall, not death (Deuteronomy.22.8):

"כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ וְלֹא־תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ כִּי־יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ׃"
"When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it."

I understand that in the ancient world there were additional, probably much more common dangers, such as fire, deep pits and wells, dangerous tools (see unintentional murder), dangerous animals (see payments for raging bull injuries), and more (please suggest).

As we know, this Mitzvah was chosen later to represent dangers in general (Shulchan_Arukh_Choshen_Mishpat.427.7):

אחד הגג ואחד כל דבר שיש בו סכנה וראוי שיכשול בה אדם וימות כגון שהיתה לו באר (או בור) בחצירו בין שיש בו מים בין שאין בו מים חייב לעשות חוליא גבוה י' טפחים או לעשות לה כיסוי כדי שלא יפול בה אדם וימות:
Both a roof or anything dangerous where it's probable that someone will stumble upon and fall, for example if there was a well or a hole in his yard, whether there is water in it or not, one is obligated to make an embankment ten-handbreadths high, or to cover it, lest a person falls into it and die.

Why was falling off the roof chosen as a representation of common danger?

  • 2
    I recall seeing a Rishon somewhere (maybe Rashi) I will look for it soon, that says that the roof in those days was used as an extension of the house and a lot of time was spent there. Therefore it was the most common danger faced on an hourly basis
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 11:50
  • Well, technically, maakeh is about learning to worry about such things. If it were about the actual risk, communally owned property would also require them. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 20:02
  • Maybe you are giving a strong argument for revisionist dating. Something like starways.net/lisa/essays/care.html which cares more about Seder Olam and has Matan Torah in the 13th cent BCE. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 20:07
  • But as a Mussar Exercise, the risk needn't be real. Like the risk of offending your challah by making Qiddush without covering them isn't real. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 20:08
  • The standard for a pit to be lethal is ten tefachim according to Bava Kamma, so these houses should qualiy.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 9:28

1 Answer 1


Rashi explains that this was used as the common danger because someone who performs the mitzvah of shiluach hakan will deserve to build a house and then get further rewards (such as planting a vineyard as in the next pasuk). Additionally, Rashi explains that someone who does not build a parapet could come to have someone else who deserves death fall by accident. Thus building the parapet would prevent someone else from being hurt.

Devarim 22:8

When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].


When you build a new house, [you shall make a guard-rail for your roof]: If you have fulfilled the commandment of שִׁלּוּחַ הַקֵּן,“sending away [the mother bird from her] nest,” you will eventually build a new house and fulfill the commandment of מַעֲקֶה, guard-rail, because [the fulfillment of] one commandment pulls along with it [an opportunity to fulfill] another commandment [i.e., one commandment leads to another]. You will then come to [possess] a vineyard, a field, and fine clothes. Therefore, these passages are juxtaposed [that is, those just discussed, and the ensuing passages pertaining to vineyards, fields, and garments]. — [Tanchuma 1]

a guard-rail: Heb. מַעֲקֶה, a fence surrounding the roof. Onkelos renders: תְּיָקָא, like a sheath (תִּיק), which protects what is inside it.

that the one who falls should fall: That one [who would fall] deserves to fall [to his death on account of his sins]; nevertheless, you should not be the one to bring about his death, for meritorious things are executed through meritorious people, while things of ill-fortune are executed through guilty people. — [Sifrei 22:68]

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