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Prior to the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Romans, I understand that sheep singled out for sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple were tended by their shepherds in the fields near Jerusalem in order to ensure their safety.

There appears to be a school of thought that the shepherds would not be out in the fields during the wet and cold winter months.

A counter-argument suggests that shepherds would stay with their flocks outdoors throughout the year to prevent attack from predators.

Is there any reference in the Jerusalem Talmud or Mishna to the duties of the temple shepherds with regard to protecting their flocks?

EDIT: For the avoidance of doubt, my question is not an attempt to give credance to any Christian traditions with regard to events pertaining to December 25th. This is an academic enquiry. I have an assignment on this topic which I must respond to by Monday 27 December. Can anyone help?

EDIT: From a different Stack Exchange site, reference was made to a source which suggested that, according to the Talmud, flocks were put out to the pasture in March and returned to pens in early November. However, I was unable to access the link: www.religioustolerance.org

In the Mishnah (Baba K, vii.7) it states: “One may not raise small domesticated animals, i.e., sheep and goats, in settled areas of Eretz Yisrael, as they graze on people’s crops.” https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Bava_Kamma.7.7?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

But my question is specific to the area around the temple in Jerusalem where sheep were kept under the watchful eye of shepherds to ensure those animals selected for sacrifice were in perfect condition. Given sacrifices did not stop between November and March, were the temple sheep brought indoors during these months?

Please accept my apologies for not making my question clear. No wonder nobody has answered!

P.S. The bounty has just under 14 hours left to run as of now and I will check it out before 9 a.m. here (U.K.)

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    Genesis 31:40, describing the lengths to which Ya'akov went to guard Lavan's flocks, implies Ya'akov guarded the flocks in inclement weather: "הָיִיתִי בַיּוֹם אֲכָלַנִי חֹרֶב וְקֶרַח בַּלָּיְלָה וַתִּדַּד שְׁנָתִי מֵעֵינָי". The Talmud (Bava Metzia 93b) indicates that this was beyond the call of duty for a hired shepherd.
    – Fred
    Dec 19, 2022 at 1:14
  • Interesting comment. But were the shepherds outside in the fields in winter with the sheep that were to be sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple (prior to A.D. 70)?
    – Lesley
    Dec 19, 2022 at 9:45
  • Although there is an agenda here, not sure it's technically off topic...
    – AKA
    Dec 20, 2022 at 17:50
  • I would be grateful if you could explain. If my question is off topic, how can I fix it?
    – Lesley
    Dec 20, 2022 at 17:52
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    The weather today (December 20) in Jerusalem was high of 66 and sunny, according to Google. Sounds to me like a nice day to be outside.
    – Heshy
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:43

1 Answer 1

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From my own research I have found some (limited) information on the Jerusalem Talmud:

The Jerusalem Talmud (Hebrew: תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשַׁלְמִי, romanized: Talmud Yerushalmi, often Yerushalmi for short), also known as the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud of the Land of Israel, is a collection of rabbinic notes on the second-century Jewish oral tradition known as the Mishnah. Naming this version of the Talmud after Palestine or the Land of Israel —rather than Jerusalem—is considered more accurate, as the text originated mainly from Galilee in Byzantine Palaestina Secunda rather than from Jerusalem, where no Jews lived at the time.

The Jerusalem Talmud predates its counterpart, the Babylonian Talmud (known in Hebrew as the Talmud Bavli), by about 200 years, and is written primarily in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. Both versions of the Talmud have two parts, the Mishnah (of which there is only one version), which was finalized by Judah ha-Nasi around the year 200 CE, and either the Babylonian or the Jerusalem Gemara. The Gemara is what differentiates the Jerusalem Talmud from its Babylonian counterpart. The Jerusalem Gemara contains the written discussions of generations of rabbis of the Talmudic Academies in Syria Palaestina at Tiberias and Caesarea, and was compiled into book form in around 350–400 CE.... This Talmud is a synopsis of the analysis of the Mishnah that was developed over the course of nearly 200 years by the Talmudic Academies in Syria Palaestina (principally those of Tiberias and Caesarea). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Talmud

Further research establishes that prior to the destruction of the temple by the Romans, climatic conditions in Jerusalem may have been wetter and cooler than they are today. The wet or rainy season is from the middle of October to the middle of April and the dry or summer season lasts from the middle of June until the middle of September. During December and January snow may fall in the north, near Mount Hermon, but it would be unusual to see snow in Jerusalem.

Land-use studies throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Mid-East show the prevalence of crops and forests, which were suited to cooler, wetter climates in the period 3,000 years ago. Also, large quantities of timber were used in the construction of Solomon’s temple, which again suggests that the climate in Israel was wetter and cooler thousands of years ago.

Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records climatic conditions and fertile soil suited to the growth of vineyards, figs, olives and fruit. (The Jewish War, Book 3, Chapter 10:8)

Conclusion: While it is possible that shepherds near Jerusalem might have tended to their flocks outdoors during the winter months, it seems more probable that they would bring their sheep indoors during the colder and wetter months of December and January. However, without any records going back to temple activities 2,000 years ago, the question must remain unanswered.

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  • Any sources for your conclusions?
    – Harel13
    Feb 1, 2023 at 13:52
  • From a different Stack Exchange site, reference was made to a source which suggested that, according to the Talmud, flocks were put out to the pasture in March and returned to pens in early November. I was unable to access the link: www.religioustolerance.org
    – Lesley
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:27
  • This is one source I found about the climate, suggesting it was wetter and colder during the winter months 2,000 years ago: : blog.adw.org/2014/07/…
    – Lesley
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:31
  • It's a great pity nobody responded with Jewish sources about how the sheep for temple sacrifice were looked after during the winter months 2,000 years ago. I would be happy to un-accept my own answer if someone else would like to post a useful answer.....
    – Lesley
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:35
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    Okay. The first link doesn't work for me as well, so the whoever suggested that to you, from my perspective, has no base for their claim. The second link doesn't really bring any sources, it's just some speculation. The issue with with desertification and deforestation do give some logical basis for this speculation. I will add a source of my own: When Hillel the Elder was young, he once climbed a building and lay on the roof through the night, until he was completely buried in snow (BT Yoma 35b). Some take this to suggest that Jerusalem winters were much harsher then than today.
    – Harel13
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:43

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