4

The wikipedia entry of gematria starts by stating the following:

Gematria [...] is an Assyro-Babylonian-Greek system of code and numerology later adopted into Jewish culture that assigns numerical value to a word or phrase[...]

This statement was somewhat shocking to me, given the fact that I always believed this practice was of completely jewish origin.

Wikipedia supports this claims with the following information:

Although the term is Hebrew, it most likely derives from Greek geōmetriā, "geometry", which was used as a translation of gēmaṭriyā, though some scholars believe it to derive from Greek grammateia.

and

The first attested use of gematria occurs in an inscription of Assyrian ruler Sargon II (727–705 BC) stating that the king built the wall of Khorsabad 16,283 cubits long to correspond with the numerical value of his name. Gematria or isopsephy was borrowed into the Greek probably soon after their adoption of the Semitic writing system.

Maybe at first it doesn't seem like a big issue that we use this, possibly Hellenistic, method in Torah study. Until you find out there are multiple Halachot learned from gematria. Is there an opposing opinion about the origins of gematria? If not, how can we trust this method?

  • 6
    What was not clearly articulated in the answers there, is that there are authorities who hold that those laws are not actually derived from "Gematriyot". Rather, the gematriyot serve as mere asmachtot. – mevaqesh Feb 14 '16 at 3:43
  • 3
    We learn halachos from kal vachomer also, and that was presumably [citation needed] done by non-Jews before it was done by Jews (indeed, before there were Jews). I don't see the problem with this. – msh210 Feb 14 '16 at 8:59
  • 2
    People used spoken and written language before Jews did and we learn lots of halakhot from the language of the Torah. – Daniel Feb 14 '16 at 13:19
  • Of PaRDeiS, halakhah derives from derash; gematria is a tool of remez. No halakhos are learned from gematrios. Rather, gematrios post-facto add significance to existing halakhos. (Oops, just noticed @mevaqesh said something similar already.) I am not insisting on this, but maybe gematria was taught by Sheim and Ever, Sargon's and our ancestors? Much like ubiquity of the week in the pre-Torah Middle East, I see this as an expected consequence of our beliefs, not a challenge to them. – Micha Berger Feb 18 '16 at 15:43
  • 1
    @msh210 the problem is that Qal vahomer is intrinsically logically. Numerical value of letters is not. – mevaqesh Feb 19 '16 at 5:03
3

Thing is, we use Greek gematria also. The Midrash (Yalkut on the Torah, Remez 20 and 692; Bereishis Rabbah 14:2; Bamidbar Rabbah 4:3; Tanchuma, Parshas Bamidbar 18) and Yerushalmi (Yevamos 4:2) record an exchange between a Greek and R' Avahu. There is a concept that some babies are to be born after seven months, while others are to be born after nine. A baby born after eight months is presumed to be an early nine-monther and not a late seven-monther. Therefore, the baby is presumed not to be viable (at least back then, when they didn't have the medical equipment we have today.) The Greek asked R' Avahu to prove that an eight-monther will not survive. R' Avahu proved it to him from Greek: zeta, which has a value of seven, means "life," while eta, which has a value of eight, means "death."

Maharzu to the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah explains this in light of the passuk of "Yefes will dwell in the tents of Shem" (Bereishis 9:27). This is interpreted to mean that there is some chachmah in Greek (Yavan was one of Yefes' sons - Bereishis 10:2) like there is in Hebrew, to the point that although a Torah may not be written in other languages, it may be written in Greek (Megillah 9b). So the fact that Gematria exists in Greek doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

As far as the etymology of the word, deriving it from geōmetriā (γεωμετρία), that's actually the Tosfos Yom Tov's understanding (Avos 3:18, or 3:23 in other editions).

It sounds likely that it went from these languages to Assyrian, and not the other way around, though I don't have a source to back up that claim.

  • "Thing is, we use Greek gematria also." How is this relevant to the question? The problem was that the system doesn't seem to be a Jewish system. That is, that Jews got it from other cultures. If, as the OP thinks, the system is more than just a form if asmachta, then how does that jive. – mevaqesh Apr 6 '17 at 18:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .