Are there commentaries that suggest that the flood during the time of Noach was localised to one geographic area, as opposed to the whole Earth. In Bereishit 8:9 when the dove was sent out it says:

וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ לְכַף־רַגְלָ֗הּ וַתָּ֤שָׁב אֵלָיו֙ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֔ה כִּי־מַ֖יִם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ וַיִּקָּחֶ֔הָ וַיָּבֵ֥א אֹתָ֛הּ אֵלָ֖יו אֶל־הַתֵּבָֽה׃

Furthermore, the following passuk says that everything 'under all of shamayim' was covered (7:19):

וְהַמַּ֗יִם גָּ֥בְר֛וּ מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹ֖ד עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיְכֻסּ֗וּ כָּל־הֶֽהָרִים֙ הַגְּבֹהִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־תַּ֖חַת כָּל־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃

However, throughout the flood story this is the only time the phrase "אֲשֶׁר-תַּחַת, כָּל-הַשָּׁמָיִם" is used. The only instance that the more all encompassing term of "עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ" is used is when the the dove is sent out, otherwise its not used.

It seems, from the pesukim, that its not clear as to whether the whole earth was indeed covered. Since the plain meaning of the pesukim does not make it abundantly clear that the whole earth was covered do any commentaries address this issue by saying that only specific localities were affected by the flood?

  • 3
    It doesn't say that the dove saw the whole earth, only that it couldn't land anywhere because water was over the whole earth.
    – Yishai
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:18
  • Point taken. Thanks. Still interested if commentaries insist on whole earth being covered
    – bondonk
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:41
  • I think i've seen people bring opinions like that here, but can't find it right now.
    – Scimonster
    Nov 1, 2016 at 12:27
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    @MonicaCellio I think you may be referring to the Gemara Zevachim 113a where there is a disagreement if the flood extended to E.Y. However, whether that implies the entire rest of the world was affected seems debatable to me.
    – Jay
    Nov 1, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    @DanF that would negate the entire proof
    – user6591
    Nov 1, 2016 at 15:05

4 Answers 4


Rabbi Meiselman's book "Torah, Chazal and Science" addresses the concept of a local flood (p.556 heading 'A local deluge'):

In the early 20th century the observant community of Germany was an integral part of the surrounding intellectual world. Consequently, the challenges posed by modern thought and research were grequent subjects of discussion. One issue that was hotly debated was the lack of geological evidence for the Mabul. A theory was advanced at that time that the Mabul was actually a local flood, which is why it left no mark in features far from the Middle East [50]. This theory came to be widely accepted among observant German Jews wishing to preserve their connections to the academic world.

Of course, the concept of a 'local flood' is open to many interpretation. It can mean anything from the coastal effects of a Black Sea squall to a major deluge encompassing large portions of the globe. The size of the Teivah, however, was far beyond what would have been necessary for even a major squall on the Black Sea...

[50] To the best of my knowledge, Rav Dov Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921) was the first rabbinic authority to adopt this view.

In chapter 66, section 4 Rabbi Meiselman brings the opinion of Rabbi J B Soloveitchik (whom he calls Mori veRebbi):

Some of his students once asked Mori veRebbi, ztz"l, his view of the theory that the Mabul was a local flood. He answered that he did not believe that it was, but in any case one must believe minimally that it covered the entire part of the world inhabited by humans and most probably animal life as well. Both the pesukim and Chazal record that all life was destroyed and that Noach was the progenitor of all subsequent human life; consequently this much cannot be deined.

Rabbi Meiselman's approach and understanding of other Rabbi's is contested here.

  • worth noting, I think Rabbi Meiselman also holds to the idea that the 6 days weren't eras i.e. that the earth is ~6000 years old. dovidgottlieb.com/thoughts This link is interesting and has further debate jeremy-wieder-lectures.blogspot.co.uk
    – barlop
    Nov 7, 2016 at 9:20
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    From the quote it doesn't seem like Rabbi Meiselman is arguing on the approach. The Slifkin article also doesn't imply that. Also, why don't you actually quote some of the opinons in Slifkin's article?
    – user6591
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:38
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    Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman wrote that the Mabul did not cover the entire planet, but only the “world” of the Torah. This was also the view of Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a leading disciple of the Chazon Ish), who brought some excellent proofs from the Gemara that “olam” does not always refer to the entire planet. My own mentor in these matters, Rav Aryeh Carmell, z’l, told me explicitly (based upon conversations that he had with his own mentors) that, just as Rambam stated regarding Creation, the account of the Deluge need not be literally true in all of its parts.
    – user6591
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:39
  • ^^^ from Slifkin
    – user6591
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:39
  • 3
    Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt"l said that the flood only occurred in Mesopotamia. He brings a diyyuk in the Pesukim to support his assertion. I will attempt to locate and provide the recording.
    – Chaim
    Nov 7, 2016 at 20:23

Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz (1690-1764) writes in Tiferes Yehonasan top of second column that the Mabul did not reach the okianus ocean that surrounds the world. He also mentions that assuming America was not settled by people yet, the Mabul would not have been there as well.


Noah’s flood

Is it possible that the entire world, with the exception of one family, become totally corrupt and required obliteration without the chance to repent? Can it be that the Bible is exaggerating the entire event in order to make a point? Is it possible that the entire world was not flooded, but just a single, local flood, as scientists now suggest?

Yes! Rabbi Marc Shapiro has an article saying that the whole world was not covered during the flood.

What is the meaning of the metaphor?

The myth of Noah’s flood has a moral twist, a lesson that the pagan myths lacked. It also teaches us how to understand the Bible. For instance, the flood tells us that acts have consequences. It uses hyperbole, exaggeration to highlight the happening in saying that the whole world was evil so G-d returns it to it previous condition, that of water.

But under the law of nature created by G-d, these consequences affect both the guilty and innocent (animals). This is what is meant when we read Exodus 20:5, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” By analyzing the flood story we learn two things. That the Bible has morality unlike the Greek pagan myths and that natural law and reason demands that acts have consequences, even for generations.


In short, the story of Noah’s flood helps us understand the Bible.


Obviously not. Here is an excellent essay by Dr. Marc B. Shapiro on the issue.

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