The Mishna in Ketubot Chapter 5 describes the basic diet of a working-class woman at the time (around the year 200):

ה,ז [ח] המשרה את אשתו על ידי שליש--לא יפחות לה מקביים חיטים, או מארבעת קבים שעורים; אמר רבי יוסי, לא פסק שעורים, אלא רבי ישמעאל שהיה סמוך לאדום. נותן לה חצי קב קטנית, וחצי לוג שמן, וקב גרוגרות, או מנה דבילה; אם אין לו, פוסק לעומתם פירות ממקום אחר. ... במה דברים אמורים, בעני שבישראל; אבל במכובד, הכול לפי כבודו.

Wheat or barley; beans; [olive] oil (though the commentaries aren't sure if this was for eating or lighting); figs or dates; or nutritional equivalent. "These [guidelines] were only stated regarding a poor person, but a high-class person should match his status [when providing for his wife]."

Okay I see the basic macronutrients covered here; but what about calcium? Yes we have kosher laws all about milk and cheese, but that didn't seem to be as common a part of the staple diet? No? Or did this dairy Babylonian kutach (Pesachim 3:1) condiment help, and if so, was it included (implied?) in the basic diet described above?

Or did figs make enough of a calcium source?

  • Medicine? Why medicine?
    – WAF
    Jun 13, 2011 at 16:38
  • 1
    @WAF, wouldn't you include nutritional requirements under the field of "medicine"? I think classical rabbi-physicians such as Ramban did; no?
    – Shalom
    Jun 13, 2011 at 16:54
  • I don't know too much about medicine, but now I understand why you categorized it that way.
    – WAF
    Jun 13, 2011 at 18:50
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the history of near east nutrition is not on topic.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 19, 2016 at 6:47
  • 1
    @Shalom Answers don't determine whether or not a question is on topic, so that is obviously completely irrelevant.
    – Double AA
    Aug 4, 2016 at 19:35

2 Answers 2



It may surprise you to know that when you eat a half-cup of figs you get as much calcium as when you drink a half-cup of milk.


However, olive oil is relevant to another part of the calcium puzzle, which is the calcium absorption. Calcium is unfortunately one of the hardest minerals for our bodies to absorb.

This means that a significant amount of the calcium that we ingest through food simply gets flushed through our bodies without being absorbed into the bloodstream and being transmitted to our bones.

However, certain substances helps the calcium absorption, and this helps us to get the calcium we need from the food we eat into our bloodstreams and from there to our teeth and bones.

For example, vitamin D, which we get from sunlight and from some food, aids calcium absorption. There are also some foods, which helps with the calcium absorption, and olive oil is one of them.


Seems to me that this whole question is based on a misunderstanding. The mishnah is not describing the diet of a poor woman. It is describing the supplies that the husband is obligated to provide to her as part of her basic rights as a wife.

Most people had some livestock, either goats, sheep or cows in the times of the Mishanah. Milk spoiled within hours. Because of this, fresh milk was not a commodity you purchased it was something that was around for the entire family to consume immediately before it went bad. It didn't have to be listed in a list of supplies that the husband must provide his wife.

Notice also that all of the supplies that are listed are essentially dry goods. The Mishnah doesn't say figs it says DVEILA which is dried figs.

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