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On the Pasuk (Deut 17,8):

כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר ... וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' א' בּוֹ׃

If a case is too baffling for you to decide, ... you shall promptly ascend to the place that the LORD your God will have chosen...

Rashi brings Sifri (סנהדרין פ"ז), that the Temple is higher than "all other places":

"וקמת ועלית. מְלַמֵּד שֶׁבֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ גָּבוֹהַּ מִכָּל הַמְּקוֹמוֹת:"

If the assertion is empirical the question arises: how did they measure the height of the Jerusalem mountains, like the Mount of Olives, Mt. Scopus, the Temple Mount and others?

Was it just a tradition (which is clearly wrong) as Rashi himself brings in 33,12?:

"ובין כתפיו שכן. בְּגֹבַהּ אַרְצוֹ הָיָה בֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בָּנוּי, אֶלָּא שֶׁנָּמוּךְ עֶשְׂרִים וְשָׁלוֹשׁ אַמָּה מֵעֵין עֵיטָם, וְשָׁם הָיָה דַעְתּוֹ שֶׁל דָּוִד לִבְנוֹתוֹ, כִּדְאִיתָא בִשְׁחִיטַת קָדָשִׁים (זבחים נ"ד) אָמְרֵי נִתְתֵי בֵיהּ פּוּרְתָּא, מִשּׁוּם דִּכְתִיב "וּבֵין כְּתֵפָיו שָׁכֵן" — אֵין לְךָ נָאֶה בַּשּׁוֹר יוֹתֵר מִכְּתֵפָיו: "

  • Sifre aside, are there any other later interpretations that "the place the Lord will have chosen" is the physically highest place, as opposed to say, the "morally" highest place where the Sanhedrin would meet? I am wondering this because of the later interpretations/discussions of why Mt Sinai was chosen for the Revelation, since it was not physically the highest mountain, but because of other reasons..the plain meaning of Devarim 17:8 doesn't seem to absolutely positively indicate it would be THE highest physical place in the Land.. – Gary Aug 12 '18 at 18:17
  • @Gary I agree with spiritual readings of "the highest", but Rashi seems to follow the Pshat. Hence the question. Just as the Talmud says "ארץ ישראל גבוהה מכל הארצות" - what do you think that means - relatively to Nepal? – Al Berko Aug 13 '18 at 13:06
  • Chazal might not have known about Nepal...but they were doubtless familiar with the mountains of Lebanon and other places in the area, so they probably were intending it in a spiritual sense, IMO. Briefly looking around for elevation info, this - nabataea.net/Gifs/MiddleEastMap2.gif shows lots of areas with land elevations higher than that of Israel. – Gary Aug 14 '18 at 0:02
  • @WAF I couldn't say I understood the way of measuring, he does not mention the calculations just states there was a slope. Anyway I think such math/geometry didn't exist at least in the times of the first Temple. – Al Berko Dec 10 '18 at 10:42
  • @WAF Got it I love math. 1. By this method, you can only measure the relative height of adjacent mountains, but not distant ones. 2. To measure the abs height you have to have a ground zero (sea level) 3. This requires the rope to be straight parralel to the ground 4. This method is good for steep slopes like pictured but How do you measure a slope of a mile long? RAA"B says the rope was only 2m long? – Al Berko Dec 10 '18 at 12:10
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I don't know how they did measure mountains, but here is one way known to Tana'im that that was available to "them".

See רע"ב's last comment on Eruvin 5:4 for a method of measuring straight distances over sloped surfaces. They used a rope of known length and measured the curve piecewise. The purpose there is to establish the boundaries of t'chum shabas, which was always performed by repeatedly stretching out a rope of known length. This aspect of it comes up when a terrain feature gets in the way of the measurement.

The method, which is ascribed to R. Me'ir, is ideally the way the length of a curve is approximated here. To apply it to the height rather than width of a mountain, imagine that each of the dotted lines is a person (of constant height) and the solid lines are a rope held parallel to the ground. The person holds the rope to their chest while another person up the slope holds it to their feet. Then the lower one moves to stand in the higher one's spot and they repeat. The number of repeats times the measurer's height is the height of the mountain.

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They derived this fact from the verse itself.

The Sifrei (152) states:

וקמת ועלית מגיד שארץ ישראל גבוה מכל הארצות ובית המקדש מכל ארץ ישראל

"And you shall get up and you shall go up." This tells [us] that the Land of Israel is higher than all the lands, and the Holy Temple is [higher] than all of the Land of Israel.

This is slightly more elaborate in the Talmud (I bolded the key line):

Kiddushin 69a

עשרה יוחסים עלו מבבל: מאי איריא דתני עלו מבבל ניתני הלכו לארץ ישראל מילתא אגב אורחיה קמ"ל כדתניא וקמת ועלית אל המקום אשר יבחר ה' אלהיך מלמד שבית המקדש גבוה מכל ארץ ישראל וארץ ישראל גבוה מכל הארצות בשלמא בית המקדש גבוה מכל ארץ ישראל היינו דכתיב דברי דברי ריבות בשעריך וקמת ועלית אלא ארץ ישראל גבוה מכל ארצות מנלן דכתיב לכן הנה ימים באים נאם ה' לא יאמר עוד חי ה' אשר העלה את בני ישראל מארץ מצרים כי אם חי ה' אשר העלה ואשר הביא את בני ישראל מארץ צפון ומכל הארצות אשר הדחתים שם

TEN GENEALOGICAL CLASSES WENT UP FROM BABYLON. Why is it particularly taught: WENT UP FROM BABYLON; let him state, migrated to Eretz Yisrael? He thereby tells us something en passant. As it was taught: then shalt thou arise and get thee up unto the place which the lord thy God shall choose: this teaches that the Temple is higher than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is higher than all [other] countries. As for the Temple being higher than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, it is well: even as it is written, [If there arise...] matters of controversy in thy gates: then thou shalt arise and go up. But how do we know that Eretz Yisrael is higher than all [other] countries? — Because it is written: Therefore behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say: As the Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, as the Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them. (Soncino translation)

  • There's a slight problem with the tradition, as per your answer, as I mentioned in the second Rashi, they did know that Eyn Eytam is 23 Ama higher and the did not mentioned any biblical source. – Al Berko Aug 12 '18 at 6:20
  • The question as it stands now appears to be asking how they knew that the Beis Hamikdash was the highest point. If your question is actually how to reconcile two different sources on whether it was in fact the highest point, you should edit the question. – Alex Aug 12 '18 at 6:26
  • it says pretty explicitly "how did they measure the height of the Jerusalem mountains" – Al Berko Aug 12 '18 at 12:01
  • @AlBerko It says that in the context of the claim that the Temple Mount is the highest. Which would mean that the question is "how did they measure the mountains to know that the Temple Mount is the highest?" My answer to that is that they didn't measure; they derived it from the verse. If your real question is about the Rashi that you throw in almost as an afterthought, you should make that clearer. – Alex Aug 12 '18 at 13:37
  • I do accept that the first claim (of Sifri) was based on the tradition only, but back to my first comment - where did Ein Eytam come from? – Al Berko Aug 12 '18 at 16:11

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