The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

פך שמן (A jar of oil)

"So", I was asked in shul the other day, "just how big is a cruse?"

We all know that the Maccabees found one jar of undefiled menorah oil when they searched the Temple. It was just enough for one day, but it miraculously lasted for eight. I always envisioned it was some tiny bottle, misplaced in the rubble, but was that the case? The answer appears to be given in Mishnah Menachot 9:3. (Also in the Bavli, appropriately on דף פח (yes, I know the spelling is פך (and, oddly, there it is the 3rd Mishnah in Chapter 10. But I digress. Deeply.))):
ושלושה ומחצה למנורה, מחצי לוג לכל נר
So, three-and-a-half log was the daily quantity for the menorah. A log is roughly a pint, so that "little" jar was just under two quarts (or liters). Now this was presumably a tightly sealed earthenware jar, so what we have here is the earthenware equivalent of a two-liter pop bottle. Not so little, after all.


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