Infant Mortality in The Land of Israel

in Late Antiquity

Meir Bar-Ilan

I Jewish Social history of Late Antiquity

Generally speaking, the rise of social studies did not leave an impression on the study of Judaism in Late Antiquity. Needless to say that the 19th century scholars of Jewish history were not interested in social studies, since the whole issue of social studies did not achieve its academic momentum till the 20th century. But even after philosophy lost its influence in the humanities and the possible contribution of social studies took its place before the Second World War, still the majority of historians of the Jewish past concentrated on the same issues that had been discussed a century earlier. Little by little the social sciences gained acceptance among historians, though only in the study of Biblical times can one see this new interest in the social sciences.1

Among Talmudic scholars, and historians dealing with that era in particular, the queen of the sciences, so to speak, is still philology. One can point to only few attempts to evaluate the old sources by using different and modern disciplines such as anthropology.2 It should be noted that while historians of Jewish society in Late Antiquity confined themselves to the old methods of historiography, historians of the first Christians opened a new path in this field, feeling and showing the importance of social studies in the understanding of the past.3 That is to say that different methods are used by different scholars in analyzing almost the same society. On the whole, there is still much to do in this field of the social history of the Jewish people in the first centuries preceding the destruction of the temple, and later.4

Suppose one admits that the social facets of life are important or even crucial to the understanding of the past, there appears another obstacle: the paucity of evidence. Historians of Europe, for example, can accumulate data from archives, some of which contain treasures for the historians. Even those who are interested in the Roman Empire, for example, where no archives have survived, still have tens of thousands of texts: books and papyrology, not to speak of epigraphy from tombstones to royal monuments. These texts, even small portions of them, could be mined to support evidence for a modern scholar who wants to study demography in antiquity, for instance.5 Obviously this is not the case in Jewish sources. Though the Rabbinic sources were transmitted orally, showing their rather popular background, their main concern was legal issues. It does not mean that legends and other non-legal material might not be found in Rabbinic documents, but if a scholar seeks evidence of social life in these texts, it will not be easy. Be it as it may, the Rabbinic sources are far from helpful in supporting social data, and it should not be overlooked that two centuries ago scholars thought that these documents are not worth much even for 'regular' historiography.

Being aware of the importance of social history on the one hand, and knowing the weaknesses of the methods in regard to their related sources on the other, I decided to look for incidents of such social-life behavior that might clarify the issues; that is to say, relatively supportive data from Rabbinic sources concerning one issue only, while trying to show the relevance of social history to the modern study of the Jewish past. Consequently, it seems that the subject that might answer the question for the time being is infant mortality, which will be dealt with henceforth.

Infant mortality is the rate of deaths of children, without necessarily giving exact ages (usually ages 0-18), per any given births.6 Statistic-wise the figures are the sum of deaths out of 1000 births. This fact, together with others, such as: age at marriage, number of children per family, life expectancy and more, might suggest the population growth of the society, reflect standards of living and show other facets of the society which will be discussed below. It should be noted from the beginning that in such a study there is no intention to concentrate on specific causes of death, or to analyze the ethical and religious values derived from such incidents.7 Moreover, since it is the first attempt to discuss this issue on the one hand, and there is much to do in related fields on the other hand, no final conclusion is reached. All I hope to do is to draw attention to the importance of social history, and to encourage more research on these subjects, even while the paper in hand is being criticized.

II Cases of infant mortality in Talmudic sources

There are quite a few cases of infant mortality mentioned in Bible, though it is not a literary theme in this literature such as barrenness, for example.8 There are several more such incidents, scattered in Talmudic literature for more than one reason. Hereafter each of the cases will be analyzed separately (while trying to keep chronological order) first, and only after that all the cases will be summarized in a chart so it will be easy to view all of them together.9

1 In m. Ed. 6:1 it is said:

R. Judah b. Baba testified five things: ...that a cock was stoned in Jerusalem because it killed a human being.
The case is interpreted that it was a baby whose skull was broken by the cock.10

2 In m. Nazir 6:11 it says as follows:

It happened with Miriam the Tarmodite that one of the bloods had been thrown for her, and they came and told her about her daughter who was in danger. She went and found that she had died and the Sages said: She should bring the rest of her offerings and become pure.
From the word 'danger' it is assumed that the girl was sick, though no specific detail can be learnt from it.

3 In 'Abot R. Nat. 14:6 it is said:

When the son of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai died, his disciples came in to console him.11
4 In b. Moed Qat. 28b it is said:
When the sons of R. Ishmael died, four Elders went into his house to comfort him: R. Tarfon, R. Jose the Gelilean, R Eleazar b. Azaria and R. Akiba.
Since the exact number of the deceased is not mentioned it should be taken as two, at least.

5 In b. Hul. 94b there is this story:

It once happened that a man in a time of scarcity invited three guests to his house and he only had three [cakes the size of] eggs to set before them. When the child of the host entered, one of the guests took his portion and gave it to him, the second guest did likewise, and so did the third. When the father of the child came and saw him stuffing one cake in his mouth and holding two in his hands, he [in rage] knocked him to the ground so that he died. When the child's mother saw this she went up to the roof and threw herself down and died. He too went up to the roof and threw himself down and died. R. Eliezer b. Jacob said: Because of this three souls in Israel perished.
Though this is the only historic case of accidental manslaughter (by the father) there is reason to believe that such accidents happened several other times (as in contemporary modern society).12

6 In Tractate Mourning, Masehet Semahoth 2:4-5 there are two stories of children who committed suicide:

It happened that the son of Gorgos ran away from school. His father threatened to box his ears. In terror of his father, the boy went off and cast himself into a cistern. The incident was brought before Rabbi Tarfon who ruled: 'No rites whatsoever are to be denied him'.13
7 In tractate Semahoth a very similar story appears next to the former:
Another incident is that of a child from Bene Berak who broke a flask. His father threatened to box his ears. In terror of his father, the boy went off and cast himself into a cistern. The matter was brought before Rabbi Akiba who ruled: 'No rites whatsoever are to be denied him'.
8 In b. Sanh 104b there is this story:
It happened that the child of a neighbour of R. Gamliel died, and she was weeping for him at night. R. Gamliel, on hearing her, wept in sympathy with her until his eyelashes fell out. On the morrow his disciples discerned this and removed her from is neighborhood.
9 In b. Moed Qat. 21b it is said:
It happened when the sons of R. Akiba died, all Israel entered and made a great lament for them, and as the people were about to depart, R. Akiba stood on a large bench and addressed them: Our brethren, the House of Israel, hear ye! Even if these two sons had been bridegrooms - I am consoled on account of the honor you have done [them].
The age of the children is not mentioned, but from R. Akiba's words one can deduce that they were young (and nevertheless many people came to offer condolences as if they were grown ups).

A different story is told in Tractate Semahoth 8:13

Now when Simeon, the son of Rabbi Akiba, was sick, the father did not neglect his academy, but arranged for messengers to stand by.14
10 In b. Moed Qat 21a it is said:
There was an actual case, when a son of R. Jose of Sepphoris died, he went into the Beth Hamidrash and expounded there all day long.
11 In Genesis Rabbah 14:7 there is this story:
A son of one of the notables of Sepphoris happened to die. Some say that he [the father] was a heretic, while others say that a heretic lodged with him. R. Jose b. R. Halafta went up to visit him...
12 In b. Moed Qat. 21a, just after the former case, there is another case of a child's death:
It happened, that when a son of R. Judah b. Il'ai died, he went into the Beth Hamidrash and R. Hananiah b. 'Akabia also went in and sat him down at his side.
13 There is a well known story about the reactions of parents to deaths of their children. In Midrash Mishlei 31:1015 there is the story on the deaths of the children of R. Meir. It goes as follows:
Once R. Meir was sitting and preaching in Bet HaMidrash during the Shabbath Mincha, and both sons of his died. What did their mother do? she laid them on the bed and put a linen on them. After the Shabbath R. Meir returned from his Bet HaMidrash to his home. He asked her: Where are both my sons? and she answered: they went to Bet HaMidrash...
Since the whole story is beyond the scope of this paper, all one can learn from it is that both boys died at the same time (probably unexpectedly), and the boys were about the age of 12-18, since they were supposed to be in Bet HaMidrash.

14 In b. Taan 13b it is said:

It happened that the sons of R. Jose b. Hanina died and he bathed in cold water throughout the seven days [of mourning].
15 In Tractate Semahoth 11:4 there is the following story:
It happened with a certain man in Usha that a house fell in on his two sons and his daughter. The incident was brought before Rabbi Judah who ruled: 'Carry all three out on one bier, placing the bridegrooms at one end and the bride at the other'.
This was not the only case of the collapse of houses in ancient times, as could be observed by the prayer of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (though in regard to residents of the Sharon).16 Since it is hard to believe that they all were bridegrooms and bride, it is assumed that they were called so as an expression of sorrow.17

16 In Tractate Semahoth 12:13 there is this story:

It happened that the son of Rabbi Hanina ben Tardion fell into evil ways. Brigands seized him and slew him...
Since there is no evidence of his age, it is assumed that he was in his teens.

17 In b. Yaba 64b there is the following story:

Come and hear what R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: It once happened with four sisters at Sepphoris that when the first had circumcised her child - he died; when the second [circumcised her child] he also died, and when the third [circumcised her child] he also died. The fourth came before R. Simeon b. Gamliel who told her: 'You must not circumcise [the child].
Three were, of course, other cases of death due to circumcision, though those that are recorded in the Talmud are from the diaspora (b. Hul. 47b).

18 In Midrash HaGadol to Genesis 4:14 it is said as follows:

The two sons of R. Reuben b. Astrobilus were studying in the presence of Rabbi (Jehuda the Patriarch) in Tiberias. Rabbi saw the Angel of Death gnashing his teeth opposite them, so he said: 'Let them be exiled to the south (=Lod), exile may atone sin'. So the Angel of Death went and took (=killed) them from the south'.18
This story, to which there are parallels in other literature, does not mention the age of the boys, but it is likely that they were in their teens.

19 In b. B. Mes. 102a it is said as follows:

And it once happened that a man took it (the mezuza) away with him and he lost his wife and two children.
20 In m. Taan 3:6 while discussing when the community should fast, it is said:
They (the Sages) also ordained a fast because wolves devoured two children on the other side of the Jordan. R. Jose said: not because they devoured [the children] but [merely] because they were seen.
The same story is told differently in b. Taan 22b:
Ulla said in the name of R. Simon b. Jehozadak: It happened that wolves devoured two children and they passed them out through their excretory canals and the question came up before the Sages...
So, it is assumed that the case did happen, and maybe the words of R. Jose were said not to reject the story but rather to state that even if the wolves did not devour any child, but had only been seen, it is already a reason for a fast.

21 In Masehet Semahoth 4:7 there is this story (apparently from Tannaitic times):

It happened that a certain child had bequeathed his property to strangers, passing over his immediate family. The members of his family came forth and contested his action, saying: 'Let him be exhumed'.
It is assumed that this boy was close to puberty (around 12), otherwise the whole issue of checking the body's hair would not be arisen.19

22 In b. Ketub. 62b there is the following story:

Rabbi was engaged in the arrangements for the marriage of his son into the family of R. Hiyya, but when the kethubah was about to be written the bride passed away.20
23 In b. Ber. 5a-b it is said:
A Tanna recited before R. Johanan the following: If a man busies himself with the study of the Tora and in acts of charity and [nonetheless] buries his children, all his sins are forgiven him.
Later the Gemara discusses this statement and adds:
Did not R. Johanan himself say: 'This is the bone of my tenth son'?
So, ten of R. Yohanan's children died in his lifetime. Now, one may claim that the number ten is typological, especially if he read the Bible and other Rabbinic sources carefully.21 However, there was another case, though in Babylon, when seven children from the same family died almost together (b. Moed Qat. 27b), so there is no reason not to believe R. Yohanan's statement.22

24 In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 10:7 it says as follows:

The son of R Joshua b. Levi had a choking fit. He went and brought one of [the followers of Bar Pandira = Jesus] to relieve his choking. [R. Joshua] asked him: What did you pronounce over [my son]? He replied: '[I quoted] one text after another'. He exclaimed: 'Better that he had been buried and you had not quoted these texts over him'. And so it was to him like an error which proceedeth from a ruler [for his son died].23
25 In Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 19 there is the following story:
A story of a maiden whose father was very friendly with a heathen. As they ate and dranking and made merry, the heathen said to the maiden's father: "Give your daughter to my son for a wife". [Though the father consented], he said nothing to her of the matter until the time of her wedding came. When the time cam, [and she was told], she went up to a roof, jumped off, and died.24


It should be noted that in none of the cases here is the name of the deceased mentioned (except once), and in other cases the name of the father is not disclosed either, as if to avoid any invasion of privacy. Furthermore, each of the cases is mentioned in the sources for different reasons, so there is not any 'motif' that might have altered the documentation, which means that the evidence seems to be quite reliable. Now, to have a clearer understanding of the above texts, it can all be summarized in the following table:

TABLE 1: Summary of Rabbinic sources
case #father: t or a # of deaths*cause of deathsexage
11cockm0-1
21sicknessf---
3t1---m---
4t2(+)m---
51accident (by fath.)m---
61suicidem---
71suicidem---
81---m---
9t3(+)---, sicknessm1-10
10t1---m---
111---m---
12t1---m---
13t2---mteens
14t2---m---
153collapse 2m,f---
16t1murdermteens
173circumcisionm0-1
18t2---mteens
192---m---
202wolves-0-6
211---m12
22a1---f17
23a10(-)---m---
24a1choking m---
251suicidef17
the signs - or + in () denotes possibility of a lower or a higher number.

Now, the table might emphasize details that were almost ignored in the course of studying the sources. The first thing is that many of the cases are related to the Tannaim and Amoraim: in some of the cases the deceased are their children, and in others they are the children of their followers (because if it were not so, no Halachic rule might be involved). This does not mean, of course, that only children of these families died young, but rather that the scope of the Tannaim was their own circles.

And something else should not be overlooked: almost all the cases indicate deaths of sons, not daughters. Apparently it reflects the nature of a patriarchal society, where one's importance depends merely on his sex (as in more than few societies even today). Furthermore, since there is no reason to believe that boys were prone to death more than girls (except in the case of circumcision), it reveals that, actually, the cases are all 'males' while ignoring the females. Because of this 'male' factor, one that wishes to know the exact number of deaths in the above sources, should multiply his data with (almost) 2.25 That is to say, that usually the deaths of girls were ignored, though they, apparently, happened at the same rate.26

Now, to draw any statistic data from these cases would be very unreliable if not impossible. Not only that there is no claim that these are the whole number of cases, but there is no way to calculate the total number of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel during all the generations discussed above (at least five centuries). However, one should consider an interesting fact that is revealed through all the cases, which is that many of the Tannaim lost children in one way or another. Relating to the Tannaim only, in the above texts, there are 9 out of 21. It even might be that in some of the cases the name of the Tanna was concealed, though nothing definite can be said about it. At any event, these nine Tannaim should be checked again. Now, the total number of the Tannaim is around 100, and a half of them, apparently, are mentioned only sporadically. So, one can see these 9 out of 50, and after taking in account the 'ignored' factor of the girls, we can say that the rate of infant mortality among the families of the Tannaim (that means actually all the society among which the Tannaim lived), was more than 30% (assuming one case per family which is not exact).

This hypothesis of 30% (or 300 out of 1000 births), will be analyzed later with comparative and better data, but before leaving the Talmudic evidence, it should be noted that there are several more cases of infant deaths mentioned in that literature, though it appears only in generalizations, so no specific data can be extracted from it. Just to cover the issue, a brief summary of these cases is supplied: crib death,27 infanticide (by the mother),28 drowning in the sea,29 Asscara (=croup, might be the most common fatal childhood disease at the time),30 and probably there were other deaths in ancient times just as in modern times.

III Comparative study: the meaning of infant mortality

A. Infant mortality rate

The disadvantage of any comparative study is rooted in itself, that is generalizations might be misleading. The question in hand is twofold: the first is: what was the infant mortality rate in the Land of Israel in the first centuries of this era? and the second is: what was the impact of this phenomenon on other aspects of social life in the same society. So, first some data of infant mortality rate in different societies, cultures and times will be given, and only later a brief study of its implications will be discussed.

It is not easy to evaluate infant mortality rate without statistical data, especially from a remote time when many social factors are still unknown. Because of that, we will begin from our own century going backward to the Middle Ages, and then surmise infant mortality rate in antiquity.

Nowadays, infant mortality rate takes into account deaths (per 1000 live births) in the first year only, because more individuals die then than in any other single year of age (until 65). In different cultures and in different statistics, the definition of 'infant' is flexible, that is: giving different characterizations to the 'infant'. However, in the U.S.A. the infant mortality rate had been declining steadily from 47 in 1940 to 13.1 in 1979. In 1910 infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 124, so here is probably one of the great achievements of the 20th century.31

When one moves back in time, the story is different. Infant mortality rate per year (per thousand births), in England has been under investigation since 1879. In that year, the infant mortality rate was 135. In the later years, the rates varied from 130-163. From 1906 a decrease began while in 1906 the rate was 133, in 1912 it was only 95 (and decreasing).32 That is to say that in the development of industrialized society, just on the threshold of modern medicine, the infant mortality rate was 130, and only in the 20th century did it decrease to less than 100 per 1000 births, which is less than 10%.

In pre-industrialized society, the infant mortality rate was higher, of course. Around 1800, infant mortality rate in Sweden and France was 190.33 Among 19th century Jews of Italy 40% of children ages 0-3 died, and it is argued that among the non-Jews the mortality rate was even higher.34 Going back beyond the Industrial Revolution, such as data from 16th century England and Geneva, might show the way to antiquity. Here is a table showing the data (because of the different ways it was researched there is no exact parallel between all the figures).35

TABLE 2: Europe 16th century

Village in Devon Eng. 1538-99Village in Essex Eng. 1550-1624Bourgeoisie of Geneva 1550-99English High Aristocracy 1550-99
Av. marriage age of women2724.521.422.8
Infant mortality per 1000 (0-1 years)120-140128---190
Infant mortality per 1000 (1-14 years)124149---94
Infant mortality per 1000 (1-19 years)------519---
Av. life expectancy40.6-45.8---28.5-937

Some of the data in this table are beyond the scope of this paper though they should be kept in mind.36 However, these pre-industrialized societies might be closer to antiquity than the more modern ones. The figures reveal that in the 16th century out of any 1000 births, almost 300 children would not reach the age of 14, and (at least in one case), half of the babies born would not reach manhood: 19.

Now, to move from 16th century Europe to the first centuries in the Land of Israel is very difficult, since there might be some infant mortality factors that are beyond our understanding. In the other hand, I do not see any good reason to assume infant mortality rate in Israel was any different than that of Europe. On the contrary, it has already been noted that, in England, infant mortality rate is dependent on the weather: in hot years the rate is high while in cold years the rate is low (especially because of diarrhea).37 So, if a generalization is made, taking into account the fact that weather in Israel is warmer than in Europe, which means flies that spread diseases, a higher infant mortality rate in Israel than in Europe may be assumed. It should be realized that infant mortality rate in Israel was at least 300 per 1000 births until the age of 14. This conclusion is exactly the same as the assumption made above from the Rabbinic texts themselves, so this cross-reference hypotheses seems to be quite valid. Furthermore, from different sources and using other methods, infant mortality rate in ancient Rome may be estimated as 28%, that is 28% of all live-born Roman babies died within the first year of life, not to speak of the other years until 14 or 19.38 Others estimated an infant mortality rate of 24% for the first five years of life,39 a figure that leads, naturally, to 35-40% (if not higher) until puberty. Since there is no reason to believe that circumstances in the Land of Israel were much different than in Rome, it is assumed that in both places the infant mortality rate was quite similar.

It appears that there is another way to verify the infant mortality rate that was reached, this time not from texts, nor from comparative data, but from data that preceded the era in question, and from data that is known later. An anthropological demographer of the Stone Age reached the conclusion that in remote times there was an infant mortality rate of 73-85% (out of which more than 23% was due to infanticide).40 That is to say that one can observe a slow but constant decrease in the infant mortality rate through the ages, while the era in question is in the 'middle' of the data so it can be verified by both sides of the dates (without paying attention to any particular society).

B. Relation to illiteracy

There is no question that there is a correlation between infant mortality rate and illiteracy, though the exact reasons for that is not clear yet.41 Usually it is claimed that because the parrents (or it may be better put: the mother) do not know how to read, their ignorance leads to the deaths of their beloved: they did not read rules of hygiene, there is no doctor in their neighborhood, and so on. However, this connection is known from different societies in modern times, and special attention should be paid in regard to 'third world' nations.42

Table 3: Contemporary nations - 3 aspects

NetherlandsUSARomaniaBrazilAlgeriaChinaIndiaGabon
Literate in %9898986130252812
Infant mor. (1000/year)1118359412865139227
Life expectancy (years)7471686151625041

Now, this table shows that when the infant mortality rate is low, the percentage of illiterate people out of the total society is low and vice versa. That is to say, that if contemporary Gabon is to be taken as an example of a society in Israel where infant mortality rate in both cases is or was high above 200, then one surmises that the percentage of the illiterate people in Israel at that time was around 10% or even less.43

The question whether Gabon on the one hand and England on the other could be taken as examples is not easily answered, though it is assumed that they might be some kind of indications for the right direction towards the exact historical figures. That is to say that they serve the scholar even though they are not exactly the places or times he seeks the data from.

Conclusion

Almost thirty cases of infant mortality were gathered from rabbinic sources and analyzed to evaluate one of the main factors of national growth: infant mortality rate. Comparative studies show different data from various cultures and times, and together with the texts themselves, suggest that some 30% of all children born in the Land of Israel at the beginning of this era would not reach their maturity (and even a higher percentage is suggested if the age of 19 is considered).

This infant mortality rate shows, in turn, not only relatively low life expectancy, but probably also a high percentage of illiteracy. It is hoped that more study on the subject might enhance the understanding of the society under investigation, and might sharpen the statistics reached here.44


FOOTNOTES

1 See, for example: J. W. Rogerson, Anthropology and the Old Testament, Oxford 1978; Robert R. Wilson, Sociological Approaches to the Old Testament, Fortress Press, Philadelphia 1984.

2 J. Neusner, 'Anthropology and the Study of Talmudic Literature', Method and Meaning in Ancient Judaism, Brown University Scholar Press, 1979, I, pp. 21-40; E. Stiegman, 'Rabbinic Anthropology', Aufstieg und Niedergang der Roemischen welt, II, 19.2, Wolfgang Haase, (ed.), Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and New York, 1979, pp. 487-579 (a book that should have been included in his secondary literature bibliography is: R. Patai, Adam ve Adama, Jerusalem 1942-3, Hebrew).

3 John G. Gager, Kingdom and Community - The Social World of Early Christianity, New Jersey 1975; A. J. Malherbe, Social Aspects of Early Christianity, 2nd ed., Philadelphia 1983; Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians, New Haven - London 1983.

4 Compare the influence of social studies on the above-mentioned papers and books to: Salo W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, vol. I-II, New York and London, 2nd ed., 1962; S. Safrai and M. Stern (ed.), The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions, Vol. I-II, 1974-76.

5 Richard P. Saller, 'Men's age at marriage and its consequences in the Roman family', Classical Philology, 82 (1987), pp. 21-32.

6 A vast amount of study has been devoted to this subject. See, for example: Hugh T. Ashby, Infant Mortality, Cambridge 1915 (Though old, but still helpful).

7 See (the only paper that deals with a close subject to this one): E. E. Urbach, 'Al Grimat Mawet biShegaga uMawet beArisa', ASUFOT, 1 (1987), pp. 319-332 (Hebrew).

8 Without any pretense of completeness here are a few examples of that: 2 Sam 12:18; 1 Kgs 3:19; 1 Kgs 14:17; 1 Kgs 16:34; 2 Kgs 2:24; 6:28 (Deut 28:53); 2 Kgs 16:3 (=2 Chr 28:3); 2 Kgs 21:6 (=2 Chr 33:6); Jer 32:35 (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut 18:10); [and in regard of the heathen see: 2 Kgs 3:27; 2 Kgs 17:31]; Job 1:19; 2Chr 24:22). The major role of infanticide (ritual sacrifice), should be noted, as is mentioned below. Two out of these cases are of illegitimate children and it has already been mentioned that the mortality of such children is much higher than that of legitimate ones. See: Ashby, Infant Mortality, pp. 186 ff.

9 There is no attempt to discuss cases of war, nor infant mortality in Babylon. For the latter, see: b. Moed Qat 9b, 20a.

10 See: b. Ber 27a; p. Erub. 10:1, 26b.

11 S. Z. Schechter, 'Abot deRabbi Nathan, New York 1967, p. 58. Eng. translation: Abraham Cohen (ed.), Minor Tractates, The Soncino Press, London 1984, p. 24a.

12 See: m. Mak. 2:3-3 (also by the teacher); Lam Rabbah, Petihta 2; Exodus Rabbah 28:6.

13 Dov Zlotnick, The Tractate "Mourning", New Haven and London, Yale University Press 1966, pp. 33-34 (hereafter the translations from Masehet Semahoth are Zlotnick's).

14 For this case and few of the following see the brief comment in Semahoth 10:11.

15 S. Buber (ed.), Midrash Mishlei, Wilna 1893, pp. 108-109.

16 See: p. Yoma 5:3, 42c; see also the commentaries on Psa 49:12 for the possibility of 'Kibram' instead of 'Kirbam'.

17 Compare case no. 9 above: 'Even these two sons would have been bridegrooms', and see also Zlotnick's introduction p. 14.

18 M. Margaliot (ed.), Midrash HaGadol - Bereshit, Jerusalem 1967, p. 123.

19 Though the ability to write and, moreover to write a will, should be considered as a deed of a boy of 15-18 at least, here the case is different, probably because the boy came from a rich family (unless a will was not necessary).

20 This theme of death on the very day of marriage is well known (and see below for deaths of brides). See: Tobit 7:10 ff.; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:4 (both cases were in Babylon), b. Sanh. 108a; H. Schwarzbaum, 'The Hero Predestined to Die on his Wedding Day (AT 934 B)', Folklore Research Center Studies, 4 (1974), pp. 223-252.

21 See, for example, 1 Sam 1:8 'Am I not more to you than ten sons?'; Semahot 9:17: 'If his ten children died at the same time, he should make one rent in his garment for all of them'.

22 As has already been noted that the larger the family the higher the infant mortality. It could be caused by geographic reasons such as the case of the children in Usha. This rule is valid in different societies as well, see: Ashby, Infant mortality, pp. 14 ff.

23 Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes, tr. by M. Simon, The Soncino Press, London and New York 1983, p. 266 (only with the addition of '= Jesus'.)

24 Seder Eliyyahu, M. Friedman (ed.), Wien 1904, p. 116. The translation follows: William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, Tanna Debe Eliyyahu, The Jewish publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1981, p. 293.

25 See: Ashby, Infant Mortality, p. 17 who claims that since the total number of males born is always a little higher than that of females, it suggests infant mortality of males is higher than of females, even over 20%.

26 It should be noted that two out of four of the 'female' cases are brides, which makes girls more important (as R. Akiba stated in regard to a bridegroom), and two families were involved in the case. (One case of a daughter is mentioned probably because of her two brothers that died in the same incident). Not only that but since they were already brides, the discussion on infant mortality may not fit them.

27 p. Mak 2:4, 31c, and see Urbach's article (above n. 7).

28 See: b. Ket 60b; M. Margaliot, HaHilukim sheBen Anshei Mizrach uBnei Eretz Israel, Jerusalem, 1938, pp. 95-96. See: William L. Langer, Infanticide: A Historical Survey', History of Childhood Quarterly, I, 3 (1974), pp. 353-365; Sarah B. Pomeroy, 'Infanticide in Hellenistic Greece', Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt (eds.), Images of Women in Antiquity, Croom Helm, London & Canberra, 1983, pp. 207-222; Marvin Kohl (ed.), Infanticide and the Value of Life, Promotheus Books, New York 1978. 29 b. Menah. 64a.

30 b. Taan. 27b.

31 C. Arden Miller, 'Infant Mortality in the U.S.', Scientific American, 253 (1985), pp. 31-37.

32 The data is from: Ashby, Infant Mortality, p. 3.

33 Carlo M. Cipolla, The Economic History of World Population, The Harvester Press, Sussex 1978, p. 98.

34 A. Toaf, 'Pinkas haNimolim shel Moshe Yaakov Otolingi', Mmizrach umi Maarav, 5 (1986), pp. 109-135 (esp. p. 112), Hebrew.

35 This table is quoted from: Peter Kriedte, Peasants, Landlords and Merchant Capitalists, Berg Publishers Ltd., Great Britain, 1983, p. 20.

36 For example, Ashby, Infant Mortality, pp. 29-30 showed that when the age at marriage is high the infant mortality rate is low, and vice versa.

37 Ashby, Infant Mortality, pp. 76 ff.

38 K. Hopkins, Death and Renewal (Sociological studies in Roman History), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983, p. 225. For a more detailed figures, tables and analysis, see: J. C. Russell, 'Late Ancient and Medieval Population', Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,(ns) 48, 3 (1958). The only factor that might make a major difference between ancient Rome and Israel is infanticide (believed not to have occurred in Israel, though it is frequently attested in Rome). See: m. Maks. 2:7; t. Maks. 1:8.

39 P. Salmon, Population et depopulation dans l'Empire romain, Brussels 1974, pp. 97 ff. I wish to thank Prof. Henry Green for drawing my attention to this book through his short discussion of the subject in his book: The Economic and Social Origins of Gnosticism, Scholars Press, Atlanta Georgia 1985, p. 84.

40 Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures, Fontana / Collins, Glasgow 1978, p. 24. More on infanticide see there pp. 50, 188-9, 199.

41 See: Ashby, Infant Mortality, p. 9.

42 The table is based on data taken from: Geoffrey Barraclough (ed.), The Times Atlas of World History, London 1978 (6th impression 1982), p. 294 (Hebrew edition, Karta Publishing House, 1979, III, p. 103).

43 See my paper (on part of this subject): 'Rishuma shel ee Yediat HaKeriah al Hilchoth Keriath Megilla veHallel', Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 54 (1987), pp. 1-12 (Hebrew).

44 To increase the understanding of the subject in hand it is necessary to include other data such as archeological findings. See, for example: Erets Israel, 5 (1959), p. 183 where several children are mentioned.


See also:

Robert M. Martinez, 'Epidemic Sisease, Ecology, and Culture in the Ancient Near East', William W. Hallo, Bruce William Jones and Gerald L. Mattingly (eds.), The Bible in the Light of Cuneiform Literature (Scripture in Context III), Lewiston - Queenston - Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990, pp. 413-457 (esp. pp. 424-425).


This papaer first appeared as: M. Bar-Ilan, 'Infant Mortality in the Land of Israel in Late Antiquity', S. Fishbane and J. N. Lightstone (eds.), Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, Montreal: Concordia University, 1990, pp. 3-25.

The electronic address of this file is:
https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/infant.html

last updated: December 24, 2001