Biblical mile (Hebrew: מיל, romanizedmīl) is a unit of distance on land, or linear measure, principally used by Jews during the Herodian dynasty to ascertain distances between cities and to mark the Sabbath limit, equivalent to about of an English statute mile, or what was about four furlongs (four stadia).[1] The basic Jewish traditional unit of distance was the cubit (Hebrew: אמה), each cubit being roughly between 46–60 centimetres (18–24 in)[2] The standard measurement of the biblical mile, or what is sometimes called tǝḥūm šabbat[3] (Sabbath limit; Sabbath boundary), was 2,000 cubits.[4][5]


The word mīl, as used in Hebrew texts between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, is a Roman loanword, believed to be a shortened adaptation of the Latin mīliarium, literally meaning, "milestone,"[6] and which word signifies "a thousand" [passuum <paces> of two steps each]; hence: Roman mile. The word appears in the Mishnah, a compendium of Jewish oral law compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince in 189 CE, and is used to this very day by religious Jews in the application of certain halachic laws.

Halachic applications

Divergent methods

Nearly two thousand years of Jewish exile from the Land of Israel have given rise to disputes over the precise length of the biblical mile observed by the ancients. Some hold the biblical mile to be 1,152 m, while others hold it to be 960 m, depending on the length they prescribe to each cubit. Originally, the 2,000 cubit Sabbath limit was measured with a standard 50-cubit rope.

Another dispute is the actual time it takes for an average man to walk a biblical mile. Most authorities hold that a biblical mile can be traversed in 18 minutes; four biblical miles in 72 minutes.[9][10] Elsewhere, however, Maimonides held the view that an average man walks a biblical mile in about 20 to 24 minutes.[11][12]

Divergent methods espoused by the Rabbis
Scholar Cubit Biblical mile
Avraham Chaim Naeh 48 centimetres (19 in)[13] 960 metres (3,150 ft)
Chazon-Ish 57.6 centimetres (22.7 in)[14] 1,152 metres (3,780 ft)
Ḏerāʿ (Egyptian cubit) 52.9 or 52.3 cm [15] 1,058 metres (3,471 ft)[16]

Distances between cities

See also


  1. ^ Although a furlong (stadion) is an obsolete measure of length, according to the historian Josephus there were about four furlongs to a biblical mile. The Southern Wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is 922 feet (281 m) in length, and which Josephus equates as being equal to the length of one furlong (Greek: stadion). See: Josephus, Antiquities (15.11.3; XV.415–416), who described the dimensions of the Temple Mount in the following terms (apparently not including the extension made to the Temple Mount): “This hill was walled all round, and in compass four furlongs; [the distance of] each angle containing in length a furlong (Gr. stadion).” Compare Mishnah Middot 2:1 which states that the Temple Mount measured five-hundred cubits (Heb. amah) by five-hundred cubits. If it can be ascertained that Josephus' stadion is equivalent to the 500 cubits mentioned in the Mishnah, and being that the Southern Wall measured 281 meters, this would place each cubit (Heb. amah) at 56.205 cm. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, on the other hand, holds that a stadion was equivalent to only 470 cubits (v. Uziel Fuchs, "Millot HaMishnah" by R. Saadia Gaon — the First Commentary to the Mishnah, Sidra: A Journal for the Study of Rabbinic Literature, pub. Bar-Ilan University Press (2014), p. 66), in which case, each cubit was 59.792 cm, close to the 60 cm. cubit espoused by the Chazon-Ish.
  2. ^ Depending on the standards given by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Naeh and the Chazon-Ish.
  3. ^ Shulhan Arukh (Orach Chaim §297:2)
  4. ^ Mishnah - with a Commentary of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (ed. Yosef Qafih), vol. 1, Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1963, s.v. Kippurim 6:4
  5. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 51a
  6. ^ Moshe Fischer, Benjamin Isaac and Israel Roll, Roman Roads in Judaea II - The Jaffa-Jerusalem roads, B.A.R., Oxford 1996, p. 26 ISBN 0-86054-809-0 doi:10.30861/9780860548096
  7. ^ Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Hil. Bikkurim 8:11); Jerusalem Talmud, Hallah 2:2; Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 34a; ibid. 46a
  8. ^ Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah § 69:6; § 69:16; § 69:19
  9. ^ Maimonides (1963). Mishnah, with Maimonides' Commentary (in Hebrew). Vol. 1. Translated by Yosef Qafih. Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook. p. 32 (Ber. 1:1). OCLC 233308346., s.v. ועמוד השחר‎. "An hour and one-fifth [of an hour]," or what are 72 minutes, is the time from the "break of dawn" (עלות השחר‎) to sunrise (הנץ החמה‎), or the time that it takes for an average man to walk four biblical miles. One biblical mile can, therefore, be traversed in 18 minutes.
  10. ^ Shulhan Arukh (Orach Chaim 261:1), R. Moses Isserles' glosses there, who wrote: "The distance of a [biblical] mile is [what it takes for one to walk] one-third of an hour, minus 130 part [of an hour]" (i.e. 18 minutes).
  11. ^ Kessar, Ḥayim (1988). Shelomo Siʼani; Siman-Tov Maghori (eds.). Maimonides' Mishne Torah, According to Ba'al Shem Tov (in Hebrew). Vol. 2 (Zera'im, Hil. Terumot 7:2). Jerusalem: S. Maghori. p. 407. OCLC 232938817. (OCLC 122740743), and where it cites Maimonides in Mishneh Torah (Hil. Terumot 7:2), using both the printed Venice edition along with the handwritten manuscripts of Maimonides, who wrote: אין הטמאים אוכלין בתרומה עד שיעריבו שמשן ויצאו ג' כוכבים בינוניים וזה העת כמו שליש שעה אחר שקיעת החמה‎, = "Those who are defiled are not permitted to eat the Terumah until their sun has set and there have come out three middle-size stars, while this time being estimated at about a third of an hour (i.e. 20 minutes) after sunset" (End Quote).
  12. ^ In Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah (Pesahim 3:2), he wrote that the time that it takes for a man to walk a biblical mile is 25 of an hour (i.e. 24 minutes). See Maimonides (1963). Mishnah, with Maimonides' Commentary (in Hebrew). Vol. 1. Translated by Yosef Qafih. Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook. p. 108 (Pesahim 3:2). OCLC 233308346. ...and the time needed for it [to leaven] is what it takes for a person to walk by foot in an average pace one [biblical] mile, and that being what it takes for two-fifths of an hour (i.e. 24 minutes) of those standard hours [to pass by]. According to this view, a man traverses 4 biblical miles in one hour and 36 minutes.
  13. ^ Abraham Haim Noe, Sefer Ḳuntres ha-Shiʻurim (Abridged edition from Shiʻurei Torah), Jerusalem 1943, p. 17 (section 20)
  14. ^ Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 39:14
  15. ^ Dieter, Arnold (1991), Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press
  16. ^ Figure represents the cubit of 52.9 cm.
  17. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 2b); cf. Tosefta (Eruvin 7:2)
  18. ^ Ishtori Haparchi, Sefer Kaftor Ve'ferah (vol. 2), ed. Avraham Yosef Havatzelet, Jerusalem 2007, (chapter 11) p. 56
  19. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 46a)
  20. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (ʿErūvin 5:7 [36b]); implied
  21. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 24b)
  22. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Ketubbot 111b). Historical geographer, Yoel Elitzur, in Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land - Preservation and History (Jerusalem 2004, pp. 383–384) has noted the following: "The distance from Lod to Kafr ʻĀna, commonly identified as Ono (today between Or Yehudah and Neve Monosson) is greater than specified in the Talmud (Ket. 111b). In Midrash Shir ha-Shirim, edited by Grünhut from a manuscript, the talmudic saying is cited with a significant difference: 'The distance from Lod to Ono was five miles,' but this particular source may reflect a later period, after the destruction of Ono itself."
  23. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Shevi'it 6:1); cf. Numbers 33:49
  24. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 93b). Cf. Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 1:1)
  25. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 93b)