Fat Rabbis


How fat can a fat rabbi be?

The Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 84a) reports that when Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Elazar met, “an ox could walk between them [under the arch formed by their bellies] and not touch them.” That, dear readers, is fat.

The story continues with a woman making a certain remark, insinuating that the two rabbis were too obese to have fathered their children. The rabbis’ retort is even more surprising. “You think we’re fat?” they say to her — “well, you should see our wives!”

What happened next is a matter of some debate. According to one version of the story, the rabbis replied: “If a person is big on the inside, he or she will also be big on the outside” — meaning, effectively, that a big stomach translates to a big heart. According to another account, the rabbis replied by noting that “Love suppresses the flesh” — in other words, if you really love each other, then one way or another, you’ll figure out a way to be intimate.

The Talmud’s narrator is bothered by another part of the story. Why did these esteemed rabbis even bother responding to the rude woman? After all, the Book of Proverbs says, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” The rabbis’ answer is equally simple: They didn’t want their children’s parentage to be called into question.

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