Tiferet Yonatan (The Splendor of Jonathan)

Jonathan Eybeschütz


This is what the episode of the Generation of the Dispersion was all about; that they were afraid of a Flood and accordingly sought to erect a tower up to the heavens. One has, however, to understand—were they really such fools, since if they had indeed wished to do so, they would, in accordance with the principles governing construction, have required a base broader than the circumference of the earth? However, they reasoned that, in accordance with the laws of nature, all rains descend as a result of the steam and the vapors that rise up from the earth and its watery foundation, and that it is from this source that the clouds come into existence, and it is from there that the waters flow, and the waters do not originate in the skies at all. They had already estimated, in accordance with the evidence of their own eyes, that the height of the clouds—that is to say, of the vapors arising from the earth—is no more than five mil1 at most. That being the case, thin vapors formed from segments of water are, perforce, incapable of rising to a higher level than this, for if they were to rise higher, the clouds too would be higher than the earth. Accordingly, they sought to construct a tower higher than the height of those clouds, so that, once that had been done, it would henceforth be impossible for rains to fall upon them. Now the expression used by the Torah: “with its top in the heavens” is employed by way of exaggeration, save that what scientists have written is well-known, namely that the surface of the moon is also a suitable place for habitation, in the same manner as the earthly sphere is. They have already discovered, through the invention of flying balloons, which involves the creation of a mast-like structure set in position above the surface of the earth—and it is thereby demonstrated that the wind rises from the earth. [ . . . ]

Even if we were to believe that the oceans surround the world from one extremity to the other like a conduit, and that on one side are located three portions of the world—Asia, Africa and Europe—and that on the other side lies the New World, called America, then, that being the case, how did human beings arrive in the New World prior to the Flood without ships? If you wished to retort that there were no human beings there prior to the Flood, it would follow that the Flood could also not have occurred there, as there would have been no need for it. Now that being the case, what special quality would be enjoyed by the Land of Israel in that it is referred to by the rabbis as “pure” because the Flood did not occur there? Plainly, the New World is also “pure” by virtue of the fact that the Flood did not occur there! However, according to what I have written, everything fits in perfectly, for during the Flood, the entire power of the earth was crushed to such an extent that the wind did not emanate in the slightest measure from the earth. Now that being so, it would not have been possible for Noah to sail in a ship upon the ocean, as the wind did not issue forth at the location where he was at the time of the Flood—it being impossible to sail in the absence of wind. Now that being the case, then, in accordance with what I have written, namely that the wind emanates from the earth, from below in an upward direction, it would have been appropriate, regarding the device of a balloon, which operates as a flying device, where the wind blows on the mast, for the wind to lift it up higher and higher, so that it would never again return to earth. However, the fact that it does return to the ground is due to the weight of the powerful and thick atmosphere close to the ground [i.e., the force of gravity] weighs the object down and drives it in a downward direction. And hence the engineers set out on a journey—since the combustible powder, which they call pilvehr, through the force of the huge quantity of powder placed in the shaft where the combustion takes place, on the exterior of the balloon, which is positioned inside it, enables it to travel higher and higher—until they searched most carefully in the appropriate location, yet the balloon had not come down at all, as they could find no balloon on the ground—and yet, it should normally descend, even by means of natural forces alone, by a short route! As a result of this, they reached the conclusion that the balloon had initially risen higher than the thick and gloomy atmosphere, through the force of the pilvehr, and that when it was higher than the atmosphere, it was the atmosphere that impeded it from descending. Now that being so, if it were possible to transport all the balloons above this thick atmosphere, they would be capable of traveling higher and higher in the wind, right up to the surface of the moon—for the wind would be perpetually elevating them, to enable them to journey onward, and, up above, the wind becomes increasingly powerful. Now scientists have already composed works on how to make a spaceship such as this to travel to the surface of the moon; the main point is, however, that this spaceship should initially get above this gloomy atmosphere. This was the intent of the Generation of the Dispersion as well; namely, that they sought to fix their abode on the surface of the moon, where they would be spared from a Flood, and they planned to achieve this by recourse to the type of spaceship mentioned above. However, the problem arose as to how they could elevate the spaceship so as to rise above the gloomy atmosphere, and to this end they endeavored to construct a tower of such height that it could reach a point above that atmosphere; from that vantage point they would be able to utilize the aforementioned spaceship to sail through the air until it reached the surface of the moon.

Translated by
David E.


[Mil is a measure of length used in rabbinic literature. It is equal to two thousand amot, approximately three-fourths of a mile.—Ed.]


Jonathan Eybeschütz, "Tiferet Yonatan (The Splendor of Jonathan)," (Manuscript, Altona, 1820). Published in: Jonathan Eybeschuetz, Ḥamishah ḥumshe Torah: bʻim Perushe Rabenu Yehonatan, vol. 1. Bereshit (Jerusalem: Mifʻal Torat Rabenu Yehonatan, Mekhon Yerushalayim, 2009), 70.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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