The Ritual of Lending a Shoulder: Distribution and Signification in Talmudic Times

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Although it was the common practice for a disciple to accompany his Rabbi in the talmudic age, third- to early fourth-century Palestine saw the development of a unique custom in which the Rabbi leaned on his disciple's shoulder while walking. The custom was known in Babylonia as well, but there, unlike in Palestine, the Rabbis leaned on their disciples only in cases of actual physical need. Naturally, this practice has functional aspects — keeping the Rabbi from harm while out walking — but its meaning is mainly symbolic. According to some sources this manner of walking expresses familiarity and fondness; however, its main signification is one of authoritative dominance. By leaning on his disciple while walking the Rabbi expresses his superior rank, whereas by lending his shoulder the disciple accepts his master's authority. Despite its social import, this custom did not escape criticism in certain circles.
Original languageEnglish GB
Pages (from-to)23-35
Number of pages13
JournalHebrew Union College Annual
Issue number75
StatePublished - 2004


  • Babylonian Talmud
  • Walking
  • Cultural customs
  • Gestures
  • Redaction
  • Rabbis
  • Talmud
  • Torah
  • Jewish rituals
  • Signification
  • Eretz Israel -- History -- 70-1517
  • Roman
  • Byzantine and Arab periods
  • Talmud Bavli -- Criticism
  • interpretation
  • Talmud Yerushalmi -- Criticism


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