We were taught in the Mishna (Chagigah 3:4, see Chagigah 24b) that wine and oil brought by those who are unlearned (עמי הארץ) can be presumed to be spiritually pure. However, as the Gemara in today’s daf (Chagigah 25a) points out, ביהודה אין – ‘[if those bringing the wine and oil are from] Judea, [then] yes [we can make this presumption]’, while ובגליל לא – ‘[if those bringing the wine and oil are from] the Galilee, [then] no [we cannot make this presumption]’.
Though the Gemara quotes Resh Lakish as offering a reason for this difference, it is clear that our Sages felt that those living in Judea – who lived nearer to the centres of Jewish learning – were more knowledgeable and thus more halachically reliable, while those living in the Galilee – living further away from those centres of learning – were less knowledgeable and thus less halachic reliable.
Significantly, this point is not made just here in our Mishna. As we see in Mishna Nedarim 2:4, a non-specific vow concerning terumah made by those from Judea is binding (because we presume they are familiar with Temple matters), while it is not binding if made by someone from the Galilee. And similarly, we find in Mishna Pesachim 4:5 that while those in Judea would perform melacha until midday on Erev Pesach, those in the Galilee – who were not knowledgeable or particular in such halachic times – abstained from melacha for the whole day of Erev Pesach. As should be obvious, this attitude towards those living in the Galilee meant that, at least during the early Mishnaic period, the Sages were dismissive of those from the Galilee who claimed to have alternative approaches to how Jewish law should be determined or lived.
Yet, as pointed out by Rabbi Eliyahu Schlezinger in his ‘Yad Eliyahu’ (on Moed Katan 23b), while this gap in knowledge between Judea and the Galilee existed for some time, within the lifetime of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (135-217ce) the Sanhedrin was exiled to Tiberias (see Rosh Hashanah 31b) and from then on, Tiberias became a powerhouse of Torah, with its teachers and scholars being regarded as having equal authority to their counterparts in Judea.
Reflecting on this transformation of Tiberias and the Galilee I think of all those communities around the world that – until a certain point – were labelled as being ‘provincial’ and whose residents were often not considered as being on par with those from more established centres of learning but have, as a result of the huge efforts of visionary leaders to create serious centres of Torah study in those communities, been transformed (nb. the Edgware community where I was born and where I lived much of my life in until making aliya is a great example of a community that has undergone such a transformation).
What we learn from here – which is a lesson that is very relevant to some of the global events currently taking place – is that just because a people, or a community, or a country was, at a particular time in history, reflective of certain attitudes and behaviours, does not mean that it cannot change. Instead, people and places can change for the good, or for the bad, and just because things were a certain way, does not mean that they will always stay that way.