Bava Batra, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four
Mishnah four discusses rules concerning the building of houses.
1) If a man sold his fellow a place to build him a house, so, too, if a man contracted with his fellow to build him a bridal-house for his son, or a widows house for his daughter, he must build it four cubits by six cubits (80 inches x 120 inches), according to Rabbi Akiva.
2) Rabbi Yishmael says: This is a cattle-shed.
a) He who wants to build a cattle-shed, should build it four cubits by six.
b) A small housesix by eight (120 x 160).
c) A large houseeight by ten (160 x 200).
d) An eating hallten by ten (200 x 200).
3) The height should be [the sum] of half its length and half its breadth.
a) Proof of the matter is the sanctuary.
b) Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says: Should all [houses] be according to the building of the Sanctuary?
According to Rabbi Akiva (section one) a normal sized house is four cubits by six cubits. Hence, if one bought a plot for a house the seller must provide the buyer with a plot large enough to build on it such a sized house. Furthermore, if one contracted another person to build a house for his newly wedded son or widowed daughter who is returning to live with her father after the death of her husband, the builder must build a house four by six cubits.
Rabbi Yishmael says that a house this size is the size of a cattle-herd. Rabbi Yishmael then lists the sizes of houses. If a person, for instance, contracted another to build him a large house, then he must build one eight by ten cubits.
With regards to the height, the mishnah says that it must be the sum of half the width and half the length. A large house would be nine cubits high. The proof is the sanctuary that stood in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to I Kings 6:2, 17, the Sanctuary was 40 cubits long, 20 wide and 30 high. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel disagrees with using the Sanctuary as a precedent for normal houses. Assumedly Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel would hold that a house should be as high as normal houses are in the area in which the house is built.
Note how small the houses are that are described in the mishnah. In ancient Israel the house was probably only used for sleeping and maybe eating when the weather did not permit eating outside. People owned very few possessions and therefore didnt have need for much storage. Furthermore, there courtyards served as workplaces to do things such as cook and clean. Therefore there houses were the size of small rooms in modern American homes. On your next visit to Israel, if you visit an archaeological site notice the size of the homes and tell your tour guide about this mishnah!
Questions for Further Thought:
· Why does this mishnah specifically mention a bridal-house for his son, or a widows house for his daughter? Why not just mention a house without specifying?