More Discussions for this daf
1. The Chachamim's translation of "Bera'am" 2. Greek Translation 3. Was Talmai Hamelech's 72 Torahs Kosher?
4. Torah in Greek 5. Translating the Torah to Greek 6. The story of the 72 sages who translated the Torah into Greek

Chaim M. asks:


Shalom u brachot. My today's question:

How long time did it take to our sages to translate the Torah into Greek? See Megilah 9a-b-

All the best

Chaim M.

The Kollel replies:

Chaim, your question is another interesting one which I enjoyed researching!

1. I found that the important historical work Seder ha'Doros writes that it took the Sages 72 days to translate the Torah. This is also cited by Yalkut Meam Loez at the beginning of Bereshis (on the first verse of the Torah on page 34 of the Hebrew edition).

2. However, it should be pointed out that there seem to have been two translations made by the Sages into Greek. Rav Yakov Emden (in Chidushei ha'Ya'avetz at the back of the Gemara, Megilah 9a) writes that the account of the translation of the Torah commissioned by "Talmai" as mentioned by the Gemara did not involve Ptolemy Philadelpho. Ptolemy Philadelpho was a lover of Yisrael and requested with great humility from the Kohen Gadol in Jerusalem the well-known transcription of the Torah. He sent great presents to the Beis ha'Mikdash and to the Elders. In contrast, the translation reported in Megilah 9a was made by a different Ptolemy who was not a sympathiser of the Jews and the Torah.

3. It appears that the translation mentioned in Megilah (9a) was the unfavorable one, while the one which took 72 days was the work sponsored by Ptolemy Philadelpho. I have not been able to find out how long it took to make the translation reported in Megilah 9a.

Kol Tuv,

Dovid Bloom

Chaim M. asks further:

Shalom ha'Rav Thanks you for continue being interested on answering my questions!

Did it happen also a miracle with the translation of the Torah for Ptolemy Philadelpho? Did he also put 72 sages in differents places...etc? Was it translated into greek? Was it the known Septuagint?

If I found something on this issue, bli neder, i will try to convey it to you.

Have a nice day,


The Kollel replies:

1. Maseches Sofrim (1:7; printed in the Vilna Shas at the back of Maseches Avodah Zarah) states: "It happened that five elders wrote the Torah in Greek for King Talmai. This day was as difficult for Yisrael as the day that the Golden Calf was made, because it is impossible to translate the Torah properly."

2. The next paragraph in Masechet Sofrim states: "There was another incident involving King Talmai who gathered 72 elders and placed them in 72 houses and did not tell them why he had gathered them. The king went individually to each elder and commanded him: 'Write down the Torah of Moshe your teacher!' Hashem placed counsel in the heart of each one of them, and they all thought alike and each one wrote independently the identical translation of the Torah."

3. The question is, what is the identity of these two kings Talmai? It presumably refers to two different kings, since "Talmai" ("Ptolemy") is the name of the line of kings (like "Pharaoh" or "Caesar"). The Ya'avetz writes that the first translation was organized by Talmai the son of Laga, and the second one by Talmai Philadelpho. It seems to me that the reason why the Ya'avetz writes this is that he himself wrote in his emendations to Megilah 9a (cited in my previous answer) that Ptolemy Philadelpho was a lover of the Jewish people and the account of his translation is related in the famous Aristeas Letter. This suggests that the Philadelpho translation was a favorable incident and it is improbable that Maseches Sofrim would say about this that the day it happened was so bad for Yisrael. Therefore, Philadelpho is associated with the second translation made by the 72 elders.

4. A stronger proof for the assertion that the translation of the 72 elders was arranged by Philadelpho is simply that this is what is stated in the Aristeas Letter, which is also mentioned by Seder ha'Doros and Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez, as I cited earlier.

5. In summary, it appears that the miracle of the 72 elders' translation occured with Ptolemy Philadelpho's translation into Greek. This presumably is connected with the Septuagint, but it seems that the translations underwent many changes before they became what is known today as the Septuagint.

All the best,

Dovid Bloom

Rav Chaim Mendelson asks:

You wrote: "Rav Yakov Emden (in Chidushei ha'Ya'avetz at the back of the Gemara, Megilah 9a) writes that the account of the translation of the Torah commissioned by "Talmai" as mentioned by the Gemara did not involve Ptolemy Philadelpho".

It appears that R. Yaakov Emden may have contradicted himself on this point in Maseches Sofrim. See there (Chap. 1:7-8) two stories with Ptolemy ordering translations of the Torah into Greek. In the first, five sages are involved. In the second one, seventy-two scholars were involved. In his glosses (ad loc.) R. Yaakov Emden posits that the first story (5 scholars) was Ptolemy "ben Lage", and the second story (72 scholars) was Ptolemy Philadelpho.

Chaim Mendelson, Yerushalayim

The Kollel replies:

Rav Mendelson has made a very important point. In fact, I think that on the basis of this we may be able, finally, to say that the translation mentioned in Megilah (9a) also took 72 days. To summarize:

1. The translation mentioned in Megilah (9a) seems to be identical to the second transation mentioned in Maseches Sofrim; among other similarities, both accounts mention that 72 Sages were involved. However, for some reason the Ya'avetz in Megilah writes that the account there is not the same as the one mentioned in the Aristea Letter. (Aristea was a non-Jew close to Ptolemy Philadelpho, and is cited in historical sources including Josephus and Seder ha'Doros.) It appears that the Ya'avetz in Megilah understood that there are certain negative aspects mentioned in Megilah which do not conform well with the picture of Philadelpho given as a strong supporter of the Jews. However, in Maseches Sofrim the Ya'avetz does write that the account involving the 72 Sages involved Philadelpho. We will follow what our teachers have taught us -- that where there are contradictions in the words of the Acharonim, we are not obliged to attempt to resolve them, and therefore I suggest that the more definitive approach is that of the Ya'avetz in Maseches Sofrim, namely that the account involving the 72 Sages was identical to the account involving Philadelpho. (See also Kisei Rachamim, by the Chida, on Maseches Sofrim.)

(It has been suggested that the contradiction in the words of the Ya'avetz may be resolved by suggesting that there is a typographical error in the text of the Ya'avetz in Maseches Sofrim, and his two comments there should be switched around so that the first account there involved Philadelpho and the second account involved ben Laga. However, I personally cannot understand how this is plausable, because the sources state that the Philadelpho incident involved 72 sages (or some accounts say 70) while the first incident in Maseches Sofrim involved only five.)

2. Therefore, it seems to me that the account in Megilah is indeed Philadelpho, and therefore one can say that it took them 72 days. (It should be pointed out that the source for 72 days is not in fact from Chazal. Chazal mention that there were 72 Sages, but it is Aristea who gives the figure of 72 days. However, this length of time appears to have been accepted by the Jewish historians.)

Many thanks for everyone's very helpful comments!

Kol Tuv,

Dovid Bloom

Chaim M. adds:

BTW, my notes refer me to the Kovetz "Kerem Shlomo" (published by the Bobover Chassidim in Boro Park) (Year 13, No. 5, #125, p. 49) which asks the question about the apparent contradiction and leaves it unanswered.

Dovid Gross comments:

I came across this discussion of yours in regards to Talmai and the translation of torah and the two stories and the contradiction in the Ya'avetz.

If you look in the otzar hatefillos siddur on the selichos for asarah b'teves in the iyum tefilla's explanation, he says the first story was Philadelpho and he really was a good king but the people thought he was evil like his father Lagos. If they would've asked not to write the Torah he would have agreed. Even so they should have been moser nefesh not to write it. Its just an interesting twist to the discussion. He cites himself in his sefer toldos yiroel where he seems to talk more about it but i cant seem to locate the sefer.

With further research I see that the Ya'avetz assumes the son of Lagos, and Philadelpho, are two different people. In fact, they seem to be one and the same, as you can see in Wikipedia:

Ptolemy I Soter I, i.e. Ptolemy the Savior, also known as Ptolemy Lagides.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, began his reign as co-regent with his father Ptolemy I

...just the way the iyum tefilla says it.

Rabbi Dovid Gross, Cleveland, OH