ARBA AMMOT (Heb. אַרְבַּע אַמּוֹת; "four cubits"), a linear and square measure frequently found in halakhic literature. It has both halakhic applications and aggadic implications. (For the length of the cubit, see *Weights and Measures.) The apparent origin of this measurement lies in the observation, "A man's body is three cubits (long) and one cubit is for extending his arms and legs" (Er. 48a). A room that is not four by four cubits in area is unfit for human habitation, and requires neither a mezuzah nor a *parapet, and none of the halakhot governing homes applies to it (Suk. 3a–b). Analogously, a sukkah that does not enclose four by four cubits is unfit for use (ibid.). If a man constructs a wall facing his neighbor's window, he must keep four cubits away so as not to block out the light (BB 2:4). According to Jewish law, a man's property "acquires" chattels placed in it (see *Acquisition). A rabbinical enactment established that, in order to avoid disputes, an area of four cubits around a man in a public domain similarly acquires such chattels (BM 10a–b). When praying, one must keep four cubits away from an unclean place (Ber. 3:5). One should walk at least four cubits after each meal (Shab. 41a). The sages were careful not to walk four cubits without keeping their minds on Torah and wearing their phylacteries (Yoma 86a). Among the relevant aggadic statements are: "Whoever walks four cubits in Ereẓ Israel is assured of (his portion in) the world to come" (Ket. 111a); "Since the day the Temple was destroyed, God has nothing in His world except the four cubits of halakhah" (Ber. 8a).


ET, 2 (1956), 28–29, 153.

[Yitzhak Dov Gilat]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.