Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b:

If a man made an oven out of separate coils [of clay, placing one upon another], then put sand between each of the coils [1] — such an oven, R. Eliezer declared, is not susceptible to defilement, while the sages declared it susceptible.[2]

Talmudic quote

It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: "If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!" Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. "No proof can be brought from a carob tree," they retorted.

And again he said to them "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!" Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. "No proof can be brought from a channel of water," they rejoined.

Again he urged, "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!" Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, "When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?" Hence in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant.

Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, "If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven." Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, "Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?" R. Joshua stood up and protested: "The Torah is not in heaven!" (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline'. (Ex. 23:2)"

R. Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah [3] and asked him, "What did the Holy One do at that moment?" Elijah: "He laughed [with joy], saying, 'My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.'"


[1] Since each portion in itself is not a utensil, and the sand between the portions prevents the oven from being regarded as a single utensil, therefore, according to R. Eliezer, the oven is not liable to defilement. The sages, however, hold that the oven's outer coating of mortar or cement unifies the coils so that the oven is liable to defilement. Back

[2] The oven discussed was the oven of Akhnai. Back

[3] It was believed that Elijah, who had never died, often appeared to the sages. Back

From: H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, eds., Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992). page 223