Ye blind guides
As in ( Matthew 23:16 )
who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel:
the Syriac and Persic versions read the words in the plural number, gnats and camels. The Jews had a law, which forbid them the eating of any creeping thing, ( Leviticus 11:41 ) and of this they were strictly observant, and would not be guilty of the breach of it for ever so much.
``One that eats a flea, or a gnat; they say F16 is (rmwm) , "an apostate";''one that has changed his religion, and is no more to be reckoned as one of them. Hence they very carefully strained their liquors, lest they should transgress the above command, and incur the character of an apostate; and at least, the penalty of being beaten with forty stripes, save one; for,
``whoever eats a whole fly, or a whole gnat, whether alive or dead, was to be beaten on account of a creeping flying thing F17.''Among the accusations Haman is said to bring against them to Ahasuerus, and the instances he gives of their laws being different from the king's, this one F18; that
``if a fly falls into the cup of one of them, (whtwvw wqrwz) , "he strains it, and drinks it"; but if my lord the king should touch the cup of one of them, he would throw it to the ground, and would not drink of it.''Maimonides says F19,
``He that strains wine, or vinegar, or strong liquor, and eats "Jabchushin" (a sort of small flies found in wine cellars F20, on account of which they strained their wine), or gnats, or worms, which he hath strained off, is to be beaten on account of the creeping things of the water, or on account of the creeping flying things, and the creeping things of the water.''Moreover, it is said F21,
``a man might not pour his strong liquors through a strainer, by the light (of a candle or lamp), lest he should separate and leave in the top of the strainer (some creeping thing), and it should fail again into the cup, and he should transgress the law, in ( Leviticus 11:41 ) .''To this practice Christ alluded here; and so very strict and careful were they in this matter, that to strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel, became at length a proverb, to signify much solicitude about little things, and none about greater. These men would not, on any consideration, be guilty of such a crime, as not to pay the tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and such like herbs and seeds; and yet made no conscience of doing justice, and showing mercy to men, or of exercising faith in God, or love to him. Just as many hypocrites, like them, make a great stir, and would appear very conscientious and scrupulous, about some little trifling things, and yet stick not, at other times, to commit the grossest enormities, and most scandalous sins in life.
F16 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 26. 2. & Horaiot, fol. 11. 1.
F17 Mainon. Hilch. Maacolot Asurot, c. 2. sect. 22.
F18 T. Bab. Megilla, fol, 13. 2. Vid. T. Hietos. Sota, fol. 17. 1.
F19 Ubi supra, (Mainon. Hilch. Maacolot Asurot, c. 2.) sect. 20.
F20 Gloss. in T. Bab. Cholin, fol. 67. 1.