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Israel Environment & Nature: Caper

CAPER (Heb. צָלָף; ẓalaf), the shrub Capparis spinosa, which grows wild in Israel in rocky places, as well as in old stone walls, including the Western Wall.

The personal name Zalaph occurs in the Bible (Neh. 3:30). The caper's fruit, the evyonah, is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:5 as a symbol of shortness of man's life, because very soon after it blossoms, the fruit scatters its seeds and the plant withers; "The almond-tree shall blossom… and the caperberry shall fail; Because man goeth to his long home…." Frequently mentioned in aggadah and halakhah, the caper was grown for its edible flowerbuds, the kafrisin, as also for its young fruit, which was eaten after being pickled in salt or vinegar. The plant produces new fruit daily and Rabban Gamaliel used this phenomenon as proof that in messianic times "trees will yield fruit every day" (Shab. 30b). The caper flower's structure is unique: its ovary, from which the fruit develops, is borne on a long style which protrudes from the flower, a fact noted by the rabbis (TJ, Ma'as. 4:6, 51c). The rabbis were unsure whether to consider the caper a tree or a vegetable, the distinction bearing on which blessing is to be said over it, and whether the law of *orlah applies to it (Tosef., Kil. 3:17). The caper grows tenaciously among rocks and is difficult to uproot; thus the Talmud declares that the caper among shrubs is distinguished for its strength even as is "Israel among the nations" (Beẓah 25b).

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