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Israel Environment & Nature: Nuts

NUT (Heb. אֱגוֹז), in the Bible and Talmud – the walnut, Juglans regia, which grows wild in Greece, Asia Minor, and Central Asia. It is mentioned once only in the Bible, but frequently in rabbinic literature. Song of Songs (6:11) refers to "a garden of nuts" where also grew the vine and pomegranates. The verse was regarded as an allegory referring to the Jewish people and the many interpretations afford much information about the growth of the tree, its characteristics, and its fruits: just as regular pruning of this tree assists its development, so does the pruning of the wealth of the Jews by giving charity to those who labor in the Torah (Song R. 6:11); when the walnut tree is smitten with disease, its roots should be exposed, so when Israel suffers, it must examine itself from the foundation (Yal, Song 6:cf. Song R. 6:11); it is a tall tree with a smooth trunk so that a careless person is liable to fall from it and be killed, such too is the fate of a leader of Israel who is not careful (ibid.); the walnut has species with shells of varying thickness, so too in Israel some have a soft charitable heart, some are average, and some are hard (ibid.); the walnut has "four compartments and a central carina" like the camp of Israel in the wilderness which had "four camps with the tent or meeting in the center" (ibid.; see Num. 2); just as if one nut is taken from a heap, all the rest roll, so if one Israelite is smitten, all feel it.

Walnut trees were abundant in Ereẓ Israel in the talmudic period, but because of the great demand for the nuts, they were also imported (Tosef., Dem. 1:9). It flourishes mainly in the cooler regions of Israel. Josephus stresses the exceptional fertility of the valley of Gennesareth which produces trees needing heat like palms, but also walnuts that require a cool climate (Jos., Wars, 3:517). As its wood is highly combustible, it was used for the altar fire in the Temple (Tam. 2:3). Because of the excellence of the timber, it was used to make objets d'art (BB 89b). Its green outer skin supplied material for dyeing (Shab. 9:5) and writing (Tosef., Shab. 11:8). The fruit was regarded as of high nutritional value (Er. 29a). It was particularly beloved by children who played games with the shells. Women too used to play with them (Er. 104a) and walnut shells were also thrown in front of the bride and groom (Ber. 50b). Nowadays walnuts are chiefly to be found in Israel in the gardens of Arabs, very few walnuts being planted in Jewish settlements. The tree is sensitive to pests, but there are giant trees which produce fine crops (like the old walnut tree near the Byzantine church in Abu Ghosh).

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