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Israel Environment & Nature: Oak Tree

OAK (Heb. אַלּוֹן), the main trees of Israel's natural groves and forests. The three species which grow there have in common their strong and hard wood and all attain a great height and reach a very old age. The Hebrew name, allon, means strong (Amos 2:9). Extensive oak forests still exist in Bashan, and these, together with the cedars of Lebanon, symbolized pride and loftiness (Isa. 2:13; Zech. 11:2). The people of Tyre made the oars for their ships from the oaks of Bashan (Ezek. 27:6). Some oaks served as sites for idol worship (Hos. 4:13), and burial took place under them (Gen. 35:8). The oak is long-lived and when it grows old or is cut down it has the ability to renew itself, putting out new shoots from the stump or roots that in time develop into a strong tree. In his prophecy describing the fate of the Jewish people, for whom it was decreed that they should suffer great losses, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of the old oak (together with an elah, *terebinth ) standing near the gate Shallekhet in Jerusalem that frequently had its branches and trunk cut down, only its stump remaining; yet no sooner was it felled, than the stump put forth "holy seed," sprouting new shoots (Isa. 6:13). Possibly Isaiah 11:1: "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots" is a continuation of this chapter.

Evidence of this phenomenon can be seen in many oaks in Israel today. The most famous, and apparently the oldest of them, is "the oak of Abraham" in Hebron. This oak, or one of its ancestors, is mentioned in the Apocrypha – Jubilees and Tobit – as the tree under which Abraham received the kings. Josephus (Ant., 1:186; cf. Wars, 4:533) also speaks of it. *Jerome notes that Titus sold 10,000 Judean captives under this tree. Since the third century many Jewish and Christian pilgrims have mentioned that this tree is considered sacred. It is an evergreen of the species Quercus calliprinos, which constitutes most of the groves in the hills of Judea and Galilee. Most of them look like shrubs as a result of continuous felling and of being gnawed by goats. Some giant trees still survive (as for example at Aqua Bella, now called Ein Ḥemed). The other two species of oak growing in Israel are deciduous. On the hills of Lower Galilee (in the vicinity of Tivon and Allonim) there exist groves of the Tabor oak (Quercus ithaburensis). This tree is also to be seen in the Ḥurshat Tal in the Ḥuleh valley where there are about 200 giant trees (50 ft. high with trunks of 16 ft. or more in circumference). The third species is the Quercus infectoria (Quercus boissier), called in Hebrew by the corresponding name tola oak because of the *crimson worm (tola) which lives off its branches (as it does off the Tabor oak). This tree, which has a tall straight trunk, is called in the Mishnah milah or milast (Mid. 3:7).

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