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Israel Environment & Nature: Palm

PALM (Heb. תָּמָר, mishnaic Heb. דֶּקֶל), the Phoenix dactylifera. In the Bible the word tamar refers only to the tree; it refers to the fruit also only in rabbinic literature.

According to rabbinic tradition, the "honey" enumerated among the seven species with which Israel is blessed (Deut. 8:8) is the honey of the date. The date palm is tall and straight (Song 7:8–9), and the righteous are compared to its straight trunk and evergreen foliage (Ps. 92: 13). In its shade the prophet Deborah judged the people (Judg. 4:5). Because of the arched appearance of the tree top, it is also called kippah, symbolizing the "head" (Isa. 9:13, 19:15). Its long leaves are called the kappot of the palm tree and are one of the four species taken on the feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40). According to the rabbis, the "kappot of palm" means the lulav, this being the stage when the leaves are close together (kafut, Suk. 32a). The tradition of using the closed leaves and not the open ones termed ḥarut may originate in the potential danger from the prickly leaflets of the latter, especially during festival processions (cf. Suk. 4:6). The palm needs a hot climate for its fruit to ripen and grows mainly in the valley of Jericho, the lowland of the southern coast, and the plains of the wilderness, so that Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel asserted that "palms are an indication of valleys" (Pes. 53a). It does grow in the mountains but does not produce edible fruit there, whence the rebuke, "You are a mountain palm" (Sifra, ed. by J.H. Weiss (1862), 68a). It was therefore laid down that first fruits may not be brought from mountain palms (Bik. 1: 3), but only from those growing in Jericho (Tosef. ibid. 1:5, cf. Deut. 34:3). Dates were a valuable export (Dem. 2:1), and Pliny refers to the reputation of the Jericho dates and their excellent quality (Natural History 13:45). He describes four varieties of dates, which are also mentioned in the Mishnah (Av. Zar. 1:5). In the Bible a number of places are named after the palm: Hazazon Tamar (Gen. 14:7), Ba'al Tamar (Jud. 20:33); Tadmor (Palmyra, I Kings 9:18). Three women were named Tamar: *Judah 's daughter-in-law, *David 's daughter, and *Absalom 's daughter. Its beautiful form was used as a model for sculpture (cf. Jer. 10:5). There were ornaments like timmorot ("palm trees") in the Temple (I Kings 6:29; cf. Ez. 40:16, timmorim). The aggadah compares Isaac and Rebekah (Lev. R. 30: 10), Moses and Aaron (Targ. to Song 2:12), David and the Messiah with the palm tree (PdRE 19). The Hasmoneans took the palm as an emblem of their victory (I Macc. 13:37; II Macc. 14:4), and it appears on their coins. The Romans also engraved the image of captive Judea – Judea capta – sitting in mourning beneath the palm. A palm branch symbolizes the victory of the Jew against his accusers (Lev. R. 30:2): "dreaming of palm trees is a sign that one's sins have come to an end"; "dreaming of a lulav ["palm branch"] indicates that one is serving God wholeheartedly" (Ber. 57a).

Rabbinic literature contains much information about the growing of palm trees. Among other things, it mentions that there are male and female palms, that it is necessary to pollinate the female from the male blossom in order to obtain fruit, and that this must be done during a limited number of days (cf. Pes. 4:8). It is asserted that "the palm has desire," and in that connection the story is told of a female palm in the vicinity of Tiberias which longed for a palm in Jericho, and only began to yield fruit after being pollinated by it (Gen. R. 41:1). Of its many uses the Midrash (ibid.) says: "As no part of the palm has any waste, the dates being eaten, the branches used for Hallel, the twigs for covering [booths], the bast for ropes, the leaves for besoms, and the planed boards for ceiling rooms, so are there none worthless in Israel.…"

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