Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Israel Environment & Nature: Pine

One species of pine, the Aleppo pine Pinus halepensis, is indigenous to Israel.

Other species of the same genus have been planted in the afforestation of modern Israel and as ornamental trees, among them the stone pine, Pinus pinea. The modern Hebrew name for the pine is oren, but this biblical name relates to a different species, the *bay tree. The Aleppo pine is one of the most beautiful forest trees of Israel. Only a few groves of it remain at the present day because it was felled for use as building material. Among the natural groves of this species is the Masrek ("comb") at Bet Meir in the Judean hills, so called because its high trunks, conspicuous on the horizon, look like a comb. The Aleppo pine was adopted as the most important forest tree of Israel, tens of thousands of acres being planted with it, because of its rapid growth, beauty, and abundant shade, as well as for its ability to grow on rocky ground. It is the eẓ shemen ("oil tree") of the Bible, as it is still called (in Aramaic) by the Jews of Kurdistan, and is so called because of its high turpentine content. Isaiah (41:19) mentions this tree among those that will fructify the wilderness on the path of the redeemed. In the time of Nehemiah its branches were used for covering the *sukkah (Neh. 8:15). Ben Sira (50:10) compares the high priest to its tall evergreen flourishing top. In the Temple the cherubim and the doors were made from its wood (1 Kings 6:23, 32). The pseudo-Jonathan Targum here renders eẓ shemen as olive tree, but it is impossible to make doors from the hollow trunk of the latter. Furthermore, the olive is mentioned in Nehemiah (8:15) together with the eẓ shemen; they cannot therefore be identical. Nor can the eẓ shemen be identified with the Eleagnus angustifolia (which in modern Hebrew is called eẓ shemen) since it does not fit the descriptions of eẓ shemen in the Bible and Mishnah. Eẓ shemen is enumerated among the four species of "cedar" (erez), i.e., conifers (RH 23a). In mishnaic times its boughs were used for kindling the beacons that announced the appearance of the new moon (RH 2:3). They were also used as firewood for the altar (Tam. 2:3). The needle-like leaves of the pine contain fibers from which is produced "forest wool." In the Mishnah this is called lekhesh, and it is mentioned among the fibers whose wick may not be used for the Sabbath lamp (Shab. 2:1, 20b; TJ, ibid. 4d).

The stone pine, though not indigenous to Israel, is grown as an ornamental tree and for its edible and tasty nuts. These nuts are called iẓtrubalin in the Mishnah, which states that they may not be sold to idolators on their festivals (Av. Zar. 1:5). They are liable to tithes (TJ, Ma'as. 1:2, 48d). In the view of *Saadiah Gaon the stone pine is the tirzah (JPS ilex; A.V. cypress) of Isaiah 44:14, mentioned as being used both for making idols and for firewood.

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