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Ships & Sailing

Biblical Period

The first sailing vessel mentioned in the Bible is Noah's Ark (see *Ark of Noah ).

The Phoenicians first developed marine navigation for purposes of commerce and communication along the sheltered part of the east Mediterranean coast, from the Gulf of Acre to Tyre and Sidon. Since, however, this area is rich in wood and natural inlets, the development of a fleet of larger ships, which could be used for commerce and communication between Asia and Africa via the Mediterranean Sea, naturally followed. Phoenician ships traveled the Mediterranean Sea parallel to the coasts, in a course which permitted them to stop and get provisions in ports established for this purpose in the natural inlets along the shore of the Mediterranean. The Phoenician fleet was a source of pride and wealth to the Tyrians and a target for attack by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 27). In order to provide convenient terminals for ships sailing along the coasts, ports were established at the mouths of rivers. At first only anchorages for boats and small ships, they were gradually developed, by the hewing out of the harbor rocks and the building of suitable quays, into ports capable of affording ships the services required, such as those found in Dor, south of Haifa, in Caesarea, in Jaffa, in Gaza, and elsewhere. Along with the establishment of commercial fleets for interstate trade, there was construction of warships designed to guard the merchant fleet from pirates. These warships were light and strong and constructed in such a way that they could attain great maneuverability and high speed. Both the merchant ships and warships were propelled by sails as well as oars, and were equipped with large crews of oarsmen. The sail was set on the top of a central mast, and the oarsmen were arranged in one, two, or even three rows along the length of the boards of the ship.

Other nations whose history is connected with seagoing transportation are the "Sea Peoples" who penetrated the Near East in the 13th–12th centuries B.C.E. An impressive portrayal of their ships appears on the relief of Medinet Habu, which represents the sea battle between them and Ramses III. The development of seafaring vessels along the length of the un-sheltered coast of Palestine was late, taking place only in the days of Solomon. During the period in which his kingdom expanded and extended to the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Ezion-Geber (ʿAqaba), Solomon completed the construction of a large merchant fleet. The fleet was built with the assistance of Tyrian experts sent to him by Hiram, and was based in the port of Ezion-Geber, in order to develop trade with the distant countries of Africa, and so as not to compete with the Phoenician fleet which plied the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea (I Kings 9:26–28; 10:22; II Chron. 8:17–18). King Jehoshaphat's later attempt to build a merchant fleet similar to that of Solomon failed, the ships being wrecked at Ezion-Geber (I Kings 22:48; II Chron. 20:35ff.). In spite of the fact that the Israelites were not a seafaring nation, the Bible attributes close connections with marine transportation to two tribes of Israel: Zebulun and Dan. Of Zebulun it is written: "Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore; he shall be a haven of ships, and his flank shall rest on Sidon" (Gen. 49:13) and "for they [Zebulun] draw from the riches of the sea and the hidden hoards of the sand" (Deut. 33:18–19); of Dan: "and why did he [Dan] abide with the ships" (Judg. 5:17).

In the Bible there are many terms connected with sea traffic: pilots (hovelim, Ezek. 27:27), and mariners (mallahim, Ezek. 27:27, 29; Jonah 1:5); and rowers (Ezek. 27:29; cf. Jonah 1:13). There are references to a number of types of sailing vessels: oʾni shayit, a ship with oars (Isa. 33:21); oʾni tarshish ("ships of Tarshish"), large and heavy merchant ships (I Kings 10:22); kelei gome, apparently ships made from bundles of papyrus tied together (Isa. 18:2); sefinah, from the Akkadian sapīnatu, sailing vessel with a deck (Jonah 1:5), and others. In addition, details of parts of sailing vessels occur in common usage in the language of the Bible, such as luhotayim ("planks"; Ezek. 27:5); toren ("mast"; Isa. 33:23; Ezek. 27:5); meshotim ("oars"; cf. Ezek. 27:6); nes ("sail(s)"; cf. Isa. 33:23, Ezek. 27:7); yarketei ha-sefinah ("the hold of the ship"; Jonah 1:5); rosh ḥibbel ("the top of a mast"; Prov. 23:34); and keresh ("deck"; Ezek. 27:6). There is a vivid description of a storm overtaking a merchant fleet in the Mediterranean and the subsequent calm in Psalms 107:23–32. (See *Commerce , *Trade )

[Ze'ev Yeivin]

Post-Biblical Period

After its capture by Simeon the *Hasmonean , Jaffa became the main port of Judah; Pompey successfully suppressed the Jewish pirates' base there. *Herod developed the harbor of *Caesarea and built many ships. During the Jewish War, Jewish merchant ships engaged in piracy and inflicted losses on the Romans. Resistance to the Romans was particularly bitter on the Sea of Galilee (Jos., Wars 3, 462ff.).

Among the spoils displayed by Vespasian in his triumphal procession in Rome were "many ships" (Tacitus 7, 3–6). Coins commemorating the Roman victory also bore the legend Victoria Navalis. In the second rebellion (115–117), which took place mainly in *Egypt , North Africa, and *Cyprus , this form of warfare was widespread. Various maritime occupations were fairly common among Jews in mishnaic and talmudic times, upon the rivers of Babylon and on the seas. The Babylonian Talmud contains more than 200 technical-nautical terms as well as regulations for ordering river traffic; sailing was considered an honorable profession. The wealth of talmudic references have been the basis for a major study by D. Sperber. For centuries, well into the Christian era, *Alexandria had its own society of Jewish navicularii ("shipowners"), as well as seamen of all professions. During the anti-Jewish riots of 39 C.E., cargoes of Jewish ships were carried off and burned. Augustine and Jerome both recorded encounters with Jewish mariners; their contemporary, Bishop Synesius, wrote a satirical account of his experiences aboard a ship with a Jewish crew sailing from Alexandria to Corynna: when a storm rose on Friday afternoon the ship was left to dance freely upon the waves by the God-fearing mariners, to the extreme agitation of the passengers.

Ship representations from the Hasmonean and Early Roman periods have been found at Maresha and in the "Tomb of Jason," Jerusalem. An intact lower hull of a boat dated to the first century C.E. was excavated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Drawings of ships – merchantmen and galleys – are known from the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (e.g., at Nessana, Beth Shearim), as well as in mosaic floors (e.g., recently at Lod), X Legion bricks, and coins. A drawing of a merchantman, together with a Latin inscription, "Domine Ivimus," was uncovered in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Some authorities date it to the Byzantine period, while others suggest dating it to the Roman period.

[Henry Wasserman / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

As long as the Mediterranean remained open to the European West, Jewish traders were prominent in maritime contacts between the Mediterranean coast and the southern shores of the sea up to the ninth century. Gregory of Tours (sixth century) tells of a ship manned by Jews plying the coast of Provence and Liguria. Norman ships sighted in Carolingian times were thought to be either Jewish, African, or British. During the Muslim domination of the Mediterranean there is evidence in contracts, responsa, and descriptions of partnerships of Jews "in ships," i.e., in cargoes; Jewish ownership of "a third of a ship" is mentioned. Maimonides distinguishes between various legal forms of this financing of maritime trade. In the main, such Jewish merchants conducted their manifold and widespread trade in ships owned by gentiles. There were, however, notable exceptions: *Benjamin of Tudela observed that the Jews in *Tyre were shipowners. In southern France, particularly in *Marseilles , Jewish shipowners, who were barely differentiated from their Christian competitors, were active from the Byzantine era until well into the Middle Ages. Evidence of some Jewish shipping activities may be found in Aragon, Barcelona, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands in the late Middle Ages. Most Mediterranean ports contained Jewish merchants, brokers, and insurers, engaged in various aspects of shipping.

Jewish scholars may have helped spread the knowledge of early nautical aids like the compass, quadrant (predecessor of the sextant), astrolabe, and astronomical tables, from the Arab East to the Christian West. *Levi b. Gershom (1288–1344) devised an improved quadrant which continued in use for four centuries and was known as "Jacob's staff"; his invention was itself a refinement of the "Quadrans Judaicus" of Judah b. Machir. The famous "Alfonsine Tables" were translated into Spanish and amended by two Jewish physicians at the court of Aragon in the late 13th century. *Majorca was known for its nautical instruments, produced by Jewish craftsmen, and for its Jewish mapmakers, the most renowned of whom were Abraham *Cresques (d. 1387) and his son Judah, who completed his father's lifework, a map of the world. Apostatizing after the massacres of 1391, Judah Cresques entered the service of Prince Henry the Navigator and became director of his nautical academy at Sagres. Abraham *Zacuto constructed the first metal astrolabe, compiled astronomical tables, and was consulted by *Columbus , Vasco de Gama, and other leading navigators of the Age of Discovery. Some Jews participated in the great European voyages of discovery (see Gaspar da *Gama and Pedro *Teixera ). Jewish merchants on the Barbary Coast and other Muslim Mediterranean coasts sometimes engaged in privateering and piracy (see also *Palache family).

The *Marrano Diaspora in the Mediterranean world, Northern Europe (Amsterdam, Hamburg, London), and the New World was active in international maritime commerce, mainly as entrepreneurs, merchants, brokers, and insurers. In *Altona and later in Copenhagen Portuguese Jews participated in the shipbuilding industry, developed the trade with Greenland, and pioneered in whaling; the authorities of *Glueckstadt attracted Portuguese Jews by offering them the right to engage in shipbuilding, from which they were excluded in all Hanseatic cities. In England a Marrano, Simon Fernandez, was chief pilot of Sir Walter Raleigh (see also Antonio Fernandez *Carvajal ). In his "Humble Address on behalf of the Jewish Nation," *Manasseh Ben Israel emphasized the services the Jews could render to English shipping. Members of the *Schomberg family achieved distinction in the royal navy and merchant marines. Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda (1813–1885), a pioneer in the building of iron steamships, helped found the Institute of Naval Architects. Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, joint founder of the Harland and Wolff shipyards of Belfast, one of the world's largest, joined the Church of England at an advanced age. Sephardi Jews played an important role in colonial trade. The *Furtado and *Gradis families (who pioneered the Canada trade) were prominent among the shipping merchants of *Bordeaux . Marrano shipowners and shipbuilders were active in *Leghorn . In Antwerp the Mendes-Nasi family were prominent shippers in the spice trade and even had their own ships built.

Jews sailed the Indian Ocean, mainly in non-Jewish ships, playing a not inconsiderable role in shipping in the 11th–12th centuries and once more in the 16th–18th centuries. They were also active in shipping in Constantinople and worked as boatmen or porters in the ports of Constantinople (where the Jewish boatmen were known as kaikjes) and Salonika. In the British and Dutch colonies of North America, Jews were engaged in the oceanic colonial trade as well as in trade between the various colonies and in fishing enterprises (see Aaron *Lopez and *Touro family ). Michael and Bernard Gratz, shippers of New York, outfitted privateers in the War of Independence. Captain John Ordronalux (1778–1841) was a highly successful privateer captain in the 1812–14 war between the United States and Great Britain. In South Africa the *De Pass brothers were the largest shipowners for many years in the 19th century; they were connected mainly with developing the whaling and fishing industries.

In modern times, Jewish participation in shipbuilding – as in other heavy industries – was not common. However, there were exceptions. When Alexander Moses of Koenigsberg began building a ship in 1781, the German builders protested; Frederick II allowed him to finish this one but not to build another. Albert *Ballin raised the standard of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and brought it international repute by introducing modern passenger services and winter pleasure cruises. Jens and Lucie Borchardt (1878–1969) developed tugboat shipping in Hamburg harbor; after the Nazi rise to power they continued their activity in Great Britain. In 1870 W. Kuntsmann (1844–1934) of Stettin founded the largest shipping firm on the eastern coast of Prussia. In Russia, Jews helped develop the internal river traffic: David S. Margolin organized a firm which owned 62 river steamboats on the Dnieper and in the 1880s G. Polyak built a fleet of petroleum tankers that sailed from the Caspian Sea up the Volga. Austrian Lloyd was organized by Italian Jews from *Trieste , as was the Navigazione Generale Italiana. Jacob *Hecht formed the Rhenania Rheinschiffahrts group in 1908 and the Neptun company in 1920 for river shipping.

For shipping in Israel see *Israel , State of: Economic Affairs; *Zim .

[Henry Wasserman]


BIBLICAL PERIOD: C. Torr, Ancient Ships (1895); Cowley, Aramaic, 89–90; A. Koester, Das antike Seewesen (1923); idem, Schiffahrt und Handelsverkehr des oestlichen Mittelmeeres (1924); S. Glanville, in: Zeitschrift fuer aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 66 (1931), 105–21; 68 (1932), 7–41; Sp. Marinatos, in: Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique, 57 (1933), 170–235; R. Patai, Ha-Sappanut ha-Ivrit (1938); A. Salonen, Die Wasserfarzeuge in Babylonien (1939); idem, Nautica Babylonica (1942); J. Hornell, in: Antiquity, 15 (1941), 242–6; W. Saeve-Soederbergh, The Navy of the XVIIIth Dynasty (1946); J.G. Février, in: La Nouvelle Clio, 1 (1949) 128–43; A. Parrot, Déluge et Arche Noé (1953), 43–55; R.D. Barnett, in: Archaeology, 9 (1956), 91; idem, in: Antiquity, 32 (1958), 220–30; L. Casson, The Ancient Mariners (1959); S. Yeivin, in: JQR, 50 (1959/60), 193–228; J. Braslavi, in: Elath (Heb., 1963); Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (1963); L.Y. Radmani, in: Atiqot, 14 (1964), 710; G. Garbini, Bibliae Oriente, 7 (1965), 13ff.; J.M. Sasson, in: JAOS, 86 (1965), 126–38; R. North, in: The Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies (1967), 197–202. POST-BIBLICAL PERIOD: S. Tolkowsky, They Took to the Sea (1964; incl. bibl.); R. Patai, Ha-Sappanut ha-Ivrit (1938; incl. bibl.); idem, in: JQR, 32 (1941/42), 1–26; C. Roth, Venice (1930), 175–80; H.I. Bloom, Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam (1937), index; A.L. Lebeson, in: HJ, 10 (1948), 155–74; Tcherikover, Corpus, 1 (1957), 105; Baron, Social2, 4 (1957), 183f.; 12 (1967), 46, 100f., 104ff.; E. Rosenbaum, in: YLBI, 3 (1958), 257–99; H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe (1958); J. Frumkin et al. (eds.), Russian Jewry (1966), 139–40; S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 1 (1967), passim; M. Grunwald, Juden als Reeder und Seefahrer (1902); idem, in: Mitteilungen fuer juedische Volkskunde (1904), no. 14, 82–84; H.J. Fischel, in: A.A. Neumann and S. Zeitlin (eds.), The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review (1967), 192–210; idem, in: JQR, 47 (1956/57), 37–57; M.A. Gutstein, The Story of the Jews of Newport (1936); D. Corcos, in: Zion, 25 (1960), 122–33. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Brindley, "The Sailing Ship at Bet-Shearim," in: Sefunim (Bulletin), 1 (1966), 25–27; S. Gibson, "The Tell Sandahannah Ship Grafitto Reconsidered," in: PEQ, 124 (1992), 26–30; S. Gibson and J.E. Taylor, Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (1994), 25ff.; S. Gibson, "A Brief Note on a Visit Made to El-'Auja…," in: D. Urman (ed.), Nessana I (2004), 246*; D. Haldane, "Anchors of Antiquity," in: Biblical Archaeologist, 53 (1990), 19–24. L. Casson, "Ships on Coins," in: A.L. Ben-Eli (ed.), Ships and Parts of Ships on Ancient Coins, vol. 1 (1975); L.Y. Rachmani, "Jason's Tomb," in: IEJ, 37 (1970), 61–100, Fig. 5a; S. Wachsmann et al., An Ancient Boat Discovered in the Sea of Galilee (1988); D. Sperber, Nautica Talmudica (1986).

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