The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
The science that treats of plants. Like grammar and other sciences based on logical thought, scientific botany originated with the Greeks, and from them found its way to the Jews. Agriculture, gardening, and popular medicine naturally led to a knowledge of the plant world and of the most remarkable phenomena of plant life; and the natural impulse toward nomenclature led to naive classifications of the plant world. Biblical language is not poor in designations for plants (, ) and their various parts. In illustration may be mentioned the different expressions, , for "root"; , , for "stem," "slip," "stalk," "shoot," and "twigs"; as well as , for "leaves" and "foliage"; , for "bud," "blossom," and "blossom-stalk"; , , for "fruit," "fruit-stalk," and "seed"; many of which designations were in reality only used by the farmer and gardener as technical terms. The Biblical classification of plants—with which life on earth begins (Delitzsch on Genesis 1:11)—is contained in the passage which tells of their creation: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass , the herb yielding seed , and the fruit-tree  yielding fruit . . . whose seed is in itself upon the earth: and it was so" (Genesis 1:11). The term is explained as embracing, besides the grasses, the cryptogamous plants, in contrast to ; although the Bible never mentions the cryptogamia elsewhere (Keil on Gen. c.). But this is a forced use of the word somewhat similar to the limitation of fruit-bearing trees to fruit-trees by Jewish exegetes, according to whom the forest-trees, with "thorns and thistles," were created only after the fall of man and the cursing of the earth. They also claim, according to Gen. R. 5:9, that the earth had previously brought forth only fruits and wood bereft of any fruit-taste, in place of fruit-like wood (in Mishnaic diction had come to mean "wood"; was the word for "tree"). Herewith ended the classification of plants. Language had designated certain groups, like grain-plants (); and only when the study of the Law was taken up in post-Biblical times did it become necessary to establish some uniformity regarding correlated groups, although the method of classification was not a particularly happy one. Herein also Maimonides acted as a systematizer (L. Löw, "Graphische Requisiten," 1:93), deducing the following division from Talmudical writings ("Yad," Kil. 1:8,9): "Plants are classified as: (1) ('trees'); (2) ('vegetables'). The former consist of: ('fruit-trees') and ('barren trees'). To vegetables belong: (a) ('grain'), comprising the five familiar species; (b) ('small grain') and all seeds that are eaten, with the exception of large grain, as, for instance, the leguminous plants, beans, peas, lentils, rice, sesame, poppy [Maimonides, ]; (c) ('garden-plants') (Kil. 2:2; Tosef. 1:74), the seeds of which are not edible, but which bear edible fruits; for example, the onion, garlic, leek, nutmeg, turnip, etc.; flax also belongs to this group. Some of these garden-seeds are grown in fields on a large scale, and are then called ('seed species'), as, for example, flax and mustard; others, grown only in small beds, as turnips, radishes, beets, onions, coriander, celery, lettuce, are called ('herbs')."
Maimonides' classification is repeated later on by others; for example, in "Kaftor wa-Feraḥ," ed. Berlin, 56:119b; Caleb Afendopolo, in "Adderet Eliyahu," Appendix, 14a. Afendopolo adds to the above, "fruits of the ground," as cucumbers, watermelons, the castor-oil plant, and those medicinal plants which are not used for foods.
For purposes of the ritual blessing there is but one classification; namely, fruit of the tree and fruit of the soil, in addition to which mushrooms and truffles form a group by themselves, as, according to Jewish belief, they are nourished by the air (Maimonides, "Yad," Ber. and the ritual codices). As a curiosity of more modern times, the fact may be mentioned that Azulai speaks of fifty-five kinds of "fruits of the soil," for which reason, he says, the Hebrew benediction reads: ("of the earth"), the numerical value of the letters in this word being 55! ("Birke Yosef, Shiyyure Berakah, Oraḥ Ḥayyim," 203.) This classification was not easily arrived at, as is shown by Ber. 6, as in Tosef., Ber. 6:8,27, , and ("grains," "grasses," and "herbs") are distinguished (Israel Lewy, "Fragmente der Mischna des Abba Sanl," p. 10). For the classification , see Sifra 87b and parallels, and compare Revelation 8:7, 9:4, where χόρτος = , χλωρός = , and δένδρον = .
From the standpoint of the value of the soil's products, those used for maintaining life (for example, wine, oil, flour, fruit) are distinguished from others less important, as caraway-seeds and spices ('Ab. Zarah 4:465,25 et seq.; "Sheiltot," No. 32). Israel is compared with wheat, and not with nutmeg or pepper; for the world could well exist without the latter, but could not do so without the former (Pesiḳ. R. 10 [ed. Friedmann, p. 35a] and parallel passages). Separate categories are formed of the seven plants characteristic of Palestine (see see PALESTINE) and of those used for incense, medicine, and dyestuffs ().
Besides the plants of Palestine and Egypt the Bible only mentions spices and condiments, coming from southern Asia and its groups of islands. These found their way, partly by land, partly by sea, to the peoples of foreign countries, and were used especially in their sacrificial offerings (Gildemeister and Hoffmann, "Die Aetherischen Oele," pp. 4 et seq., Berlin, 1899).
The entire plant world is called in the Mishnah (Sifre, Num. 84 [ed. Friedmann, p. 23a];Deut. 11 [ed. Friedmann, p. 67b]); Targum, (Kil. 2:5); the young nursery or vineyard is (Sheb. 1:8; Tosef. 1:61); is "to plant" (Tosef., Bek. 6:541; Tosef., B. B. 7:408; Yer. Meg. 1:70b.); is "to fell plantations" (Ned. 3:5; Tosef. 2:277; B. K. 8:6; Tosef. 3:349; Tosef., Sanh. 4:423; in an applied sense Tosef., Ḥag. 2:234). The term is opposed to in Mek., Beshallaḥ, 10 (ed. Friedmann, p. 43b); opposed to in Tosef., Sheb. 1:61; is "grapes" (Tosef., Shab. 8:121; Gen. R. 31:14); but in the Targum is used also for "plant."
For the different parts of the plant the language of the Mishnah is so rich in synonyms as to make it impossible to reproduce them here. Some of the designations are for particular products, as for "branch of a fig-tree"; for "branch of the olive and sycamore"; for "branch of a vine" (Gen. R. 31:14). All the different parts of the plant are enumerated by the Zohar, which proceeds to mention the seven parts—root, bark, pith, twig, leaf, blossom, and fruit—in order to draw parallels to the seven different ways of interpreting the Bible (3:202a).
The rich flora and the fertility of Palestine (see Palestine, Flora of) are lauded as highly by the Talmud and the Bible as in secular literature. "The vegetation of Palestine was always a very rich one; its fruits were the finest and most easily cultivated. But on two occasions its productivity reached the highest pitch: at the time when our fathers took possession of the country, and at the time of their going into exile" (Sifre, Deut. 37 [ed. Friedmann, p. 76b]; 316, 317 [ed. Friedmann, p. 135b]; Pesiḳ. R. 132a; Yalḳ., Yer. 328). Still greater shall be its fertility at the time of the Messiah: "On the day of sowing, the fruit will ripen as at Creation, yea, even the wood of the fruit-trees will become edible." Wonderful was also the harvest at the time of Queen Salome: the wheat-kernels grew to the size of kidneys; barley was as large as olives; peas were as large as golden dinars; and, accordingly, samples of them all were preserved for later generations, to show what would be the deteriorating consequences of sin! (Sifra, Beḥuḳḳotai, ed. Weiss, p. 110d, and parallel passages). "Unseemly, yea, even insolent, it is of the land which has been manured and cultivated by its owners, not to deny its harvest to the conquerors after the destruction of Jerusalem" (Yer. Ta'an. 4:69b; Lam. R., Introduction, end).
The total number of plant-names found in the Bible (100) does not correspond with the excessively rich vegetation of Palestine. But this will not be a matter for surprise, considering that the legislative part of the Bible is, on account of the food restrictions contained therein, very copious in names of animals, and that there is little occasion to consider plants in such connection, these being only occasionally mentioned in poetical and prophetical writings. The literature of the Mishnah enriches the Biblical list of plant-names to the extent of about 180 good Hebrew words; so that it may be inferred that a very large proportion of the Hebrew botanical vocabulary has been preserved.
Halakic writers often had occasion to mention plants. The establishment of the ritual blessings for the various kinds of vegetable food and for the first-fruits of the season (); agrarian legislation on the rights of the poor to participate in the harvest; the rules for tithes, for the priest's portion, and for the "ḥallah" (offering of dough); the regulations concerning the mixture of heterogeneous plants; the rules for the Sabbatical year; the law forbidding the fruit during the first three years of the tree's growth; the establishment of the particular kinds of grain to be used for the making of unleavened bread; the salads to be used with the Passover roast; the components of the festal garland for Tabernacles; the covering of the Tabernacle itself; the use of botanical words in vows; the proper material on which to write letters of divorce; sacrifices from the plant world; the ingredients for incense; the kinds of hyssop to be used in the sacrifice of the Red Heifer; the laws of Levitical impurity in relation to plants—all these are far from exhaustive of the occasions where plants are concerned. Custom and usage demanded certain vegetable foods on certain days, and created new relations to the plant world, as life constantly raised new halakic botanical questions, of which rabbinical literature treats. The throwing of burs on the fast-day of the Ninth of Ab; the custom of plucking up grass after a funeral, believed to be a symbol of the resurrection ("Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ," p. 373a; Responsa of MaBIT, 1:250; Lewysohn, "Meḳore Minhagim," p. 134); lotion-plants from which a kind of milk runs (Responsa of RaSHA, No. 248); the chewing of mastic on Passover (RaDBaZ, ed. Fürth, No. 582); beans which may be washed with soap (Responsa of YaBeẒ, No. 156); oats for stuffing geese ("Ẓemaḥ Ẓedeḳ," p. 17); the feeding of silkworms with mulberry-leaves on Sabbath ("Yakin u-Boaz," 2:18; "Bet Yosef" and Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 324, 12, and other sources), are only a few topics taken at random from the later casuistic literature, in which reference to new plant products, such as sugar-cane, lemons, coffee, tea, chocolate, Indian meal, eggplant, potatoes, tobacco, camphor, and spices, may be traced.
Europe received most of its cultivated plants from the Orient. Some plant-names, like that of the balsam, it returned to the East later; but the Orient also owes many new terms to the Greeks and Romans. The preponderating culture of the former, and the commerce and luxury of Roman life, led the Jews to adopt the names of many plants long before they were known in Palestine. Through the Greeks podded "grains" (pulse) came to the East; the words ϑέρμος, λόβια, φάση;λος, piίσον became familiar to the Jews and other Semites, while many fine sorts of fruit were known by the names which the Roman consumer gave them, as, for example, "plums of Damascus" (Δαμασκηνὰ), two sorts of dates (νικόλαος, καρυωτός), a celebrated brand of figs, called φιβάλεως, the fine eating olive (κολυμβάς), etc. The names of the peach (περσικά), the quince (μελΊμηλα), the kind of pear known as Crustuminum pirum, the cembra-nut (στρόβιλος), and the fruit of the Cordia myxa (Linnæus) indicate the influence ofthe Greeks on the fruit-trees and fruit-markets of Palestine. The cabbage, kale, and mustard (λαψάνη) came from Europe; the turnip, carrot (γογγυλίδια), parsnip, leek (κεφαλωτόν), parsley, artichoke, and sugar-melon are known by Greek designations. The ash (μελία), of which three kinds are now found in Palestine, bears a Greek name; even for the indigenous cedar the word κέδρος maintains itself; while the wood of the native box-tree is also designated by the Greek word εύξινον.
Passages indicating where various plants were especially cultivated abound in the Mishnaic and Talmudic literature; but these belong rather to a description of the agriculture of Palestine than to botany. R. Simon b. Gamaliel, however, shows an accurate knowledge of the special habitats of plants when he says: "Of mountains, the ash is characteristic; of ravines ["ghor"], the date-palms; of water-courses ["wadis"], the reeds; and of lowlands ["she-felah"], the sycamore" (see Tosef., Sheb.; Yer. 9:38d; Pes. 13a; Bacher, "Ag. Tan." 2:327; and "Kaftor wa-Peraḥ," p. 107a; Vogelstein, "Landwirt-schaft in Palästina," 1:7; Kaplan, "Ereẓ Ḳedumim," p. 34).
Ritual Mention of Plants.
In other passages also R. Simon b. Gamaliel shows an interest in botanical questions (Frankel, "Darke ha-Mishnah," p. 184); and the interpretation of the Biblical as the resin of the balsam-dropping trees ("kaṭof") is said to have originated with him. He determines the length of time between the leafing of the fig-tree and the ripening of its fruit (Tosef., Sheb. 14:67; Yer. ib. 35d); describes minutely a certain kind of onion (Tosef., Ma'as. R. 3:85; Yer. ib. 52a); declares that rice is not grain (Tosef., Ḥal. 2:98); allows only the fruit of the palms of Jericho to be offered in the Temple as first-fruits (Tosef., Bik. 1:100); and maintains that there is nothing square in nature, in opposition to which statement it is pointed out that mint, like all labiate flowers, has a four-edged stem (Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," p. 260). He mentions also (Tosef., Ṭebul Yom, 1:684) a peculiar kind of bean (nigella), the leek, and senna (?).
R. Johanan ben Nuri, a contemporary of R. Akiba, mentions an otherwise unknown inferior and probably only wild grain, the ; and the " ḳurram" or "ḳurreim," still found in Palestine, makes it probable that this was the Hordeum bulbosum (Linnæus) (Post, "Flora of Syria," etc., p. 902: "found in grassy places"). According to Johanan, this makes a dough which is subject to the law of ḤALLAH, and may be leavened; but with this view other teachers disagree, each claiming that his opinion is founded on experience (Tosef., Ḥal. 1:97; Yer. ib. 1:57a; Tosef., Pes. 1:157; ib. Yer. 29a). Rice, too, he tried, though unsuccessfully, to classify as a grain; and this difference of opinion leads to the inference that Indian rice—which was unknown to the Bible, and appeared only after Alexander the Great—was not naturalized in Palestine much before his time (Pes. 35a, 114b; Ber. 37a; also Rice). Saffron-seed cakes (), usually taken as delicacies before the meal, Johanan would not class as food; consequently they were not to be bought with money from the second tithe, which was reserved for food. His opposition to Akiba extended to still other kinds of spices (Tosef., Ma'as. Sh. 1:87).
Nor was the appreciation of the beauty of nature entirely lacking in the time of the Mishnah teachers; for the latter, although engrossed in study, and probably immersed in the explanation of details of sacrificial rites, were so astounded at the wonders of nature—as, for instance, trees, in all their majesty—that they would exclaim: "How magnificent this tree is!" Such direct appreciation of nature had probably become so foreign to that period and its manner of feeling that it was condemned as an interruption of the study of the Law (Ab. 3:7).
On the other hand, on reviewing the splendors of creation, the Jew is to praise not creation but the Creator; at sight of beautiful human beings or trees he is to extol God, who permits these creatures to exist in the world (Tosef., Ber. 7:15; Talmud Bab. ib. 58b), and who created them (Yer. 9:13b).
By R. Judah b. Ezekiel of Pumbedita this thought was condensed into the command: "He who walks abroad in Nisan and sees the blossoming trees shall repeat the blessing: 'Praised be He who allows nothing to be wanting in His world: who created beautiful beings and trees, to delight men'" (Ber. 43b and parallels; Ṭur and Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 226). Closer casuistic details are given by Azulai, who, with a perfect absence of all feeling for nature, adds that this blessing should be pronounced with especially impressive reverence for the benefit of those souls which may be wandering through trees and plants, and that God's mercy should be begged for them ("Moreh be-Eẓba'," Nos. 198, 199; Palaggi, "Mo'ed le-Ḳol Ḥai," 1:6-9).
The same command is extended to flowers ("Leḳaḥ Ṭob," in "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," 1, 58a). Instead of choosing the early blooming almond-tree as the occasion for saying this blessing, one is commanded to wait until other trees are in bloom. The question as to whether this blessing may be pronounced as early as Adar and as late as Iyyar is the subject of casuistic debate (Alkalai, "Zekor le-Abraham," Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 21a; Responsa of Joel Ẓebi Roth Huszt, "Bet ha-Yoẓer" on Oraḥ Ḥayyim, No. 13).
The miserable condition of the roads of the Holy Land, when pilgrims discontinued their annual journey to Jerusalem, was shown in the briers that overgrew the paths (Lam. R., Introduction, 26; [ed. Buber, p. 30]; Yalḳ., Isa. 302; "Leḳaḥ Ṭob" on Lamentations 1:4); and it was a pathetic sight to behold weeds growing in forsaken synagogues (Tosef., Meg. 3:225; Talmud Yer. and Bab. c.).
The Biblical idea that just as man extols God for the wonder of His creation, so, too, creation itself praises its Maker, is not lost even in later times. Thus the month of Shebaṭ is said to boast that during its duration "the trees grow higher, open their mouths, and with their leaves praise the living God" (Targ. Yer. Exodus 12:31). This same poetical thought is reflected also in the "Pereḳ Shirah," where it is applied to the individual phenomena and parts of the creation: "The trees rejoice over Israel'sredemption" (Isaiah 44:23), applied haggadically in Mek., Beshallaḥ, ed. Friedmann, p. 40b. King Og was rude enough to designate Abraham and Sarah as beautiful trees growing by the waterside but bearing no fruit; therefore he was punished by being conquered by the great nation descended from them (Targ. Yer. on Numbers 21:34). By fruits are meant the Patriarchs; by blossoms, the tribes of Israel (Lam. R., Introduction, 2 [ed. Buber, p. 3]). David, like Moses, a faithful shepherd, reserved the young and tender pasture for the lambs of his flock; the older growth was given to the older sheep, the roots to the fully grown animals, thereby showing his fitness to be a shepherd of Israel (Midr. Teh. on 78:21 [ed. Buber, p. 357]). God and the Torah are compared to plants; thus the Torah is likened to the fig, the vine, flax, and wheat, while Israel (Ex. R. 36:1) is compared to all the nobler trees (the vine, fig, walnut, myrtle, olive, apple, palm, willow, and cedar).
There was a dispute as to which of the trees thus compared with Israel furnished the wood for Haman's gallows (Abba Gorion and "Leḳaḥ Ṭob," on Esther 7:10 [ed. Buber, pp. 41, 48]). Just as the entire Song of Solomon is symbolical of God and Israel, so, too, are the individual plants mentioned in it, such as meadow-saffrons and lilies. Israel and the peoples of Canaan suggest a vineyard wherein both cedars and briers grow: the former are uprooted, while the latter remain to protect the vineyard (Yalḳ., Judges 41:8a).
The significance attributed in Ber. 56-57 to various plants (citron, fig, barley, pomegranate, pumpkin, olive, palm, date, reeds, and vines) in interpreting dreams is made to rest on Biblical verses or on a play upon words. Solomon Almoli's collection in his dream-book, "Pitron Ḥalomot," rests partly on Talmudic passages, partly on foreign folk-lore and his own imagination. Thus to dream of spinach is said to signify happiness, riches, and honor; of ginger, honor and renown (see Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." No. 6896, 3).
Figurative Uses of Plant-Names.
In a figurative sense the names of certain plants, or, more specifically, fruit-trees, are used to designate similar objects (); see Löw, c. p. 375; Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 319, 395; Gen. R. 28:3; "Monatsschrift," 38:25; Tan., Ḥayye Sarah, ed. Buber, pp. 7, 51.
Metaphors and comparisons from the plant world appear in Talmudic literature continually, and many pass into the most diverse languages and literatures. In man—as the microcosm—the hair is said to represent the woods, while the bones correspond to the trees (Ab. R. N. , = both "hair" and "foliage"; see also Peah 2:3; Theocritus, "Idyls," 1:131). According to Naḥmanides ("Terumah," 71b), "the holy language always compares all forms with man. That which is at the top is called the head; that below, the feet." Nevertheless, the words "roots," "branches," "stems," and "fruit" are frequently used metaphorically. The human body is likened to the earth; the bones, to the mountains; the hair, to plants (Dieterici, "Die Anthropologie der Araber," 1871, p. 15). "The roots are the soul, the stem is the body," is a Mishnaic saying (Tosef., Sanh. 13:434). On the other hand, Arabic philosophy is reflected in Ibn Ezra's dictum on Psalms 1:3 (see "Monatsschrift," 43:239), that the most perfectly formed soul is that fruit of the body which is picked at the time of maturity.
The words ("root") and ("branch"), as designating fundamental law and deduced ordinances, are found in Sherira (Neubauer, "Chronique Samaritaine," 1:19), but earlier also in the Mishnaic usage of , meaning the chief matter, as opposed to , that of secondary, nature (Sifre, Num. 89 [ed. Weiss, p. 24b]); opposed to (Yer. Ber. 9:13c). "Man is an inverted tree, and a tree is an inverted man," said Aristotle ("De Part. An." 4:10), and after him all writers of the Middle Ages—Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians. Judah Muskato ("Nefuẓot Yehudah," sermon 15) and Samuel Yafe Ashkenazi ("Yefeh Mareh" on Ber. 1:4), both of the sixteenth century, were familiar with this comparison; but so also was Gershom b. Solomon (see below). The simile is worked out in detail in "Aggadat 'Olam Ḳaṭon" (Jellinek, "B. H." 5:58; see also "Monatsschrift," 13:227). "At the time of the resurrection the bones will be drawn from the earth; the hair from trees; the power of life from fire, as was the case at the time of the original Creation" ("Bundehesh," in Spiegel," Die Tradit. Literatur der Parsen," p. 116). Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ ("'Olam Ḳaṭon," p. 22) and Clément Mullet (Introduction to his translation of Ibn Awwâm, p. 22) also say: "Assyrian agriculture sees in man an inverted tree, while, on the other hand, the tree is an inverted man." Of Mohammedans, Kazwini may be mentioned; of Christians, the following passage: "Physicists say man is an inverted tree" (Migne, "Patrologiæ Cursus Completus," Latin series, p. 185, col. 107; Guerricus Abbas, "Sermo," ).
Steinschneider was the first to collect the Hebrew typology of botany (Kobak, "Jeschurun," German ed., 8:65). To this belong such statements as that mustard-seed grains () represent the smallest of things in contrast to the largest (, "Zunz Jubelschrift," p. 107), or to ostriches' eggs (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 16, note 107; idem, in "Jeschurun," c.), or to the ocean ("Monatsschrift," 1879, p. 354, note). Steinschneider understands sesame-seed as representing something very small. Similar usage to represent "nothing," figuratively, is found in many other languages (Hoefer, "Germania," 1873, 18:19). Comparisons of cedars and reeds, and instances of the use of the latter as illustrations of weakness, are also found (see REED).
Expressions to the effect that the soul is the tree, and wisdom its fruit; that wisdom is the tree, and deeds are its fruit; that intelligence without morality is a tree without fruit (Gabirol), and similar quotations ("Naḥal Ḳedumim," p. 34; see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 882), all come from the Arabic (concerning the "fruit of wisdom" see Steinschneider, in "Zunz Jubelschrift," p. 1, note, and idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 156).
Of the scientific expressions of the Arabic period of civilization mention may be made of for "cone" ("Hebr. Bibl." 7:90 et seq.), , Judah Tibbon (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 445, note, where also al ṣanubri = = ; see Barzillai, "Yeẓirah," pp. 222, 347).
The haggadic pictures drawn from the plant world are chiefly types taken from the Bible, such as cedar and reeds, cedar and hyssops, etc. (see the articles under these respective captions).
Man Compared to Trees.
The tree as an emblem of human life is a favorite metaphor in the Bible, and is frequently so used in later literature (L. Löw, " Gesammelte Schriften," 1:67). The upright man is compared in the Bible to the palm and to trees in general. The just man is likened to a tree in a clean place with a branch overhanging an unclean spot; the wicked man, to the reverse (Ab. R. N. 39:119). "Plant" () is a Biblical word for the Messiah (Heilprin, "'Erke ha-Kinnuyim," s.); salvation is a quickening anew of all that is green (Cant. R. on 2:2; Targ. Yer. on Isaiah 6:13); the plant springing from the seed, a picture of resurrection (Num. R. ). The seed is confided to the earth naked; but the latter returns it to man clothed in fruit (Sanh. 90b; Eccl. R.; Pirḳe R. El. ).
Of fables, the following may be mentioned: "The Trees and the Iron" (Gen. R. , end; Sachs, "Stimmen vom Jordan und Euphrat," 2:111), and "Hadrian and the Old Man Planting Trees" (Lev. R. 25:5).
The beginnings of scientific botany, preserved in the Jewish literature of the Middle Ages, consist chiefly of echoes of Aristotle, with now and then information derived from Theophrastus; all of them transmitted through Arabic channels, and especially either directly or indirectly from Averroes (concerning Dioscorides, on whom Asaf relies, see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 239, 650). Any one familiar with the fragments of Aristotelian botany contained in Meyer ("Gesch. der Botanik," 1:94 et seq.) will in exceptional cases only find anything new in Jewish botanical treatises. The questions of the relationship between animals and plants, of the life of the plant, its soul, its own heat, its nourishment and propagation, occupied the thought of the entire Middle Ages, and are answered in an Aristotelian style. True, in general botany the Arabs did not greatly surpass Aristotle; but in speaking of the Arabian and late Greco-Roman literature, Meyer (c. 3:326) rightly says: "The sum of special knowledge concerning plants considerably decreased among the Greeks and Romans, but increased among the Arabians. The Arabs sought in nature itself the plants commended by the ancients, and expended much energy on the criticism of synonyms." In this, Jewish literature made the Arabic its model (see PLANTS); but the literature of synonymy belongs rather to Jewish pharmacology than to botany. In 1197 Pseudo-Galen's "De Plantis" was translated into Hebrew by an anonymous writer from Orange (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 142, 972). The book of Pseudo-Aristoteles, "De Plantis," demonstrated by Meyer to have been written by Nicolaus Damascenus, was translated into Hebrew (Steinschneider, ib. p. 141).
Early Books on Botany.
In 1314 Kalonymus ben Kalonymus translated a book on plants containing undoubtedly the entire text of Pseudo-Aristoteles and the commentary of Averroes, with probably the supercommentary by Levi b. Gerson (Steinschneider, ib. p. 142; Renan-Neubauer, "Les Ecrivains Juifs Français," p. 83). According to Steinschneider (ib. p. 836), a book on herbs in the Vatican consists of an alphabetical list of remedies. A so-called "Book on Plants" is also mentioned by this scholar (ib. pp. 359, 743). Macer Floridus' book on botany (about 1161) was also translated into Hebrew (ib. p. 809).
The article on botany in the encyclopedia "Sha'ar ha-Shamayim," by Gershom b. Solomon of Arles (Gross, in "Monatsschrift," 28:126; idem, "Gallia Judaica," P. 82; Renan-Neubauer, "Les Rabbins Français," p. 589; Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 9), is probably taken from Averroes' commentary on the Pseudo-Aristotelian book. It treats of the soul of the plant; passes on to consider its nourishment, growth, blossoming, and fructification; and then takes up the influence upon it of the sun's heat, of exposure, and of climate. The hot spices—pepper, calamus, and ginger—grow only under the "second" climate, that is, where it is hot and dry; the sugar-cane under the "fourth," the moderate climate. In France the tropical fruits—figs, olives, and pomegranates—will not grow toward the limits of the "sixth" climate: only the grape endures, for the coldness of this zone can not overcome this plant's natural heat. In England even the grapevine does not survive the "seventh" climate. The herbs, too, are not everywhere the same, each having its particular locality or habitat. Plants are heavy, light, or medium. The lightest and weakest are those of the pulse family, which, therefore, ripen earliest, just as weaker woman matures before stronger man. Barley ripens later, and wheat later still.
According to Aristotle, the plant's development keeps pace with the course of the sun, and reaches its highest point when the sun is in Cancer. Averroes distinguishes between perfect and imperfect plants. Some of the imperfect ones are controlled by one or other of the elements; thus, aquatic plants by water, and sponges by the earth. He says also that most plants live longer than animals, for they are more nearly allied to the minerals, and their composition does not contain the great antagonisms found in the animal world. According to gardeners the moon, according to "modern" teachers the stars, exercise a great influence over growing plants. Plants consist of the four elements, but principally of air, as is evident from the small quantity of ashes remaining after they are burned. According to Averroes, however, the earthy constituents outweigh the water in some plants which sink in water, such as ebony. Then follow the division of fruits (based upon the edibility of their interiors or exteriors), a passage on evergreen trees, and one on the colors of plants.
Uses of Plants.
Gershom also contends that plants are green either because standing water assumes that color or because water and black earth combine to form green. Like man, plants, except the upright palm, stand inverted. Therefore, the palm dies if its head, its pinnacle,be cut off. Only palm-trees show a distinction in sex, but there are other fruit-trees that bear no fruit unless other trees of their kind are in their vicinity. Some botanical notes to be found in Gershom are: a short description of the balsam-tree ("Sha'ar ha-Shamayim," p. 20b); of the sunflower (solsega); the pumpkin is said to cry out as it grows in the moonlight; the growth of cucumbers should be furthered by blowing the shofar at the time of the setting of the fruit (Duran, "Magen Abot," 36a). Gershom also says that from one tree come cinnamon (the rind), mace (the blossom), and nutmeg (the fruit); cloves also are said to be buds of the same tree.
Only two original botanical remarks are found in Gershom: First, that seedless fruit-trees and grapes may be cultivated, just as "in our city" (Arles) there is a tree called ("sorbier"), the fruit of which has no seeds. Gershom alludes to either a definite tree in Arles or to the so-called beam-tree (Sorbus torminalis). Secondly, he says: "Not far from us there grows a tree the fruit of which is as large as half a bean and as hard when ripe as a stone, so that it can not be softened by cooking. This fruit seems to mark the transition from the plant kingdom to the mineral kingdom, as do corals, mushrooms, and truffles." Mention, of course, is made of the see BARNACLE-GOOSE. The work closes with a description of the various savors of plants and of their admixture.
Duran's Botanical Work.
Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran (1444) wrote an exhaustive treatise on the relations between plants and animals ("Magen Abot," 35d, Leghorn). In spite of the poetical passages in the Holy Scriptures speaking of the rejoicing, exultation, or sadness of plants, they have no feeling—possessing, according to Aristotle, only a self-nourishing power. Earth, water, sun, and air contribute to their growth. Differences in plants are due to the varying combinations of the four elements, to heat and cold, to dampness and dryness. They grow (1) from seeds; (2) from the decay of other materials (Anatoli, "Malmad," 5a), as the saprophytes; (3) from water; (4) from slips; (5) or parasitically, e., on other plants. In addition to the fable that birds grow on trees, Duran states that in India a woman grows on a tree, falls with a loud cry when she is ripe, and dies. Duran also compares the parts of plants to the organs of animal bodies; classifies them as trees, bushes, herbs, and grasses, as wild and cultivated trees, and as fruit-and forest-trees; and treats of their varying longevity, of sex (the artificial fertilization of palm-and fig-trees, sometimes, however, effected by the wind), of the value of plants as means of nourishment and as remedies, poisons, and odors, and of various plant-juices and their different tastes.
Number of Species.
The only specifically Jewish reference is the statement that, according to Jewish scholars, there are 1,290 kinds of plants, since every herb has its own particular star, and there are 1,290 stars, not 1,022 as the astronomers maintain (Abravanel on Genesis 15:5). In the commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" the number of the varieties of plants was estimated at 2,100, corresponding to the numerical value of = 1,000; ר =200; ץ =900. The statement introduced by Maimonides ("Moreh Nebukim," 2:10), "There is no herb on earth without a constellation in heaven that governs it, fosters it, and calls to it, 'Grow on,'" comes from R. Simon b. Pazzi (see Gen. R. 10:6; Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 2:473; Löw, c. p. 6). It is found also in the Midrash Konen; but there an angel is substituted for the constellation (Jellinek, "B. H." 2:27; "Sefer Raziel," ed. Schwarz; "Tikwat Enosh" on Job 38:31). Chwolson ("Ssabier," 2:467) also states: "Every plant has its demon." Such opinions resulted in statements that the number of plant varieties equals that of the stars (so Gerson b. Solomon, and Duran with more detail).
Naḥmanides relies on Simon's statement to establish a better foundation for the Biblical prohibition against mixing heterogeneous plants (commentary on Genesis 1 p. 4c; on Leviticus 19 p. 100b; see Löw, c. p. 6). R. Simon's idea was far too welcome to the spirit of the Cabala not to be continued further. Thus, to mention two extremes: the Zohar reproduces it repeatedly, sometimes in combination with the prohibition of mixed seeds (2:15b, 171b; 3:86a); and Azulai interprets it as follows: "Everything in the world is dependent upon things of a higher scale: even a little blade of grass is related to higher leaves, developed roots, stems, seeds, blossoms, and petals, to height, breadth, length, form; in fact, to everything of higher significance. Even its connection with its angel, and the connection of this angel with his own sefirah, and of this sefirah with the Infinite [En Sof], illustrate the fact. So that he who partakes of anything without a benediction, wantonly tears it from its ultimate connection with the Deity" ("Midbar Ḳedemot," letter ב, No. 20; compare letter צ No. 13). The thought has also penetrated into non-Jewish circles. Thus Paracelsus says: "Every star in heaven is a spiritual growth to which some herb on earth corresponds, and by its attractive power, the star draws on the herb on earth corresponding to it; so that every herb is an earthly star, just as every star is a spiritualized herb" (Friedreich, "Die Symbolik und Mythologie der Natur," p. 193, Würzburg, 1859; Meyer, "Gesch. der Botanik," 4:430). An Oxford manuscript mentions herbs corresponding to single planets (Steinschneider, in "Monatsschrift," pp. 42, 364).
The Vegetative Soul.
Aristotle's idea of the vegetative soul ( ) governs almost the entire Arabian and Jewish philosophy (Dieterici, "Die Anthropologie der Araber," 1871, pp. 8, 58, 146 et seq.). It is met with in Isaac b. Solomon Israeli (middle of the tenth century; Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 388); in the "Book of Definitions" (Steinschneider, "Zunz Jubelschrift," p. 137); in Baṭalyusi, whose influence on Jewish philosophy is pointed out by Kaufmann ("Al-Baṭalyusi," p. 10 and gate 4:51); and in Gabirol (S. Horovitz, "Die Psychologie ibn Gabirol's," p. 115, Breslau, 1900), who states in his allegorical exegesis: "Adam signifies the reasoning or human soul; Eve, the living or animal soul; the snake, the desiring or vegetative soul, the lowest grade in animated nature." The seed of Eve is to crush the head of the serpent,while the latter is to smite the heel of the former, illustrating the close and unbroken interconnection between the natural and psychical worlds. Where the animal soul ceases, the plant soul begins: the serpent, typifying the plant soul, gets its nourishment from the dust (Kaufmann, "Studien über Salomon ibn Gabirol," p. 70, Budapest, 1899). Abraham ibn Daud's teachings (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 369) on plant and animal souls have been concisely presented by Rosin ("Die Ethik des Maimonides," p. 48, note, Breslau, 1876), and exhaustively treated by Guttmann ("Monatsschrift;" 27:164). "In plants, as in sleeping bodies," says Ibn Daud, "there is life" ("Emunah Ramah," p. 15). "According to Aristotle, the coral shows the transition from plants to animals" (ib. p. 31). He makes special mention of opium and the aloe. Similarly Ibn Ezra speaks of the plant's soul as its nourishing principle for growth and propagation (Rosin, in "Monatsschrift," 42:448). Ibn Ezra devotes considerable care to elaborating Gabirol's allegory mentioned above (see Rosin and Kaufmann, c.). Maimonides characterizes the nutrient function of the soul as corresponding to the plant soul, but does not mention the latter in the first of the "Eight Chapters" (Scheyer, "Das Psychologische System des Maimuni," p. 10; Rosin, "Die Ethik des Maimonides," p. 47). Mose de Leon (thirteenth century) knew of the plant soul (Jellinek, "Mose de Leon," p. 18, note), as did Baḥya ben Asher ibn Ḥalawa, who says: "The soul of reason is immortal, but the animal soul is not, and the plant soul is even farther removed from immortality. The latter is the lowest; therefore Holy Scripture says that earth brought forth the plants, while of animals it says that God created them" (commentary on Genesis 1:12; Bernstein, "Die Schrifterklärung des Baḥya," 1891, p. 63; Arama, "Aḳedat Yiẓḥaḳ," 3:1,29b). In comparing man and trees, Aaron b. Joseph, the Karaite, says: "All this on account of the plant soul" ("Mibḥar," 18a). See also Shem-Ṭob ibn Falaquera of the thirteenth century (Venetianer, "A Fokozatok Koenyve," p. 58, Szegedin, 1890; idem, "Das Buch der Grade von Shem-Ṭob ben Josef ibn Falaquera," Berlin, 1894); Ḥayyim Vital of the seventeenth century ("Sha'are Ḳedushah," 1:2); Steinschneider, in "Z. D. M. G." 27:557, note; and idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 903, note.
Among general references to plants may be mentioned those by Baḥya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda: "Plants created for the perfection and use of man are a testimony of divine wisdom. The love of God caused man to come forth from an original nothing composed of the elements; then to become plant-material, then sustenance which is converted into seed and blood, and finally into life and a living man" ("Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," 2:4 [ed. Baumgarten, p. 7]; ib. 2:5 [ed. Baumgarten, p. 8a]). Jeshua b. Judah, the Karaite, of Jerusalem (middle of eleventh century), has the following: "The Jews said that if it had not been written in the Holy Scriptures: 'And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb that bears seed, as food,' they would not have been allowed to use herbs and plants for food." Jeshua, however, thinks this opinion untenable, since "plants feel no pain" (Schreiner, "Studien über Jeshua b. Jehuda"). Finally, Judah ha-Levi remarks:
"Since minerals originated solely through commixture, they do not need the God-granted form necessary to plants and animals, to which a soul has been assigned. The finer the commixture is made, the nobler is its form, revealing more and more of divine wisdom, until it becomes a plant, which possesses a certain degree of feeling and perception. Forthwith it penetrates into the earth, and, nourished by good, damp soil and sweet water, and avoiding their opposites, it grows, and remains standing after having brought forth its kind and produced seed. This seed devotes itself to a similar activity, in accordance with its wonderful intuitive wisdom, called by the philosophers Nature itself—meaning the powers that care for the preservation of the species; for a body that is a composite of various substances can not be preserved indefinitely in its individuality. Nothing possessing only the powers of growth, reproduction, and nourishment has any motion. According to philosophers, these powers are directed by Nature; but in reality, whether ascribed to Nature or soul, force or angel, these successive stages are directed by God. If the commixture is still more refined, and capable of divine wisdom, it will be fit to adopt a higher form than one possessing mere natural power. That is to say, it will be able to obtain nourishment from a distance; in other words, it will possess organic limbs, moving according to its own volition. It will command its members more than plants are able to do, which latter can not protect themselves from harm or seek what is useful, and are played with by the wind. Thus, the animal possesses limbs by which he is transported. The form granted him in addition to the natural life is called a soul".
Knowledge of Botany.
On the necessity of a knowledge of botany, Judah ha-Levi (ib. 2:64 [ed. Cassel, p. 169; ed. Hirschfeld, p. 94]) says: "When a member of the Sanhedrin died, another of equal birth could succeed him, for the sciences were familiar among the people." This was necessarily so, since one needed a knowledge of all the sciences for the complete observance of the Law; of the physical ones, for instance, for the agricultural laws, as in distinguishing mixed seeds, in avoiding the products of the Sabbatical year and of new orchards, and in separating various plants from one another, so that each might be kept with its original species, and that one class might not be confused with another. It is extremely difficult to determine whether Greek barley (χόνδρος; see Löw, c. pp. 104, 164; B. Bahlul, 878; according to Ibn Awwâm, a variety of spelt) is a form of barley, or spelt a variety of wheat, or cauliflower (Löw, c. p. 214) a variety of cabbage. To do so one must know the qualities and the measure of the spread of the roots in the earth, as well as what does and does not remain over for the next year, in order that one may know how much room and interval of time are to be left between one crop and another.
In a list of foods Meïr Aldabi of Toledo mentions sixty-five plants, only one of which, ("eggplant"), has a grammatical interest. None of these lists has more than a slight value. For years they were ascribed to Galen and Avicenna.
Neither Todros nor Cavaillon wrote on botany (Steinschneider, "Jüdische Literatur," p. 446 [p. 305 of Hebrew edition]; idem," Hebr. Uebers." p. 783; Gross, "Gallia Judaica," p. 539). In his medical work, "Ma'aseh Ṭobiyah," printed in 1697, Tobia Cohen of Metz (Zunz, "G. S." 1:193) also touches on cures, and in one appendix treats of forty plants as foods and remedies; while in another he gives aglossary of simple remedies written in several languages. In the first he mentions the following trees and plants: apple, birch, pear, box, citron, cypress, date, oak, ivy, ash, fig, pine, oak-apple, elder, linden, laurel, mulberry, pomegranate, walnut, olive, poplar, brook-willow, peach, plum, rose, rosemary, elm, sandalwood, tamarisk, fir, willow, vine, ("juniper"), plane, (Pino salvaticum, pine-tree).
Tobia Cohen also deserves mention among Jewish botanists because he illustrated a variety of the orchid in his work (p. 143a).
The superficiality of the barren period between Mendelssohn's death and the appearance of Rapoport is shown in the chapter on botany, said to be written, according to some German text-book on natural history, by Baruch Lindau for his encyclopedia "Reshit Limmudim," Berlin, 1788. He gives a short article on botany in forty pages, and, owing to his lack of Jewish learning, makes mistakes in the Hebrew nomenclature of plants.
Phineas Elijah b. Meïr of Wilna (Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." No. 6753; Zunz, "G. S." 1:196) was more intimately acquainted with the Jewish knowledge of the Middle Ages. He derives his natural philosophy from Ḥayyim Vital, and describes the three powers of the plant soul; viz., those that nourish, those that promote growth, and those that propagate. He knows that modern botany regards all plants as growing out of the seed, though in many cases this is microscopic in size. He also mentions that plants have male and female organs of reproduction that are sometimes united in the same individual, and sometimes divided between two, in which latter case the wind carries the pollen to the female part, though bees also, in collecting the pollen on their feet, assist in the fertilization of the blossoms they afterward visit.
The microscope discloses the wonders of God in nature, and one sees—as Phineas repeatedly asserts—the whole plant pictured in the seed. Not only is the next generation represented, but, according to some modern botanists, all the later generations lie folded up in the seed from the time of its creation. This, however, has not been proved, and is only a hypothesis. It may be, he says, that each generation produces only the seed of the next. Phineas adopts the latter view, since experience shows that the unripe seed is not capable of propagation, though, in view of the minute wonders disclosed by the microscope, the former can not be called impossible. As he learns from botany that there are 20,000 known plants, while Jewish tradition counts only 2, 100, he considers these latter as so many plant families, and subdivides these into many classes. Then follow some remarks on plants turning toward the sun. Among the plants mentioned are the sunflowers () and quite correctly the Talmudic (should be ) or "mallow." Of the brantgoose he treats earlier in speaking of moving plants, such as the ("touch-me-not" or "Impatiens"). But the most striking botanical reference is the following (11:4f, 63a): "In 1744 it was discovered that when flying insects touch the plant ("polyps"), growing in Europe in pools among reeds and rushes, it folds its leaves together, seizes the insect, and, crushing it into dust, feeds on it." Phineas adds: "How great are the wonders of our God!" For further information on botany, FOLK-LORE, MEASURES, Names, PLANTS.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Botany'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/botany.html. 1901.