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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
In the East the house is not as important as in northern countries, since the climate permits an outdoor life in the widest sense of the term. The house is used chiefly as a shelter for the night and for sleeping, and during meals generally; but business of any kind is transacted on the street. The furniture, therefore, has always been very simple, a few pieces only being necessary to furnish the Hebrew home. According to 2 Kings 4:10, four pieces were required in a room for a guest of honor: a bed, a chair, a table, and a lamp.
The Bed ("mishkab," "'eres," "miṭṭah"):
The Palestinian of to-day, whether townsman or peasant, knows in general nothing of movable beds such as are used in the West. The poor man, wrapped in his mantle, lies on the floor like the Bedouin in his tent. The more wealthy spreads thin woolen quilts on the floor at night, rolling them up by day. The divan or bench spread with silken bolsters, which runs along one or more walls of the room, is also used as a couch at night. The same custom may have obtained in antiquity. It is known, however, that the ancient Hebrews were acquainted with the movable bed. Saul, for example, ordered David to be brought to him in his bed (1 Samuel 19:15; comp. 2 Kings 4:10). Og's bedstead was made of iron (Deuteronomy 3:11); bedsteads of wood, ivory, and gold (e., wooden bedsteads inlaid with ivory and gold), sent to the King of Egypt from Palestine either as gifts or as tribute, are mentioned as early as the El-Amarna tablets (thirteenth century B.C.). Hence also the Canaanites had such articles of luxury; and although the ancient Hebrews probably at first knew nothing of them, they were introduced among them later on. The prophet Amos censures the nobles and the wealthy for using beds inlaid with ivory (Amos 6:4). Many kinds of coverings were spread upon these bedsteads; the poor contenting themselves with a coarse cloak or a goat-skin, and the rich indulging in pillows and bolsters of Egyptian linen, damask, purple embroidered coverings, or costly rugs (ib. 3:12; Proverbs 7:16; Song of Solomon 3:10), upon which, as is still customary in the East, the sleepers lay without removing their clothing.
This resting-place, therefore, was not a bed in the accepted sense of the word, but a couch, on which the old and the sick reclined in the daytime (Genesis 47:31; 1 Samuel 19:13 et seq.), and which served also at times as a seat during meals (Ezekiel 23:41). Such a couch-like seat may be referred to in 1 Samuel 20:25. As it is not known whether it was customary to sit with the legs crossed under the body according to the Oriental fashion of to-day, or whether the legs were allowed to hang down as when one sits in a chair, no accurate idea can be formed as to the height or breadth of these couches. Later on, the custom of reclining during meals (Amos 3:12, 6:4) was introduced.
The simplest form of bed is represented by that used by the modern Egyptians, consisting of a latticed frame made of the ribs of palm-leaves and about 1 1/2 feet high, or by the Sudanese angareb, with wooden frames 1 1/2 feet in height, with ropes stretched lengthwise and crosswise, on which a mattress is laid. The pictures of Egyptian beds that have been preserved may give an idea of the beds used. Mosquito-netting (κωυωπῖου) was probably introduced into Palestine during the Hellenistic period (Judith 10:4, 13:9, 16:19). As the bed took the place of the modern sofa, there was no other comfortable piece of furniture for sitting in or reclining upon except chairs.
Nothing is known of the form of the chair ("kisse"). It may be assumed that, like the bed, it was similar to the Egyptian, although it may have resembled the small, low stools on which modern Orientals squat in the cafés. In any case chairs were necessary pieces of furniture among the ancient Hebrews, who sat during meals, and did not recline like the Greeks and Romans.
As its Hebrew name, "shulḥan," indicates, the table in its primitive form consisted of a round piece of leather spread on the ground. Along the edge were rings through which a rope was drawn, and by means of which, on the march, the table was hung like a bag from the saddle of the camel. When the Hebrews were settled in fixed abodes the piece of leather was superseded by around mat woven of more substantial material, or was made of metal, and it was laid upon a low stool. Such tables are still in general use. With this kind of table, chairs were not used, but the people squatted on the ground, with the legs crossed. It is interesting to note that the table of showbread represented on the triumphal arch of Titus is only a little over a foot high (comp. I Macc. 4:49). Higher tables necessitating chairs were, however, also used (1 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 13:20; comp. 2 Kings 4:10).
Regarding lamps or candlesticks ("ner," "menorah") the discoveries at Tell al-Ḥasi, probably the ancient Lachish, furnish ample information (comp. the reports on the same, and the numerous illustrations in Flinders-Petrie, "Tell el-Hesy," London, 1891). As was the case in Greece and Rome, open bowls with beaks or earthen vessels with beaks were used, a lighted wick being placed in the beak("pishtah"; Isaiah 42:3, 43:17). Many current expressions—as, for example, "his lamp shall be put out" (Proverbs 20:20), meaning that he and his whole house shall perish (comp. Jeremiah 25:10; Proverbs 13:9; Job 18:5, 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36)—indicate that it was customary in ancient times to keep the lamp burning perpetually ("ner tamid"). The same custom still obtains among the fellaheen of Palestine. The phrase "he sleeps in the dark" is equivalent to saying that a person is ruined, not having even the smallest coin wherewith to buy oil.
The brazier, for warming apartments in the winter ("aḥ"; Jeremiah 36:22 et seq.), was perhaps not used in remote antiquity, but it was considered in later times a necessity in the houses of the nobles. The brazier is still used in the East.
See also Baking; COOKERY.
—In Talmudic Times:
The dining-room in Talmudic times was usually provided with two tables: the dining-table ("shulḥan"), and a side-table ("delfiḳe," δελφική) on which the servants placed the dishes. The dining-table had three legs and a square base and probably a square top (Kil. 22:2). It was usually of wood; but sometimes it was made of pottery, marble, or metal (Tosef., Oh. 16:2; Kil. 2:3, 12:2, 14:1; Yer. Ber. 12a). Wooden tables were often provided with marble tops; occasionally the top was partly of wood, partly of marble (Kil. 23:1). In later times it was customary to provide a small table for each person (Ber. 46b, end). Sometimes the tables were suspended by rings (B. B. 57b). Some tables could be taken apart ("shulḥan shel peraḳim"); in that case the parts were joined by hinges. The side-table had three carved legs, and was usually placed on a stand.
There were other pieces of furniture which occasionally served as tables. To these belong the "ṭabla" (Shab. 143a), a slab of wood, pottery, marble, metal, or glass; the "ṭarkas" (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. 3:3), on which, it seems, the drinks were prepared ("ṭarkas" was used also to designate a sideboard, attached to the wall by hinges in order that it might be put up and down); and the "daḥwinah" (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. ), a board used to improvise a table at a wedding. Round pieces of leather or leather covers occasionally served as tables; they are still in use for this purpose among the Bedouins, who call them "sufrah."
In rabbinical literature chairs are designated by the three terms "kisse," "safsal," "ḳatedrah." "Kisse" designates usually a chair on a square framework, without arms or back, the seat consisting of several bars, usually three (Kelim 22:6). The "kisse ṭerasḳal" (Num. R. 12:49) was a three-legged chair having a seat of wood, or sometimes of leather (Kelim 22:7), which could be folded. "Safsal" designates a bench capable of seating several persons. It was especially adapted to public places, and was used in schools, baths, and hostelries. Usually it was made of wood, but sometimes also of stone, pottery, or glass. The ḳatedrah in certain cases had a reclining form, so that the occupant when seen from a distance seemed to be standing (comp. Ex. R. 43:11). To the ḳatedrah was attached a footstool ("sherafraf", "ipofodin," "kisse she-lifne ḳatedrah"; Kelim 22:3; Targ. Yer. Exodus 24:10; Yer. Ḥag. 2:77). The ḳatedrah was used mostly by women (comp. Ket. 59b). Mention may also be made of the night-chair ("asla"; Kelim 20:10) and of litters and sedans, which constituted a part of the furniture. To these latter belonged the "appiryon" (φορεῖου), especially designed to carry the bride to the house of her husband. It was covered and closed by curtains. Its sides were made of large boards which were provided with four legs, sometimes with more (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. 8:3).
The term "miṭṭah" is used in rabbinical literature to denote both a bed and a couch for reclining at meals (Beẓah 22b; Tosef., Ber. 5:5; and many other passages). The beds were usually so wide that they could be occupied by three persons (comp. Nid. 61a). They were of wood, pottery, or glass. The bedstead consisted of four boards supported by four legs. At its head there were sometimes two poles from which curtains were suspended ("kilah"; Suk. 10b). Similar poles were also fixed at the foot. The bedding of the poor consisted usually of a mat ("maḥẓelet") of reeds or bulrushes (Suk. 19b). The rich used costly hides ("kaṭbulya"; Tosef., Shab. 3:17; Kelim 26:5). The beds were often so high that they could be reached only by footstools. There were also state beds, with footstools which are designated as "dargash" (Ned. 56a; see Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnah ad loc.). The couch for reclining at meals, called sometimes "aḳḳubiṭun" (= "accubitum"; Lev. R. 7:11; Yalḳ., Num. 777), was provided with a back. Children's beds ("`arisah")were not essentially different from those of adults.
Household articles were usually kept in a chest ("tebah") of wood, glass, or horn. The chests were either provided with eight legs or had projecting bases. The lid sometimes was fitted with a smaller lid through which small articles could be withdrawn (Kelim 16:7). The chest itself was often divided into compartments("megirot"; Kelim 19:7). Of the same material and dimensions was the "shiddah," which seems to have opened at the side. Its compartment were either fixed or in the form of drawers (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. 8:1). The shiddah was fittedwith wheels ("mukeni"; Kelim. 18:2). The "migdal" was similar to the modern closet. The "ḳamṭara" was a receptacle for books and clothes, as was also the "kupsa," though it differed from the former in that it could be locked (Kelim 16:7).
Besides these boxes and chests there was a great variety of baskets, barrels, and casks in which the different articles of the household were kept.
Mirrors and Lamps.
Mirrors ("ma'rah," or "re'i") were usually made of metal (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. 4:2); in later times there were also glass mirrors ("ispaḳlarya," "spaḳlarya"). There were hand-mirrors and wall-mirrors (Shab. 149a; Tosef., Shab. 18:6).
The primitive lamp was the "lappid," which consisted of a pot of clay or metal in which any kind of light was carried (Kelim 2:8). A commoner and more complicated one was the "ner," which consisted of an earthen pot provided with an opening at the top into which the oil was poured. On the edge of the pot was a wick-holder. The wick was made of flax, or of the fibers of other plants (Shab. 2:3; Tosef., Shab. 9:5). Occasionally utensils such as mugs, plates, etc., were used as lamps; but a special glass utensil called "`ashashit" was in more general use. Lamp-holders ("pamoṭ") were occasionally used. A holder which could support several lamps was called "menorah." Mention is made in the Mishnah of lamp-holders whose parts could be separated ("menorah shel ḥulyot"; Beẓah 22a). The term "menorah" designated also a candelabrum. The "puḳi" is sometimes mentioned as a lamp-holder (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. 2:6) and sometimes as a lamp (Tosef., Shab. 10:7).
- Johann Krengel, Das Hausgerät in der Mischnah, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1899.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Furniture, Household'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/f/furniture-household.html. 1901.