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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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— Biblical Data:

The ordinary process of combustion, for which the Hebrew generally has , in Daniel (Aramaic) , and, with reference to the accompanying heat and glow, and while is a corrupt ἄ π α ξ λ ε γ ό μ ε ν ο ν ), the derivation of which from is not certain, is a technical sacerdotal term for burnt offering. The materials for making fires (see Fuel ) were wood, charcoal, thorns, and dung. Rubbing pieces of wood against each other, a primitive method of getting fire, was apparently in use among the Hebrews. This at least seems to be the more probable meaning of the word "meḳ oshesh" (gathering), used in describing the act of the Sabbath-breaker (Numbers 15:32-33 see 1 Kings 17:12 , "shenayim ' eẓ im" = "two sticks"). Jewish legend (see Adam, Book of ) maintains that Adam and Eve were shown this method of making fire. In II Macc. 10:3 reference is made to the method of procuring fire by striking steel against flint. The fire-stone ("ḥ allamish") was certainly known to the Hebrews, though the Biblical references to it simply emphasize its hardness, and give no intimations concerning its use for the purpose of ignition. In domestic life fire was kindled to prepare food, to bake bread or cakes, to give warmth (Exodus 12:8 2Chronicles 35:13 1 Kings 17:12 Isaiah 44:16 Jeremiah 7:18 , 36:22 ). The ancient Hebrews rarely needed fire to heat their dwellings. They occasionally used braziers ("aḥ "), though the larger houses were provided with "winter rooms" (Amos 3:15 ), which had excavations for the aḥ , the heat being preserved as long as possible by means of a carpet or rug placed over the charcoal (Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebrä ischen Archä ologie," 1:141 Benzinger, "Arch." p. 124).

Uses of Fire.
On the Sabbath no fire for domestic uses could be kindled (Exodus 35:3 ). In refining, smelting, and forging metals fire was extensively employed e.g. , in the making of the golden calf (Exodus 32:24 ) and of idols (Isaiah 44:12 , 54:16 Ecclus. [Sirach] 2:5). Fire was a means of vengeance ( 2Samuel 12:31 [but see commentaries on this passage] Jeremiah 29:22 Daniel 3:11,15 II Macc. 7:5). Idols especially were destroyed by fire ( Deuteronomy 7:5 2 Kings 19:18 ). Cities were burned as a war measure (Joshua 6:24 ). Crops were set on fire to incite hostilities (Judges 15:4-5 2Samuel 14:30 ). If damage was done to vineyard or field or crop by carelessness in building a fire, the blameworthy party was held liable (Exodus 22:6 ). Books of an obnoxious character were thrown into the fire (Jeremiah 36:23 ). For certain offenses the penalty was death by fire (Leviticus 20:24 , 21:9 comp. Jeremiah 29:22 Capital Punishment ). Garments infected with leprosy were consigned to the flames (Leviticus 13:52,57 ). Animal refuse and stubble were burned (Leviticus 4:12 , 6:30 Isaiah 5:24 ). Only in exceptional cases were human bodies incinerated (see Cremation ).

Sacerdotal Use of Fire.
The fire on the altar, needed for the burnt offering, was always kept burning (Leviticus 6:12 ). "Strange fire," that is, fire newly kindled or taken from profane hearths, was not permitted (Leviticus 10:1 Numbers 3:4 , 26:61 comp. Ariel ). The holy fire was believed to have had a divine origin (Leviticus 9:24 2Chronicles 7:1-3 comp. II Macc. 1:19-22). Fire as the means of offering human sacrifices is abhorred ( Deuteronomy 12:31 2 Kings 17:31 ) its use for such infamous purpose is prohibited (Leviticus 18:21 Deuteronomy 18:10 ), though it was in vogue even among the Israelites (IIKings 17:17 Jeremiah 7:31 ), especially under Ahaz and Manasseh (IIKings 16:3, 21:6 see Tophet , and Genesis 22:6 ). Portions not consumed during the actual ceremony of sacrifice were burned (Exodus 12:10 ).

Fire from Heaven.
The phenomenon of lightning may perhaps under-lie such expressions as "fire from heaven" and "fire from before Yhwh " (Leviticus 10:2 2 Kings 1:10,12 ) indeed, fire and hail are associated (Exodus 9:23 Psalm 105:32 ). Fire was regarded as one of the agents of divine will it is a concomitant of various theophanies (Genesis 15:17 Exodus 3:2 Deuteronomy 4:36 Psalm 78:14 , see Elijah ) and divine fire consumes the acceptable offering (Judges 6:21 1 Kings 18:38 ). As a development of this conception, God Himself is called a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24 , 9:3 ). The appearance of fire on the Tabernacle is significant of the divine presence (comp. Numbers 3:4 ). Fire is the instrument of God's wrath (Numbers 11:1 Deuteronomy 32:22 Amos 1:4 Isaiah 65:5 ), but God Himself is not in the fire (see Elijah 1 Kings 19:12 ).

Metaphorical and Illustrative Use.
Fire implies complete destruction (Isaiah 1:7 , 5:24 , 9:18 Joel 2:3 ). Fire is a burning, wasting disease it consumes courage and pride (Isaiah 10:16 , 33:11 ). Fire is insatiable (Proverbs 30:16 ). It betokens danger (Psalm 66:12 Isaiah 43:2 Zechariah 3:2 ). It causes pain, and therefore it is the synonym of terrible punishment (Isaiah 66:24 Jeremiah 20:9 ). Venomous reptiles share the power of fire (Numbers 21:6 ). Love and lust (Song of Song of Solomon 8:6 Ecclus. [Sirach] 9:8, 23:16), the slanderous tongue and cruelty (Proverbs 16:27 Psalm 120:4 Isaiah 9:18 ), burn like fire and even so does God's word (Jeremiah 23:29 ).

— In Rabbinical Literature:

Fire was created on Monday (Pirḳ e R. El. iv.), as was the fire of Gehenna: God blew the fire and heated the seven chambers of Gehenna. According to others, it was created on Sabbath eve, when Adam, overwhelmed by the darkness, began to fear that this also was a consequence of his sin. Whereupon the Holy One (blessed be He!) put in his way two bricks, which he rubbed upon each other, and from which fire came forth (Yer. Ber. 12a). Again, fire is one of the three elements (water, spirit, and fire), which preceded the creation of the world. The water became pregnant and gave birth to darkness the fire became pregnant and gave birth to light the spirit became pregnant and gave birth to wisdom (Ex. R. xv. comp. Freudenthal, "Hellenistische Studien," 1:71). There are six kinds of fire: (1) fire that "eats" but does not "drink," that is, does not consume water— the common fire (2) fire that "drinks" but does not "eat" (the fever of the sick) (3) fire that both eats and drinks (as that of Elijah, which both consumed the sacrifices and licked up the water 1 Kings 18:38 ) (4) fire that eats wet as well as dry things (that arranged by the priests on the altar) (5) fire that quenches fire (that of Gabriel, who, according to tradition, was the angel sent down to the fiery furnace in order to save Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah Daniel 2:25 ) (6) fire that consumes fire (that of the Shekinah). In the First Temple alone was the fire of divine origin (Yoma 21b). The Torah given by God was made of an integument of white fire, the engraved letters were in black fire, and it was itself of fire and mixed with fire, hewn out of fire, and given from the midst of fire (Yer. Soṭ ah 8:22d). The Torah has two fires, the oral and the written law (Cant. R. 2:5 ) "in fact, all their words [the sages' ] are as coals of fire" (Ab. 2:10). Study of the Torah brings about certain effects like fire (Sifre, Deuteronomy 33:2 ). The holy fire on the altar had the appearance of a lion— according to another, of a dog (Yoma 21b).

Fire descended from heaven when God desired to intervene in human affairs. It is thus that the keys of the Temple which Jeconiah wished to keep from Nebuchadnezzar are removed from earth (Lev. R. 19: the Bible calls "strange fire" the Talmudists denominate , fire of the "commoners" (ι δ ι ῶ τ α ι Num. R. 2: God promised not to visit earth again with a flood, He did not specify what kind hence Abraham fears lest a flood of fire may still be sent (Gen. R. 39: streams of fire are mentioned by the Rabbis (see Angelology ), by which angels and men are consumed (Pesiḳ . R. 20). Fire-worshipers ("ḥ abbarin") are known to the Talmudists (see Zoroastrianism ). Regarding the benediction over fire or light, the Hillelites declare that fire emits many colors, and hence the plural should be used (, "the lights of fire"), while the school of Shammai pleads for the singular (), as fire holds only one light or color (Ber. 52b). Two fire-animals are mentioned, the salamander (Rashi to Sanh. 63b), and the "alitha," which extinguishes fire (Sanh. 108b). The salamander's blood protects against fire (Ḥ ag. 26a), as is proved by the escape of Hezekiah, whose father had devoted him to Moloch (Sanh. 63b). The later rabbis held the salamander to be the product of a fire burning seven years.

Fire for domestic and industrial uses receives much attention from the Rabbis in consequence of the Sabbath law. Quite a variety of fuel is mentioned— different kinds of wood, reeds, willows, fruit-stones, plaited weeds, pitch, sulfur, wax or cheese and fat, straw, stubble, flax and various methods of building a fire, with shavings, reeds bound together, etc., are indicated. Stoves were known. The "warming-hall" in the Temple enjoyed certain immunities from the rigorous Sabbath law. An open coal-fire in a pan was used to bake cakes (Shab. 1:10,22a, b). Torches of twigs were carried by way-farers at night (Ber. 43b) and on festive occasions. Great fires built on mountain-tops served as signals, and were used to announce the beginning of the new moon (Sanh. 11b). "Fire" in time came to denote "fever" (Yoma 29a Shab. 66b, 67a, et al. see Gehenna Light ).S. S. E. G. H.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Fire'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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