The rendering in the English versions of the two Hebrew words "egoz" and "boṭnim."
- 1. "Egoz." This is mentioned once only, in Cant. vi. 11, where a nut-grove is referred to. According to the common tradition, the word designates the walnut (Juglans regia), both the designation and the fruit having been brought into Palestine from Persia. The Greeks and Romans also considered that country as the home of the fruit, which they called "Persian nut" (Κάρυον Περσικόν). Josephus speaks of the numerous nuttrees in the plain around the Sea of Gennesaret, and says ("Vita," § 3) that Jewish prisoners at Rome lived on figs and nuts exclusively, so as not to become unclean by eating heathen food. This indicates that nuts and figs were common food. In the Talmud and Mishnah (B. M. iv. 12; Ket. xvii. 15) nuts are considered a delicacy. Oil was prepared from the green nuts (Shab. ii. 2; Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," pp. 3, 84). Many nut-trees are to be found in Gilead, in the Lebanon, especially around Damascus, and in Judea, where they have been planted. They grow even on the mountains at altitudes too cold for the olive.
- 2. "Boṭnim." This word, the plural of "boṭen," is commonly taken to mean pistachio-nuts, the fruit of Pistacia vera, which is native in Palestine and Syria as far as Mesopotamia. These nuts are mentioned in one passage only, Gen. xliii. 11, among the special products of Canaan that Israel proposed should be sent as gifts to Joseph in Egypt (Löw, "Aramäische Pflanzennamen," p.68). The pistachio is now seldom cultivated in Palestine, but may frequently be found in Syria around Beirut and Damascus. The fruit is eaten raw or roasted, and is considered a delicacy throughout the East.
In Talmudic times nuts were used for making oil by means of a press similar to that used for olives; but the Rabbis disagreed as to whether nut-oil might be used on the Sabbath eve (Shab. ii. 2 [24b]). Nutshells yielded a kind of dye, and therefore they were considered of value and subject to the law of the Sabbatical year (Sheb. vii. 3). Nuts were much liked by little children, who were easily lured by means of them (Bek. 30a). The Rabbis held that nuts caused discharges from the nose and expectoration, and they therefore recommended abstention from them on Rosh ha-Shanah in order to prevent interruption of the prayers (Isserles, quoting Mölln, in Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 583, 2).Symbolic Applications.
The nut is often used by the Rabbis symbolically. It is the symbol of the scholar and the Torah; for, just as the kernel remains clean even when the nut is dropped in the dirt, so when the scholar sins the Torah, which he has studied, is not soiled. The nut is the symbol of the Jews for various reasons: it has four sections in which the kernel is hidden; so the Israelites in the wilderness were divided into four sections, each under its banner, with the Shekinah in the midst of them. There are three kinds of nuts, hard, medium, and soft; and so there are three classes of Israelites: (1) those who perform charitable acts voluntarily; (2) those who must be urged to do good deeds; (3) those who, in spite of earnest solicitations, decline to aid the needy. The roots of the nut-tree, unlike those of other trees, will revive after exposure, even though they may have begun to wither, and so the Jews, unlike the heathen, are forgiven if they confess their sins (Pesiḳ. R. 11 [ed. Friedmann, p. 42]; Ḥag. 15b; Cant. R. vi. 11). It seems that the symbolic application of the nut was current in the Alexandrian school; for Philo (Περὶ Βίου Μωύσεως iii., § 22, ed. Mangey, ii. 162), explaining at some length the symbol of the nuts (κάρυα) which Aaron's rod yielded (Num. xvii. 23 [A. V. xvii. 8]), says: "The nut differs from all the other fruit in that its eatable part and seed are the same; therefore it is the symbol of perfect virtue. For just as in a nut the beginning (seed) and the end (fruit) are the same, so is every virtue at the same time both beginning and end. Besides, the eatable part of the nut is enclosed in a twofold case, the outer part of which is bitter and the inner part is very hard; the same is the case with the soul, which must undergo bitter trials before it attains perfection."In Cabalistic Symbolism.
The nut occupies an important place in cabalistic symbolism; for besides the fact that its shell (ḳelifah") has been adopted to designate dross, the nut as a whole symbolizes the adherence of the fourth"ḳelifah," called "nogah," to the brain (Ḥayyim Vital, "'Eẓ Ḥayyim," hekal vii., gate 9, ch. ii.). For other symbolic applications of the nut by the cabalists see Eleazar of Worms, "Sha'are ha-Sod weha-Yiḥud weha-Emunah" ("Sha'ar ha-Kabod"). The Romans considered nuts as an emblem of fertility in both man and beast; and therefore they used to strew nuts before the bridegroom and bride. This custom was adopted by the Jews in the time of the Talmudists (Ber. 50b), and in Polish towns it continues up to the present time. On the Sabbath which precedes the wedding, when the bridegroom is called up to recite a part of the weekly lesson in the synagogue the women from their gallery throw down nuts, which are picked up by the children. It was also the custom to distribute nuts among the children on the eve of the Feast of the Passover, in order that they might not fall asleep and to arouse in them a desire to question (Pes. 109a). This custom has developed into the general one of playing games with nuts, even among grown persons, during the whole feast. As the nut symbolizes the children of Israel, it is one of the ingredients of the "ḥaroset" (Isserles, in Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 473, 5).
- M. Duschak, Zur Botanik des Talmud, p. 23;
- Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ, s.v. ;
- S. Rubin, Sequllot ha-Ẓemaḥim we-Ototam, p. 13, Cracow, 1898.