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The usual home of nomads, who are accordingly described as dwelling in tents (Gen. iv. 20). As distinguished from the hut of boughs ("sukkah") it is a portable habitation of skin or cloth stretched over poles. The tent of the ancient Israelites was in all probability very similar to that of the modern Bedouins of Syria and Arabia. The covering of the tent ("yeri'ah") originally consisted of skins, later of the modern coarse tent-cloth spun of the hair of black goats (comp. Cant. i. 5); the Arabs accordingly speak of their "houses of hair" ("bait wabar," "bait sha'r"). This cloth, which is spun in long narrow strips on primitive looms by the Bedouin women, felts quickly, and is proof against the heaviest rains. The strips are sewed together to form a covering of the required size, and are stretched over three rows of three tent-poles each ("'ammudim"; Judges xvi. 26). The center poles are somewhat higher than those in front and behind, and the covering of the tent consequently falls away slightly on either side, where the rows of poles, also, are frequently lower, so that the roof is somewhat arched; Isaiah accordingly compares the heavens to a tent which is spread out (Isa. xl. 22).
The covering of the tent was held in place by strong cords ("metarim," Ex. xxxv. 18, Isa. liv. 2, Jer. x. 20; "yeter," Job iv. 21), which were fastened to wooden pegs driven into the ground ("yated"; see below), whence were derived such phrases as "nasa'," with or without "yated," in the sense of breaking camp (Gen. xxxv. 16 et passim). A tent-cloth was hung from the top in such a way as to give protection against wind and sun; and a curtain suspended on the three middle poles divided the tent into two sections, one for the men and the other for the women ("ḥeder"; Judges xv. 2; Gen. xliii. 30), since only the wealthiest had special tents for the latter (Gen. xxiv. 67, xxxi. 33). The tents of a clan or a family were grouped as a camp, a small number being pitched in a circle (comp. "ṭirah" [= "enclosure "] used as a term for the camp of the Israelites), while larger encampments formed long rows.
The tents were furnished with extreme simplicity. A few coarse straw mats covered a portion of thefloor and served for both chairs and beds, while a hole in the ground in the men's division formed the hearth. A round piece of leather was spread on the floor as a table("shulḥan"), and bags of goatskin ("no'd," "ḥemet") with the hair outward contained water, milk, or grain, the equipment being completed by a baking-pan, a few rough metal spoons, a hand-mill for grinding grain, and saddles for the camels.
After settling in the land of Canaan, and in proportion as they became agriculturists, the Hebrews ceased to dwell in tents, although, for religious reasons, the Rechabites long observed the ancient mode of life; and even to the latest period the Hebrew language retained, even in cases where the primitive idea was no longer present, a number of terms originally derived from life in tents, as is shown by the phrase "halak le-oholo" = "to return home" (comp. Josh. xxii. 4 et seq.; Judges vii. 8, xix. 9; I Kings xii. 16), and by the frequent mention of tents in symbolic language (e.g., in Isa. xxii. 23, xxxviii. 12; Ezra ix. 8; Jer. iv. 20).
The word "yated" (Ex. xxvii. 19, xxxv. 18, xxxviii. 31; Judges iv. 21, 22; Isa. xxxiii. 20, liv. 2) designates a tent-pin. Among the Bedouins today the poles which form the framework of the tent, as well as part of the tent-cloth placed upon them, are held in place by ropes fastened to pegs driven into the ground at a certain distance from the tent. These pegs are of wood, about a foot long and an inch in diameter, pointed at one end, and with a hook at the other, to which the rope can be tied. The Hebrew equivalent for the expression "to pitch a tent" is, therefore, "taḳa'" (comp. Gen. xxxi. 25; Jer. vi. 3), which means "to drive in the tent-pins." In the same way "to pull out the tent-pins," as noted above, means to strike tent for a journey.