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FLOWERS IN THE HOME AND THE SYNAGOGUE:

As an agricultural people the Jews in their own land appreciated flowers as a means of natural decoration. The first crop offruits offered at the altar in Jerusalem on the Feast of Harvest (Ex. xxiii. 16) was crowned with the choicest flowers (Bik. ii. 3). Among all the flowers native to Palestine the rose was preeminent. Solomon compared his Shulamite heroine to the "rose of Sharon." The Mishnah calls this the "king's rose" (Kil. v. 8).

The festival day of the harvest (Shabu'ot) is designated as the judgment day of trees (R. H. i. 2). This is supposed to be the origin of the custom of decorating the house and the synagogue with flowers on Shabu'ot. Jacob b.Moses Molin (d. 1427), in his "Meharil," first mentions the custom of scattering on the floor of the synagogue roses and other odorous blossoms as an expression of joy in the festival (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, § 494). The "Magen Abraham" says it is customary to place trees in the synagogue. Elijah Wilna, however, prohibited this innovation, since it would be aping the Christian custom on Pentecost (Danziger, "Ḥayye Adam," § 131, 13). In Palestinian synagogues flowers are distributed to the worshipers as they leave the services on Passover eve.

Isaiah Hurwitz, in his "Shelah" (p. 180a, Amsterdam, 1698), relates a custom prevailing in Safed, where the sexton distributed fragrant weeds to every person during the morning service on Shabu'ot, while the cantor recited "Ha-El be-Ta'aẓumot."

That flowers were highly valued by the Jews is further shown by the fact that nearly all their works of art are distinguished by floral representations, as the candelabra of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxv. 33), the pillars of the Temple, and the molten sea with its brim wrought with "flowers of lilies" (I Kings vii. 19-26). The Talmud states that Solomon's Temple contained representations in gold of various aromatic trees in full fruit, from which fragrant perfumes exhaled with the movement of the air (Yoma 39b).

A. J. D. E.
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