The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


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As early as the nomadic period the Israelites understood the art of spinning the hair of camels and goats, and the wool of sheep, and of weaving therefrom rough stuffs for tents and clothing. Their method of weaving was probably quite as primitive as that of the Bedouins of Jabal Musa observed by E. H. Palmer, who describes the process, as carried on by a woman, thus: "Her loom was a primitive one, consisting only of a few upright sticks, upon which the threads were stretched; the transverse threads were inserted laboriously by the fingers without the assistance of a shuttle, and the whole fabric was pressed close together with a piece of wood" ("The Desert of the Exodus," i. 125).

Warp and Woof.

In Palestine the Israelites became acquainted with somewhat better methods of weaving, although these must have remained very simple until a later period. This is shown by the fact that the Egyptian looms, although the Egyptian methods of weaving, like the Babylonian and Syrian, are spoken of as highly developed, were nevertheless exceedingly primitive. Herodotus narrates that the Egyptians wove at an upright loom. The threads were fastened below, and the weavers commenced their work at the bottom, unlike other peoples, who, according to the same authority, began at the top. This method of weaving was probably the one which was customary at the time of Herodotus, although the monuments prove that the Egyptians were acquainted also with horizontal looms. The well-known representation in one of the tombs at Beni Ḥasan (Wilkinson, "Ancient Egyptians," i. 317) shows a horizontal loom at which two women are seated. (The usual view that this is an upright loom has been refuted by Kennedy in Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." iv. 5279.) The warp was stretched over two sticks fastened to the ground by wooden pegs. Other representations show upright looms on which the warp runs from top to bottom, being held firm above and below by a cross-bar. Both kinds of loom may have been in use among the Hebrews also.


The Greeks and Romans used most commonly the upright loom, as described above, although at an earlier period both the upright and the horizontal loom may have been used side by side. Kennedy (l.c.) finds an indication of the existence of the horizontal loom in the story of Samson, where it is related that Delilah wove Samson's locks into the web of her loom while he was asleep (Judges xvi. 13 et seq.). In modern times only the horizontal loom is used in Palestine. Still another upright loom, differing from that described above, seems to have been in use. This corresponded to the old Grecian loom, having but one cross-bar at the top to fasten the web, while the threads were kept stretched apart at the bottom by weights instead of by a second cross-bar. With this kind of a loom it was necessaryto begin at the top. Bliss claims to have found such looms in Tell al-Ḥasi ("A Mound of Many Cities," p. 113). The primitive fashions of olden times made it possible to weave a whole garment in one piece, and the looms were adapted to the sizes of the products required. It was not customary to weave long strips of cloth from which the clothing was cut out later, although this was possible when the rods upon which the warp was stretched could be turned, as seems to have been sometimes the case with the Egyptian looms.

One of the most important problems of ancient weaving methods was the separation of the odd from the even threads of the warp, so that the woof could pass between them easily, and their interchange of positions (i.e., respectively over and under the woof) after each stroke of the shuttle. This the ancient Egyptians effected by means of two sticks: one was pushed between the two layers of threads, keeping them separate, while the other, to which the threads of the lower layer were fastened by loops, made it possible to pull them up simultaneously, and thus to produce the interchange of positions. The insertion of the transverse thread was effected by means of a shuttle (). There are no data by means of which the history of the development and perfection of this important discovery can be pursued any further.

Egyptian representations show that from the earliest times the Syrians delighted in variegated and gorgeous garments. The Hebrews must soon have learned how to manufacture many-colored stuffs, in addition to the most simple single-colored weaves. For example, the coarsest mantles of the modern peasants are striped black (or brown) and white, and they were probably the same in antiquity. The inweaving of gold was fashionable for elegant garments (Ex. xxviii. 5 et seq., xxxix. 2 et seq.; Ps. xlv. 10), but it is not certain whether the stuff called , often mentioned in the description of the Tabernacle, was of variegated weave or an embroidery. It is doubtful whether the Hebrews understood how to weave figured textures.

The weaving of clothing, etc., for household use was originally a task which devolved upon the housewives; it is not known when weaving was first developed as a separate trade. In later times weavers held a position of high esteem among the people (comp. Delitzsch, "Jüdisches Handwerksleben," pp. 45 et seq.).

  • Rieger, Versuch einer Technologie und Terminologie der Handwerke in der Mischnah, s.v. Spinnen, Weben, etc., Berlin, 1894;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.
E. G. H. I. Be.
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