Article - Festivals 2018- The Date Palm 28/8/2018
Festivals 2019 – the Date Palm
In ancient times, the Date Palm tree was a vital resource for the inhabitants of Eretz Israel and it became a symbol of success and prosperity. The Jews considered the date palm to be the perfect tree and wished for themselves that "the righteous bloom like a date palm" (Psalms 92:13).
The Talmudic midrash in Rabbah Genesis 41:1 explains the preferential status of the date palm tree and details the tree's good qualities: "As no part of the palm has any waste – the dates being eaten, the branches used for Hallel, the twigs for covering, the bast for ropes, the leaves for besoms and the planed boards for ceiling rooms – so are there none worthless in Israel".
The three products mentioned in the midrash that tie the date palm to the Sukkot festival are featured on the stamps in this series, and the other three products appear on the stamp tabs.
Lulav and Dates
On the first day of the Sukkot festival the Israelites were commanded to take the four species, as stated in Leviticus 23:40 – "On the first day you shall take the product of the citron trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook". Tradition has conclusively identified the term "branches of palm trees" as the lulav (frond) that grows at the top of the date palm tree. The four species mitzvah includes blessing the lulav and the Talmud explains (Sukka 27:2) that one specifically blesses the lulav because it is the highest and most prominent of the four species.
The Rabbah Leviticus midrash 20:12 equates the four species to different groups within the Jewish people and notes with regard to the palm frond that "it has flavor but no scent". The "flavor" refers of course to the sweet taste of the date fruit, which can be eaten as is or made into various other products. It is customary to identify the honey that appears in the list of the seven species in Deuteronomy 8:7-8 as honey that is derived from the date fruit.
Palm Fronds and Fibers
The leaves of the Date Palm were called by various names in different biblical sources. For example: "palm branches" (Leviticus 23:40 and "palms" (Nehemiah 8:15).
The midrash in Rabbah Genesis emphasizes the use of palm branches as covering for the huts (sukkot) in which the Israelites were commanded to dwell during the days of the Sukkot festival.
Strong fibers that were woven into rope grow in the base of the palm fronds. These ropes were use to make baskets, mats, etc. Talmud tractate Yevamot (102:72) mentions a "fiber sandal" and so the stamp tab features a sandal woven from palm fibers dating from the late Second Temple period that was found in archeological excavations conducted in caves in the Judean Desert.
Roofed with Palm Frond Bases
The trunks of felled date palm trees provided material for building houses and huts. The whole trunks served as pillars and the worked beams were used as the base for the ceiling.
The palm frond bases, which are the thin stems where the date fruit grows, were woven to create sieves for sorting grains. The sieve shown on the stamp tab is from the Israelite Period (8th century BCE) and was discovered in archeological excavations conducted at the Kuntillet Ajrud site in the Sinai Desert.
Photo by Gregory Vinitsky, courtesy of Eretz Israel Museum