- MILLSTONE (Heb. רֵחַיִם), an instrument used for grinding grain. The word has a dual ending, indicating an instrument composed of two parts: an upper millstone (Heb. rekhev, Deut. 24:6) and a lower millstone (talmudic Heb. shekhev), which, however, was called reḥayim as well (ibid.). Other terms for both millstones are pelaḥ (Judg. 9:53, in combination with rekhev for upper millstone; Job 41:16, in combination with taḥtit, lower millstone), and taḥanah (Eccles. 12:34). The mill was worked by slaves (Ex. 11:5; Judg. 16:21 – Samson; Isa. 47:2; Lam. 5:13). The manna too was ground by millstones (Num. 11:8). Abimelech was killed with an upper millstone by the woman of Thebez (Judg. 9:53). Grain would be spread out between the upper and lower millstones, and the friction and pressure of one stone upon the other would break the kernels and grind them into flour. The desired friction was achieved by passing the upper stone back and forth over the lower one, as is illustrated in early Egyptian pictures. Millstones of this type have been found in abundance in excavations in Ereẓ Israel, for example at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor. This type of millstone was in use until the end of the Israelite period. Only at the end of the Persian period did another type of millstone come into use, in which the desired friction was achieved by means of the circular motion of the upper stone – which turned on an axle – upon the stationary lower stone. Millstones were essential household items, and it was forbidden to remove them from their owner's possession, for example, as a pledge for a loan (Deut. 24:6). In talmudic times a distinction was made between "hand mills" or "human mills," usually worked by the housewife and standing in a special room or place, and a mill operated by a donkey, which was both larger and of a more complicated construction. Water mills are mentioned but were rare. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.A. Wilson and T.G. Allen, Megiddo, 1 (1939), pl. 114, no. 11; C.C. McCown, Tell En-Naẓbeh, 1 (1947), pl. 91, nos. 1, 2, 4; R. Amiran, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 46–49; Y. Yadin et. al., Hazor, 3–4 (1961), pl. 233, nos. 20, 21; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 95–97. (Ze'ev Yeivin)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.