SILK (Heb. מֶשִׁי, meshi). Silk is mentioned once in the Bible by Ezekiel (16:10, 13) in his description of the splendid garments of the Israelite woman. The commentators identify this meshi with silk, and there may be an etymological connection between meshi and si, the Chinese word for silk, which may also be the origin of shira, shira'in, the word for silk in rabbinical literature. There is no doubt that Chinese silk was already known in Ereẓ Israel during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud and it is thought to have been brought to the Near East after the expeditions of Alexander the Great. In the Talmud silk is referred to under various names: paranda, kallakh, mitakhsa, gushkera, and sirkin (Gr. σηρικόυ; Latin, sericum). It is possible that these names were connected with the methods of weaving the silk, as explained by nathan b. jehiel in his Arukh: "Kallakh, gushkera, mitakhsa shira'in, and sirikin are all species of shira paranda (i.e., silk, see Shab. 20b) but their texture differs, some being woven fine and some thick." They may, however, have distinguished between Chinese silk and silk spun by the worms of local moths; a number of species are found in Israel, the largest being the Pachypasa otus moth whose worm spins a large cocoon of white threads. The silk of this moth was already used by the early Greeks, who wove clothes from it. Possibly this is the meshi of Ezekiel, and it is apparently the kallakh mentioned in the Mishnah (Shab. 2:1) among the materials which were not to be used for making the wick for the Sabbath lamp. In ancient times Chinese silk was very expensive and only wealthy people could afford garments made from it. Even Roman nobles could not afford holoserikon, i.e., a garment wholly woven from pure silk, and in the main wore hemiserikon, which was half wool or linen. The Midrash (Eccl. R. 1:7, no. 9) states that the reward of those that love God will be "one day semisirikon garments and on the morrow holosirikon," i.e., that their prosperity will increase. The cocoons were imported from China and woven in Ereẓ Israel, and the mitakhsa is probably this raw cocoon. According to the aggadah, R. Joshua b. Hananiah, in order to prove that Israel lacked nothing, "brought mitakhsa from Gush Ḥalav" (Eccl. R. 2:8, no. 2). In Ereẓ Israel cultivating the Chinese silkworm Bombyx mori began only in the Middle Ages, after the introduction of the white mulberry . The earliest archaeological finds of silk found in Israel are from the Byzantine period, with fragments of mixed linen and silk found at Nessana; one fragment of pure silk must have been imported. Late Byzantine and Early Islamic examples of silk are known from Avdat and Naḥal Omer. Silk fragments from these periods are also known from excavations in Jordan and Syria. Medieval examples of silk are known from Qarantal Cave 38 (9th–13th centuries C.E.), and according to the researcher Orit Shamir they were made by different techniques (double-faced tabbies, weft-faced compound twills, and lampas weaves), and some of these required very sophisticated looms. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lewysohn, Zool, 358–9, no. 509; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 140–1; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960), 79–80; 137; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 128. (Jehuda Feliks / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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