It would appear that in the biblical period soap was derived almost exclusively from plants. Many such plants grow in Israel. They contain chiefly potash and soda, and their ash, dissolved in oil, was used until as late as a generation ago for making a liquid soap. Most of these plants grow in the salty regions of the Arabah, in the Negev, and on the seashore. These belong to the botanical genera Salicornia, Salsola, Mesembryanthemum, Saponaria. Statice, and Atriplex. In the Bible these washing materials are referred to as bor, borit, and sheleg. Borit is mentioned in apposition to neter ("soda") in the Bible as a material for cleansing stains (Jer. 2:22). The messenger of the covenant will purify the people on the day of the Lord as "with fuller's soap" (borit, Mal. 3:2). In other places in the Bible the term bor is used for material for the cleansing of hands and clothes (Job. 9:30), and metaphorically for cleanness of hands (Job. 22:30; II Sam. 22:21). Bor and borit are connected with the word baroh ("clean"). According to the Tosefta, borit and ahal are perennial plants that disappear from the field at the end of the season (Shev. 5:6) and the Jerusalem Talmud (Shev. 7:2, 37b) characterizes them as "species of laundering plants." According to the Babylonian Talmud (Nid. 62a), "borit is identical with ahal," i.e., both are species of aloe. Ahal, in Akkadian uhulu, Syrian ahala, and Arabic gasul, are soap-producing plants containing soaping matter such as Salicornia, and in particular the genus Mesembryanthemum, called in modern Hebrew ahal. One species, M. crystalinum, grows on walls and rocks facing the Mediterranean Sea, and it is grown in some countries in order to extract the soda it contains. In the Arabah other species of Mesembryanthemum are widespread. These can be recognized by their finger-like thick leaves. After the rains they spread widely. In rabbinical literature ashlag is mentioned together with washing materials (Shab. 9:5; Nid. 9:6). According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Shab. 9:5, 12b), a plant called oẓerot ru'aḥ ("wind collector") is meant. It seems that the reference is to the plant Vaccaria (Saponaria) segetalis which contains saponin. In fields of cereal it grows as a weed whose calyx expands when the fruit ripens as if it is "collecting wind." It is called ashlag also in Arabic. Perhaps the shaleg ("snow water") of Job 9:30 is actually ashlag, as suggested by the parallel with bor ("soap"). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Loew, Flora, 1 (1926), 637–50; G. Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte in Palaestina, 2 (1932), 263; 5 (1937), 155; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 298–300. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Tzome'aḥ, 35. (Jehuda Feliks)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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