SYCAMORE

SYCAMORE
SYCAMORE (Heb. שִׁקְמָה), the Ficus sycomorus, of the same genus as the fig tree. There is no connection between it and the plane tree , whose biblical name is armon and which is popularly called the sycamore. The sycamore is frequently mentioned in the Bible and in rabbinical literature. It is a tropical evergreen with a tall trunk, its tree top having long branches. The fruit resembles the fig, but is less sweet. Nowadays it grows wild in the Israeli coastal plain and the Negev, and the fruit is rarely eaten. In biblical and talmudic times the sycamore was one of the most valuable trees in the Ereẓ Israel Shephelah. David appointed an overseer "over the olive trees and the sycamore trees that were in the Lowland" on the royal estates (I Chron. 27:28). Its chief value was its wood which was used as building timber. Ordinary buildings were constructed of it, cedar being used for palaces and luxury edifices (I Kings 10:27; Isa. 9:9). The wood of the sycamore is light and porous compared with the heavy cedar, and it was therefore preferred for making ceilings (Tosef., BM 8:32; TB, ibid. 117b). This wood does not absorb damp and withstands rot; proof of this are the coffins of Egyptian mummies, which were mostly made from it and have been well preserved to the present day. The sycamore fruit, called benot shikmah or gimziyyot, was less valued than its timber (Tosef., Pes. 2:19; Men. 7 la). Special   care had to be taken for its fruit to be edible: a few days before it ripened it was punctured. Fruit which has not undergone this process falls prematurely to the ground, and is therefore regarded as ownerless (Dem. 1:1; TJ, Dem. 1:1, 21d). The Bible refers to this puncturing as belisah, and the prophet Amos testifies of himself: "I am a herdsman and a boles (AV, "dresser," LXX, "piercer") of sycamores" (Amos 7:14). In the mishnaic period sycamores were widespread in the Shephelah, and Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel makes the sycamore characteristic of the low-lying country (Tosef., Shev. 7:11; Pes. 53a): "Wherever sycamores do not grow is Upper Galilee … wherever sycamores do grow is Lower Galilee" (Shev. 9:2). The Mishnah (Shev. 4:5) describes the methods used for felling sycamore beams so that they should grow anew after a few years. A sycamore that had never been felled was called "a virgin sycamore" (Tosef., Shev. 3:15). Its roots spread sideways and "penetrate downward to the waters of the abyss" (TJ, Ta'an. 1:3, 64b). It is long-lived: "like the sycamore that lives 600 years" (Gen. R. 12:6), and the verse "as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people" (Isa. 65:22) was interpreted as relating to it. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 274–80; J. Galil, in: Teva va-Areẓ, 8 (1966), 338–55 (incl. bibl.); J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 52–55; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 166. (Jehuda Feliks)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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