- BARLEY (Heb. שְׂעוֹרָה; se'orah), one of the seven species (see food ) with which Ereẓ Israel was blessed (Deut. 8:8). In biblical times barley bread was a staple food and was extensively cultivated, especially as it grows even in poor soil and in areas with a low rainfall. The fact that barley was so widely sown accounts for the biblical ruling that the value of a field is to be estimated on the basis of the amount of barley required to sow it (Lev. 27:16). In the days of the Judges the farmer in Ereẓ Israel sustained himself mainly on barley, a cake of barley bread symbolizing the agricultural Israelites (in contrast to the nomadic Midianites) in the dream of the Midianite soldier (Judg. 7:13). It formed part of the diet of David's army (II Sam. 17:28) and also of the hewers of the timber in Lebanon for the Temple of Solomon (II Chron. 2:9). In mishnaic times wheat largely replaced barley as human food, and barley was used mainly as animal fodder (it is referred to in this connection only once in the Bible (I Kings 5:8) and the rabbis, therefore, in a homiletical view, give as the reason for the offering of barley meal in the ordeal of a woman suspected of adultery (Lev. 5:15) "that she had behaved like an animal" (Num. 5:15; cf. Sot. 9a). It became principally the poor man's food; hence the proverb, "Why do you eat barley bread? – Because I have no wheaten bread" (Sif. Num. 49). In the Bible the price of barley flour is given as half that of fine wheaten flour (II Kings 7:1), which was also the ratio of their prices in mishnaic times (Tosef., BM 9:10), the nutritive value of the former being regarded as half that of the latter (Pe'ah 8:5). The Karaite Anan held that for fulfilling the commandment on Passover unleavened bread made of barley was to be used, this being in his view, "the bread of affliction" and poverty. Of the cereals, barley ripens first (Ex. 9:31) and "the barley harvest season" is the designation of the spring (Ruth 1:22). On the second day of Passover, the Omer ("sheaf "), the first fruit of the harvest, was reaped (Lev. 23:9–15), and although there is no specific reference to its being barley, the rabbinic tradition to that effect is undoubtedly correct (Men. 84b) as the barley harvest begins at Passover time. One kind of beer was brewed from barley (BB 96b), another from a mixture of barley, figs, and blackberries (Pes. 107a), and yet another called "Egyptian zythos" from a third part of barley, a third part of safflower, and a third part of salt (ibid., 42b). The brewing of beer has a long tradition in Egypt; it is depicted in ancient Egyptian drawings. Se'orah, the Hebrew name for barley, derives from the long hairs (Heb. se'ar, "hair") of its ears, and the cereal is designated by cognate words in almost all Semitic languages. The Greeks regarded barley as the very earliest crop grown in the world. In Ereẓ Israel there are at present cultivated species of two- and six-rowed barley (five species ). These species have been found in Egyptian tombs. A wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) which grows in Ereẓ Israel is thought to be the origin of two-rowed barley. In excavations at Gezer four-rowed barley has been uncovered, and in the caves of En-Gedi and of the Judean Desert, two- and four-rowed barley of the mishnaic and talmudic periods has been found. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Loew, Flora, 1 (1926), 707–23; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1957), 146–8, 318; idem, Ha-Ḥakla'ut be-Ereẓ-Yisrael…, (1963), 362 (index); idem, Kilei Zera'im… (1967), 23–27. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 164. (Jehuda Feliks)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.