- WELLS (Heb. בְּאֵר, be'er, pl. בְּאֵרוֹת, once (Jer. 6:7) בָּיִר, perhaps rather to be read בֵּיר), shafts dug from the surface of the ground to the groundwater. They are of utmost importance in countries with limited rainfall, where springs and perennial streams are few, and particularly vital in nomadic society, since they provide water for the tribe and their livestock (Gen. 29:2). At times rivalry develops among the nomads for the possession of a well. Wells range in size from great shafts many feet deep to shallow pits, depending on the geological formation of the area and its general water level. Biblical wells were located in the wilderness (Gen. 16:14), in valleys (Gen. 26:17), near cities (Gen. 24:11), in fields (Gen. 29:2), and in courtyards (II Sam. 17:18). In order to keep the water supply uncontaminated and to prevent people or animals from falling in, wells were covered (Gen. 29:3; Ex. 21:33). Wells were often designated by specific names in order to commemorate tribal history, such as Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth (Gen. 26:20–22). Be'er is an element of several place-names, e.g., Beer-Lahai-Roi (Gen. 16:14) and Beer-Sheba (Gen. 21:14), indicating the existence of well-known wells in these places. Wells are to be distinguished from cisterns (בּוֹר, pl. בּוֹרוֹת), i.e., subterranean waterproof chambers which store the runoff from roofs, etc. (cf. Lev. R. 18:1, where R. Akiva sees in the word בּוֹרְאֶיךָ (Eccles. 12:1) a combination of בּוֹר ,בְּאֵר and בּוֹרֵא). -In the Aggadah Among the "ten things which were created on the eve of the Sabbath" (cf. Creation, i.e., which are of semi-miraculous character) is enumerated "the mouth of the well." The reference is to the well mentioned in the Song of the Well (Num. 21:16–18). According to the aggadah this well, which was created to reward miriam for singing the Song of the Sea (Exod. 15:21, Num. R. 1:2), accompanied the children of Israel throughout their wanderings in the wilderness, and disappeared when she died. It was, however, restored through the merit of moses and aaron , who are the "princes" who "dug it" (v. 17), and it disappeared on Moses' death (Shab. 35a, Ta'an. 9a). According to some, however, the references are to the well of the rock which Moses struck (Num. 20:7–11).
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.