- ACACIA (Heb. שִׁטָּה, shittah), a tree of Israel considered to be identical to the shittah tree. In the past it was extensively used for construction. Today it is planted to beautify the arid regions of Israel. Acacia-wood is mentioned repeatedly (Ex. 25–27) as the sole wood used in the construction of the Tabernacle. The word also appears as several biblical place names: Shittim near Gilgal (Num. 25:1; etc.); "And all the brooks of Judah … shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 4:18); and Beth-Shittah near Beisan (Judg. 7:22). According to Isaiah, acacia trees would line the path of the returning exiles, and would make the wasteland bloom at the time of redemption (Isa. 4:19). There is almost universal agreement that the shittah is to be identified with the acacia. Several species of the tree grow in Israel, mostly in the wadis of the Judean desert and in the southern Negev. It is thorny and has leaves compounded of small leaflets. The yellow flowers are small and grow in globular clusters. It is not tall; its trunk is thin and generally bent sideways. It is therefore somewhat difficult to identify this tree with the shittah from which the Tabernacle boards "a cubit and a half the breadth of each" (Ex. 26:16) were cut. Noting this difficulty, the Midrash already asked the question: Where in the desert were our forefathers able to find acacia-wood? One solution suggests that the trees were brought from Migdal Ẓevo'aya in the Jordan Valley near the mouth of the Yarmuk and that a small forest existed there (Gen. R. 94:4). Regarded as holy, its trees were not cut down by the local inhabitants. At present, a small grove of Acacia albida, tall trees with thick trunks, which, in contrast to the other species in Israel, grows only in non-desert regions, stands there. This species must have been the "acacia-wood standing up," i.e., with an erect trunk, which provided the wood for the Tabernacle and its accessories. This tropical tree, too, would transform the desert, according to Isaiah, in contrast to the other varieties of acacia which had always grown in the dry regions. This wood is very hard, but light. It does not absorb moisture and so its volume remains constant. It is, therefore, most suitable for construction and was used in shipbuilding. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682); Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 377 ff; Dalman, Arbeit, 7 (1942), 32 ff. (Jehuda Feliks)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.