- Three species of "cucumber" are mentioned in the Bible and in rabbinic literature: kishu'im, pakku'ot, and the yerokat (or yerikat) ha-ḥamor. (1) Kishu'im: only the plural form occurs in the Bible, but the singular, kishut, occurs in rabbinic literature. The reference is to the chate cucumber (Cucumis melo, var. chate) which appears frequently in images from ancient Egypt. It was an important crop and a favorite food there, which explains the yearning of the Children of Israel for them during their sojourn in the wilderness (Num. 11:5). Botantically this "cucumber" belongs to the genus Melon, which is called melafefon in rabbinic literature (Mishnah, Kil. 1:2, regards the melafefon as belonging to the same species and modern Hebrew erroneously uses melafefon for the cucumber). In the mishnaic period the cucumber was an important crop, but its nutritious value was a matter of dispute. It was said that the large species "are as injurious to the body as a sword," while the small species "open the bowels" (Ber. 57b). A summer plant, it could be grown in the winter under special conditions. Thus it was stated of Judah ha-Nasi and the emperor Antoninus that their table never lacked cucumbers even in winter (ibid.). Kishu'im in modern Hebrew is applied to squash, which was introduced from America and was not known to the ancients. (2) The pakku'at sadeh (bitter cucumber, colocynth, Citrullus colocynthis) is mentioned in the story of Elisha's disciple who, in time of famine, found a gefen-sadeh ("field vine") from which he gathered pakku'ot. He cooked porridge from it, which was poisonous, but Elisha provided an antidote by adding flour (II Kings 4:39–41). From the seeds of this plant the oil of the pakku'ot mentioned in the Mishnah (Shab. 2:2) is obtained. The bitter cucumber, a perennial plant of the family Cucurbitaceae, is widespread in the arid regions of Ereẓ Israel. It is of the same genus as the watermelon, being similar in leaf and fruit. Apparently edible, it in fact contains poisonous substances. The oil extracted from it has medicinal properties. In the coastal region south of Gaza, it is sometimes gathered for its seeds. The leaves of the bitter cucumber have an attractive shape and they appear as an artistic form in the ornamentation of ancient buildings. Some identify them with the mikla'at peka'im (AV, "carved knops") of the Temple of Solomon and the molten sea (I Kings 6:18; 7:24). (3) Yerokat ha-ḥamor is mentioned in the Mishnah (Oho. 8:1) as a plant with crowded and hard leaves which serve as a screen against ritual defilement. The reference is to the Ecbalium elaterium. Its fruit resembles a small cucumber. When ripe, the slightest touch causes the fruit to burst open, squirting its juice a long distance. The mishnaic name is usually read as yerokat ḥamor ("the ass's vegetable"). In one manuscript, the reading is yerikat ha-ḥamor ("the ass's spittle") perhaps because the squirting of the juices resembled the spitting of an ass. The plant grows abundantly in Ereẓ Israel, mainly in refuse dumps. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 530ff.; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), 78ff., 88ff.; J. Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1957), 166, 202; idem, Kilei Zera'im ve-Harkavah (1967), 47–53. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 79, 101, 126, 144. (Jehuda Feliks)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.