- FIRE (Heb. אֵשׁ). -In the Bible Once humans discovered that fire could be maintained and exploited for their needs, it became one of their most important assets. Fire was used for light, warmth, cooking, roasting, baking, in waging war, and in various crafts, for sending messages, and for ritual purposes. Greek myth relates that fire was originally restricted to the gods before it was stolen by Prometheus and given to humans. Fire is one of the central elements of theophany. At the covenant with Abraham "a smoking oven and a flaming torch," representing the divine presence passed between the halves of the animals (Gen. 15:17). God appeared to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2); He went before Israel in a pillar of fire to guide them by night on their way out of Egypt (Ex. 13:21–22; 14:24; Num. 9:15–16 et al.); on the occasion of the giving of the Tablets of the Law, Mount Sinai is described as being covered in smoke, "for the Lord had come down upon it in fire" (Ex. 19:18). In Deuteronomy 9:3 Yahweh is described as "consuming fire." Yahweh breaths smoke, flames, and fire (II Sam. 22:9 (= Ps. 18:9); Isa. 30:27, 33; 65:5). In cultic practice special importance was attributed to fire as a means of purification and cleansing: "any article that can withstand fire-these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean" (Num. 31:23). Fire was used in several ways in worship: (1) a fire was lit daily in the temple (Ex. 27:20; Lev. 24:2; (2) a perpetual fire for burning sacrifices was maintained on the altar (Lev. 6:5, 6); (3) a fire was used for roasting sacrifices for human consumption; (4) a fire for burning incense was placed so that the smoke diffused throughout the shrine (Ex. 29:18; Lev. 16:13; et al.; see sacrifice ). The power of fire both as a positive and destructive force is expressed in the poetic portions of the Bible: "and you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire He is the God" (I Kings 18:24). God punishes the wicked by sending down fire from heaven: "the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Gen. 19:24). Fire is also an expression of great anger: "for a fire has flared in my wrath and burned to the bottom of Sheol, has consumed the earth and its increase, eaten down to the base of the hills" (Deut. 32:22). (Ze'ev Yeivin / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.) -In Talmudic Literature Fire figures prominently both in the halakhah and the aggadah. In the former it occupies a central place in civil law as one of the four tortfeasors, the four principal categories of damage (see avot nezikin ). It also occupies a special role with regard to the Sabbath; although kindling a fire is one of the main 39 categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath (Shab. 7:2), it is also specifically mentioned as a separate prohibition: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day" (Ex. 35:3). There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud as to the reason for this distinctive mention. According to one opinion the reason is to make this particular prohibition a mere negative commandment, incurring the punishment of flogging, whereas violation of the others invokes karet. According to the other opinion it is specifically mentioned to establish the rule that a person is liable separately for each and every infringement of the prohibitions of the Sabbath (Shab. 70a). The rabbis, in contradistinction to the Sadducees (and later the Karaites) interpreted the verse to apply only to the actual kindling of a fire on the Sabbath but not to its existence. Therefore a fire lit before the Sabbath is permitted to continue to burn on that day (if no fuel is added during the day), permitting the distinctive feature of the home celebrations of Sabbath, the Sabbath lights on the table. This fire, according to some opinions, could be used to keep pre-cooked food warm on the Sabbath, and according to other opinions, it could also be used to allow partially cooked foods to continue cooking by themselves on the Sabbath itself. Among the forms of work forbidden on Sabbath and permitted on festivals, lighting a fire is one of only two such forms (along with carrying) which is permitted even if one does not use the fire to prepare food, in line with the principle that "once it was permitted for the need (of cooking) it was permitted when there is no such need" (Beẓah 12b). Fire is extensively referred to in the aggadah. According to one account it was created on the second day of creation (PdRE 4) but according to another, it was created after the conclusion of the Sabbath, by Adam through the friction of two stones (Pes. 54a; TJ, Ber. 8:6, 12b). The fire of the altar came down from heaven (cf. Yoma 21b) and remained burning from the time of Moses until it was transferred to the Temple of Solomon (Zev. 61b), and it continued to burn until the reign of Manasseh (Yalkut, Kings 187). On the other hand the fire in the Second Temple was human fire (Yoma loc. cit.); nevertheless that fire was never extinguished by the rain. The "strange fire" which Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered up on the altar (Lev. 10:1) was "common" or human fire (Num. R. 2:23). Indeed, all that which is regarded as coming directly from God is said to have been given in fire. The Torah was given in a frame of white fire and the letters were engraved in black fire (TJ, Shek. 6:1, 48d). When God told Moses to institute the half-shekel, He showed him "a coin of fire" (ibid., 1:6, 46b). Simultaneously with earthly fire was created the fire of Gehinnom, and earthly fire is one-sixtieth of that fire (Ber. 57b). Out of primordial fire was created light: "The fire became pregnant and gave birth to light" (Ex. R. 15:22). Six kinds of fire are enumerated (Yoma 21b) and some such division is responsible for the formula of the blessing over light at the havdalah ceremony. According to the school of Shammai the formula should be, "Who created the light of the fire." The school of Hillel, however, maintained that since there are many colors of fire, it was necessary to say, "Who created the lights of fire" in the plural (Ber. 52a) and the halakhah was established accordingly. The rabbis accepted the legend that the salamander was created out of fire (Ḥag. 27a; Tanh. Va-Yeshev 3, Ex. R. 15:28) and that its blood protected a person from the ill effects of fire. Fire beacons placed on the mountaintops were used to announce the arrival of the New Moon (RH 2:2–4). (Louis Isaac Rabinowitz) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Muehsam, Das Feuer in Bibel und Talmud (1869); E.B. Tylor, Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1878), index; Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (1963), passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Watson, in: DDD, 331–32.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.