The Farmer Who Brought Ancient Spices Back to the Land of Israel

Frankincense and myrrh are known to Jews as primary ingredients of the incense used in the Temple—the formula is recited in daily or weekly prayers—and to Christians as gifts brought by the magi. On a farm not far from the Dead Sea, Guy Erlich cultivates the plants from which they derive. Sara Toth Stub writes:

About ten years ago, Erlich [and his family] visited the Einot Tsukim nature reserve, where he was intrigued by the ruins of a 2,000-year-old perfume factory and the story of an aromatic and medicinal plant called balsamon that once grew around the Dead Sea.

Referred to by many names, including the “balm of Gilead,” these plants show up throughout the Bible. They also spared the Jewish community of Ein Gedi from destruction by the Romans in the 1st century CE due to that community’s ability to harvest these valuable plants. They were so important to the ancient economy that they are illustrated along the Dead Sea on the famous Madaba map, a 6th-century mosaic map on a church floor in Jordan. But, like many such plants, they disappeared from the area in the Middle Ages, a time of many wars and upheaval.

For a few years, Elaine Soloway, a researcher at the Arava Institute at Kibbutz Ketura near Eilat, had been growing and studying a small number of the plants, which she got from a plant collector who had gotten them from a garden in Oman. She gave Erlich a few specimens, which he started growing in pots outside his new home. . . . Soloway also gave him some frankincense and myrrh—which also haven’t been grown widely in Israel since the Middle Ages. Erlich has added others from other collectors based abroad, enduring Israel’s tedious agricultural-imports bureaucracy.

After accumulating hundreds of plants, he needed more space, and managed to buy the nearby plot of land where his farm is based today.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hebrew Bible, Israeli agriculture, Temple


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security