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

Dec. 24 2019

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

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship