|Tractate Peah, Chapter 1
Rebbi Yossi Ben Rebbi Yehudah says, “Rutab dates2 are exempt from Peah (corners of the field), because the first [of the fruit] does not wait for the last [of the fruit].”3 Rebbi Elazar Ben Rebbi Tzadok says, “Jujubes4 are obligated in Peah.”5 Others say, “Even Stone pine6 and blue sweet peas [are obligated in Peah as well].”
מסכת פאה פרק א
ר’ יוסי בי רבי יהודה אומר רוטבות תמרה פטורות מן הפיאה שאין ראשון ממתין לאחרון. רבי אלעזר ברבי צדוק אומר השיזפין חייבין בפיאה. אחרים אומרים אף בנות שוח וחלחלחין.
- Mishna Peah 1:5 states that dates among other fruit are obligated in Peah. This Tosefta quotes a dissenting opinion regarding dates as well as mentions other fruit that are obligated in Peah that the Mishna does not mention.
- Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names Kimri (unripe), Khalal (full-size, crunchy), Rutab (ripe, soft), Tamr (ripe, sun-dried). The following is a description of the four stages of dates growth from the Date Palm Products by W.H. Barreveld (FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin No. 101, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1993):
- Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:4, Daf 8b) points out that the Mishna (Peah 1:5) argues on Rebbi Yossi Ben Rebbi Yehudah, since it plainly says that dates are obligated in Peah, implying that all dates are obligated in Peah regardless of their stage. Yerushalmi points out that since all ripe dates swell at the same time it is considered to be that they all are ready for harvesting simultaneously. The Yerushalmi is probably referring to the initial swelling of the date when it reaches the Khalal stage and becomes eatable and suitable for harvesting. The fact that people prefer to wait for the dates to be picked at different stages is not considered to be significant enough for it to qualify for an exemption from Peah due to different times of picking. It seems to me that the Mishna requires completely different harvest seasons for fruit in order for them to be exempt from Peah as I already explained in the previous Tosefta, note 5, as is the case with the common figs.
- Jujube (Ziziphus species) is a fruit of a thorn tree that tastes similar to an apple. The Hebrew name Shizfin comes from its Greek name ζίζυφον (Zizyfon) which in turn comes from the Arabic word Zizouf, which is the Arabic name for the Lotus Jujube tree (Ziziphus Lotus), a tree considered to be holy by the Muslims. Most probably the Tosefta is referring specifically to the Ziziphus Spina-Christi, commonly known as Christ’s Thorn Jujube, which is the most common type of jujubes that grows in the Land of Israel. It is also possible that it is referring to Ziziphus Vulgaris which is a cultivated species of jujubes, which is native to Syria was possibly imported into Israel by the Romans. Zizphus Vulgaris produces larger and tastier fruit than Christ’s Thorn Jujube.
- Jujubes produce fruit many months out of the year, but have a single long harvesting season, which would make them obligated in Peah according to the Mishna Peah 1:4. Saul Lieberman in Tosefta Kepshuta suggests that Rebbi Elazar Ben Rebbi Tzadok mentions the jujube (specifically Ziziphus Vulgaris) with regard to Peah, because it may have been imported in to the Land of Israel by the Romans during his lifetime and was a new type fruit whose cultivation was not yet very familiar to the Jews in Roman Palestine. There were two Tannaim by the name Rebbi Elazar Ben Rebbi Tzadok. The first one lived in the second half of the 1st, beginning of the 2nd centuries CE and was a witness to the destruction of the Second Bet Hamikdash. The second one lived in second half of the 2nd century CE and was associated with Rebbi Yehudah Hanassi, the author of the Mishna. It is not clear which one of these two Tannaim is the author of this statement regarding jujubes. If Lieberman is correct, then it makes more sense that Rebbi Elazar Ben Rebbi Tzadok I, is the author of this statement, because the cultivated jujubes (Ziziphus Vulgaris) were introduced into Italy from Africa by the consul Sextus Papinius Allienus in the year 36 CE, during the reign of emperor Augustus, as mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Natural History, 15:47). It was probably introduced into Palestine around that time as well.
- Mishna Sheviit 5:1 states that Benot Suach fruit ripens once every three years. Yehudah Felix (Mishnat Sheviit p.124 on Mishna Sheviit 5:1) says that Benot Suach cannot mean literally “white figs” as stated by Talmud Bavli (Berachot 40b), because there is no such type of fig in the world whose fruit ripens once every three years as mentioned by the Mishna. Felix himself says that Benot Suach is some type of a pine tree. That makes sense since pine cones take 2 – 3 years, depending on the species, to mature on the tree and the Mishna mentions that Persian Benot Suach took 2 years to ripen as opposed to Palestinian ones that took 3 years. Saul Lieberman in Tosefta Kepshuta on this Tosefta identifies Benot Suach as pines as well. Lieberman goes further to say that Talmud Yerushalmi (Sheviit 5:1, Daf 13a) identifies Benot Suach with a plant called Pitirea, which he says should be really spelled Pitidea and comes from the Greek word πιτύδια (Pitudea) (meaning of which to me is not clear), which in turn comes from the Greek word πίτυν (Pitun) which means a pine tree. He says further that “white figs” was a folk name for pine cones used among Greeks and adopted by Jews as well. Even though pine cones take 3 years to mature the tree produces eatable cones every year after its first 3 years of cone production, so the cones that grew in a given year all ripen together 3 years later, which is considered by Acherim (others) to be a single harvesting season, which makes them obligated in Peah. The specific species of pine tree referred to in the Tosefta is most probably Pinus Pinea, also known as Stone Pine, which grows in northern Israel in the Galil, has edible nuts, and which is one of few pine species whose cones mature in almost 3 years. Other pine species that grow in Israel such as the more common Pinus Halepensis, known in Hebrew as Oren Yerushalayim – the Jerusalem Pine, have their cones mature in 18 months.
- Saul Lieberman in Tosefta Kepshuta identifies this plant as Lathyrus Sativus, known as blue sweet peas or grass peas, which is a type of edible peas. He says that the correct spelling of the word probably should be חלחלין (Chalchalin). I have a suggestion for the origin of its Hebrew name – חלחלין (plural of חלחל). The word חלחל (Chalchal) means “poison”. See Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumic Literature, entry חלחול. The seeds of blue sweet peas, contain variable amounts of a neurotoxic amino acid β-N-Oxalyl-L-α,β-diaminopropionic acid or ODAP. ODAP is considered as the cause of the disease neurolathyrism, a neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis of the lower body: emaciation of Gluteal muscle (buttocks). The disease has been seen to occur after famines in Europe (France, Spain, Germany), North Africa, South Asia, and is still prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Afghanistan (pan handle) when Lathyrus seed is the exclusive or main source of nutrients for extended periods. Research has shown that ODAP concentration increases in plants grown under stressful conditions, compounding the problem. See S. L. N. Rao, P. R. Adiga, P. S. Sarma, “The Isolation and Characterization of β-N-Oxalyl-L-α,β-Diaminopropionic Acid: A Neurotoxin from the Seeds of Lathyrus sativus”, Biochemistry, 1964, 3 (3), p. 432–436. It would seem that people at the time of the Tosefta knew about this property of blue sweet peas and therefore called it “poisonous”. Due to this reason the Tosefta had to specify it as a species obligated in Peah, since one might think that since they could be poisonous they should be exempt from a commandment meant for providing food to the poor. Despite this property it seems that it was still consumed as food, as it is many areas today, and therefore was still obligated in Peah, since it as a type of legumes, all of which are obligated in Peah as mentioned by Mishna Peah 1:4.
Hababauk is the term used for the female flower and the period just after pollination when the young fruit is still creamy white before gradually turning green at the utab stage. At the utab stage there is a rapid increase in size, weight, and reducing sugars; it is the period of highest acid activity and moisture content (up to 85%). All factors level off at the end of this stage when the fruit starts to turn yellow (or red according to variety). At this point the date seed could already germinate and the fruit is botanically mature. At the khalaal stage weight gain is slow but sucrose content increases, moisture content goes down, and tannins will start to precipitate and lose their astringency. In some varieties this latter process evolves rapidly, which makes them already palatable at the khalaal stage, and one could speak of commercial maturity for this type of fruit at this stage. With (normally) the tips of the fruit starting to turn brown, the utab stage sets in which is characterized by a decrease in weight due to moisture loss, a partial (the degree depending on the variety) inversion of sucrose into invert sugar and a browning of the skin and softening of the tissues. The moisture content goes down to about 35% and the dates at this stage are sold as fresh fruit. Only when the dates are left to ripen further on the palm will they turn into tamr, climatic conditions permitting, characterized by a moisture content at which the date is self-preserving. The upper limit for the date to be self-preserving lies at around 24-25%. Dates distinguish themselves therefore from most other fruit in that they have a botanical maturity and at least 3 distinct commercial maturation levels, the sweet khalaal, the utab, and the tamr stage.
The Hebrew word Rotev is the same as the Arabic word Rutab, both of which mean “wet” or “moist”. The Tosefta is referring to regular dates in the Rutab stage and not to some special species of dates. Generally, dates in a cluster and all clusters on a palm do not ripen at the same time. A number of pickings may have to be made over a period of several weeks. See Julia F. Morton, “Fruits of Warm Climates”, Florida Flair Books, 1987, entry Date, p. 5-11. However it is not clear why Rebbi Yossi Ben Rebbi Yehudah would single out dates in the Rutab stage as opposed to just saying dates in general, since this phenomenon of non-even ripening occurs with dates of all stages. It is possible that the specific cultivar of dates that he was referring to was specifically harvested in the Rutab stage, as opposed to other stages. The stage at which the dates are picked for consumption is highly dependent on the specific cultivar and climate where they are grown. It should be noted that the cultivar of the Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera) that grew in the Land of Israel during the time of the Mishna was the Judean Date Palm which has been extinct for over 1500 years, and only recently (2005) has been grown again from seeds found in Herod’s palace in Masada, so no information exists about the behavior of this specific cultivar of the date palm. See “Germination, Genetics, and Growth of an Ancient Date Seed”, Sarah Sallon, Elaine Solowey, Yuval Cohen, Raia Korchinsky, Markus Egli, Ivan Woodhatch, Orit Simchoni, and Mordechai Kislev, Science Magazine, 13 June 2008, Vol. 320. No. 5882, p. 1464. It is possible that in this specific cultivar some of the dates transformed from the Rutab to the Tamr stage earlier than others and had to be picked separately thus prompting Rebbi Yossi Ben Rebbi Yehudah to exempt them from Peah.
Formation and Ripening of the Dates. Used with permission from FAO.
Ziziphus Spina-Christi – Christ’s Thorn
Ziziphus Vulgaris – cultivated Jujube
The two large trees at center and left are Pinus Pinea, at Wellington Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand
Aruch Hashalem (Vol. 2, entry Benot Suach) identifies this plant as Small Goat’s Thorn (Astragalus Poterium), which is a large shrub with sharp tasting seeds that have a sweet scent. His identification is based on the same quote in Talmud Yerushalmi (Sheviit 5:1, Daf 13a) which explains that Benot Suach is a plant called Pitirea, which he identifies with the Greek word ποτήριον (Potirion) which is the Greek name for Small Goat’s Thorn. The problem is that Small Goat’s Thorn does not really produce a useful fruit that is harvested for food consumption so it does not make any sense that it would be obligated in Peah, and also its seeds ripen yearly and not once in three years, so this explanation is incorrect.
Lathyrus Sativus – blue sweet peas. Note the blue flowers. The peas themselves hang in peapods from the sides of the stem.