Study and Theory/
Chanukah

Zvika

A jar of flour will not run out

and the flask of oil will not be deficient, Palmachim, 1977

We customarily are occupied at the festival of Chanukah with flour and oil.
What would the festival be without doughnuts and latkes fried in oil?
Let’s take a small look at two antique utensils which were used by our fathers as containers for flour and oil in biblical times, many years before the festival of Chanukah was celebrated.


At present we use utensils made of plastic, glass and different types of metal for storing flour and oil. This was not exactly the case with our forefathers whereby their utensils were made mainly of stone, clay and more.
In the Book of Kings I we are told about Elijah the Prophet who when he fled from Ahab lived in the home of a poor widow in Zidon. When he left her home he blessed the woman with the blessing “the jar of flour will not run out and the flask of oil will not be deficient”,


It transpires that this is not that simple. Today it is customary to think that the jar was as a rule a metal container with a long neck however how should it really look? Is the neck of the jar narrow or wide, does it have a spout or is it without a spout? And what about the handle, is it necessary?


One can assume that the jar mentioned in the Book of Kings was made of clay and in order to store flour in it for daily use its opening was wide and not narrow so that it would be possible to take the flour out of it using a spoon.
The handle, perhaps could have been one, but there was no need for a spout.

 

However today one can see in the Old City of Jerusalem various jars and utensils from plastic in a variety of colours and all of them are called a jar and none of them serves for storing flour.
The story of the flask is also slightly strange. Pursuant to the source that I mentioned, it is clear that the flask was used as a container for oil during biblical times. We will try to think in terms of that era in which the furniture in the old houses was still very meagre and people sat in their modest homes on the floor, on a mat or a wool rug without a bookshelf, writing desk and armchair. It was therefore natural that the container for the oil, which was a very expensive product, would not have “rolled around” all over the place and also would not have been placed on the floor. It was preferable to hang it in the cooking corner on a leather string or a rope make of plant fibres. If so it is very logical that the container for the oil was flat and proximate to the wall in order that it would not be prominent and children, the donkey or the goat who wandered around the house sometimes would not run into it unintentionally.


Therefore it can be assumed that the flask was a sort of a water bottle as we have today. That is a metal utensil with two handles of one kind or another.
We should recall on this opportunity that the flask is only mentioned in the bible.
Since then its name has been forever lost. In the later sources the flask is not mentioned at all and only a remnant remains of it in the shape of a round and flat honey cake – that is the sweet honey cake the shape of which recalls the ancient flask of oil.

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