Woodcarrying, the Feast of

Wood-carrying, The Feast Of one of the annual festivals instituted after the Babylonian captivity, although not mentioned in the Bible. SEE FESTIVAL.

I. Name of the Festival and its Significance. — The name קָרבִן הָעֵצַים or קָרבִן עֵצַים, which literally denotes the wood-offering, ξυλοφόρια Xylophoria, or its fuller phrase, יום טוב שַל קרבן עצים, the feast of wood-offering, — ἡ τῶν ξυλοφόρίων ἑορτή (Josephus, War, 2:17, 6), by which this festival is designated, is derived from Ne 10:35; Ne 13:31. It obtained its name from. the fact that on the day in which it was celebrated all the. people, without any distinction of tribe or grade, brought wood to the temple, being the last day in the year whereon wood could be felled for the burning of the sacrifices and the perpetual fire on the altar. It is also denominated זמן אעי לכהניא, the time of wood for the priests (Megillath Taanith, 5), because on this festival the priests too, like the rest of the people, offered wood.

II. The Day, and Manner of its Celebration. — The day on which this festival was annually celebrated was the 15th of Ab (אב =August). This is distinctly attested by the unanimous voice of the most ancient and most trustworthy records (comp. Mishna, Taarnith, 4:8; Babylon Genzara, ibid. 30 a;. Baba Bathra., 121 a; Mlegillath Taanlith, 5; Midrash Rabba, on Lamentations, 57). The remark in Josephus, that this festival was celebrated on the 14th (τῄ δὲ ἑξῆς τῶν ξυλοφορίων ἑορτῆς οὔσης-ἐν ῃ πᾶσιν ἔθος υλην τῷ βωμῷ προσφερειν, War, 2:17, 6; and τῇ δὲ ἑξῆς, πεντεκαιδεκάτη δε ἡν Λώου μηνός, κ.τ.λ., ibid. 2:17, 7), mustn therefore be regarded as the error of a copyist (comp. Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 1:144; Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, 2d ed. 3:478). The nine days in the year appointed for the delivery of wood by the respective families were as follows: On the 20th of Ab, when the descendants of Pachat-Moab b. Jehudah furnished the wood; the 20th of klul, the family of Adeen b. Jehudah; the 1st of Tebet, the family of Parosh; the 1st of Nisnan, the family of Arab b. Jehudah; the 20th of Tamuz, the family of David b. Jehudah; the 5th of Ab, the family of Parosh b. Jehudah; the 7th of Ab, the family of Jondab b. Rechab; the 10th of Ab, the family of Senaa b. Benjamin; and on the 15th of Ab, the family of Saltu b. Jehudah, with the priests, Levites, and all those who did not know from wlhat they descended, as well as the families of Gonbei Ali and Kozai Kezioth (Mishna, Taanith, 4:3). So general was the delivery of wood on this day (i.e., the 15th of Ab) that even proselytes, slaves, Nethinim, and bastards brought fuel (Mengilluth Taanith, 5). Hence the remark of Josephus, that on this day all the people brought wood, from which circumstance it derived its name (War, 2:17, 6). On this day, when all the people were thus congregated together, discarding all distinction of tribe, of rich and poor, of Israelite and proselyte, of master and slave, the maidens of Jerusalem met together for singing joyful and religious songs, and for dancing. Dressed in white garments, which they borrowed in order not to shame those who had none of their own, these damsels assembled together in an open place in the vineyards. They sang strophic songs in the sacred language, and danced in the presence of the congregation. It was on this occasion that the happy choice of partners in life frequently took place, since it was one of the two annual opportunities afforded to the nollng people of making their attractions known without violating feminine modesty (Mishna, Megilla, 4:8). Cessation from manual labor on this day was, however, not enjoined; but fasting, penitential prayers, and mourning for the dead were forbidden (Megillath Taanith, 5; Maimonides, Yad ha- Chezaka Hilchoth Kelei ham-Mikdash, 6).

III. Origin and Date of this Festival. — The origin of this festival is involved in great obscurity, as the ancient Talmudic authorities which describe its celebration differ materially in their opinions about the occasion which gave rise to its institution. From Ne 10:35; Ne 13:31, we learn that this statesman, in order to supply the necessary fuel for the burning of the sacrifices and the keeping up of the perpetual fire on the altar, ordained that each family in rotation was to furnish wood for the temple at a certain period of the year, and that the order and time of delivery were to be settled by casting lots. The result obtained by the casting of lots is not mentioned in the canonical Scriptures; but the post- canonical documents, which describe the temple service, furnish us with a minute account of both the names of the respective families upon whom it devolved to supply the wood, and the periods of the year in which they delivered it. This account is given in the preceding section of this article. It is, therefore, only natural to conclude that the different families who are thus recorded to have offered the wood at appointed times did so in accordance with the results obtained by the casting of lots. Now, the reason why the 15th of A b was kept as a special festival, and why all the nation at large took part in the offering of wood on this day, is, according to some authorities in the Talmud, that on it the people ceased to fell wood for the temple, because, according to R. Eliezer the Great, the heat of the sun begins to diminish on this day, and the wood which was cut after this date did not become sufficiently dry. Hence the 15th of Ab was designated "the day on which the axe is broken." As it was also believed that the wood cut down after the 15th of Ab is sapless (Rosh hash-Shana, 2 a, 14 a), Herzfeld (Geschichte des Volkes Israel. 1:145) ingeniously conjectures that the trees were regarded as dead after this date, and the wood of such trees was considered as unfit for the altar. The other ancient opinion about the origin of this festival is, that the furnishing of wood for the temple by the pious, which existed from time immemorial, and which Nehemiah reinstituted after the return from Babylon, was prohibited by some wicked sovereign, and that this interdict was abolished on the 15th of Ab. Hence this day was constituted a festival, and the families who jeopardized their lives in stealthily supplying wood for the temple during the time of the prohibition are those named above, who, as a privilege, continued to bring some wood on this festival, whether the fuel was wanted or not. There is, however, a difference of opinion as to who this wicked monarch was. The Jerusalem Talmud will have it that it was Jeroboam who placed guards on the roads leading to the temple in order to prevent the people from taking to the sanctuary the first-fruits and the wood, and the families of Gonbei Ali and Kozai Kezioth, mentioned in the Mishna, were those who encountered the danger in clandestinely supplying the wood (Jerusalem Taanith, 4:6).

The Megillath Taanith (cap. 5) again has it that this interdict proceeded from "the kings of Greece," who imitated the conduct of Jeroboam; while the Babylonian Talmud omits the dynasty altogether, and simply remarks that the prohibition emanated from some government (Taanith, 28 a). As the reference to Jeroboam on the part of the Jerusalem Talmud is simply to make this monarch the author of all the wicked deeds in connection with the Jews, and as, moreover, the ascription of this deed in the Megillath Taanith to Greek rulers is unhistorical — since Antiochus Epiphanes, to whom alone it could refer, totally abolished the temple service, which rendered it useless to smuggle the firstfruits and wood — Gratz concludes that this prohibition could only proceed from Alexander Jannaeus,who forbade the offering of wood out of hatred to the Pharisees, and that then the above-named pious families clandestinely furnished the fuel. When this interdict ceased with the reign of Alexander, and the ancient custom of wood-offering was resumed, the concluding day for the delivery of it (comp. Taanith., 31 a) obtained a higher significance, and was elevated into a national festival (Gratz, 3:477). It will be seen from the account of the nature of this festival that the custom for all the people to bring large supplies of firewood for the sacrifices of the year could not possibly have been designed to relieve the Nethinim, and that these Nethinim did not bear a conspicuous part in it, as is supposed by many.

IV. Literature. — Mishna, Taanith, 4:5, 8; the Jerusalem and Babylon Gemaras on this Mishna; Megillath Taanith (ed. Meyer, Amsterdam, 1724), 5:32-39; Maimonides, Yad ha-Chezaka Hilchoth Kelei ham- Mikdash, 6; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Nordhausen, 1855), 1:67 sq.; 144 sq.; Jost, Geschichte des Judenathums (Leipsic, 1857), 1:169; Gratz, Geschichte der Juden (2d ed. ibid. 1863), pages 122, 477 ff. SEE OFFERING.

 
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