By : Emil G. Hirsch Immanuel Benzinger
Cyrus Adler M. Seligsohn
—In Rabbinical Literature and
Salt of Sodom.
A condiment for
food. From earliest times
salt was indispensable to the
Israelites for flavoring food.
Having a copious supply in their
own country, they could obtain
it with little trouble. The Dead
or "Salt" Sea (Gen.
xiv. 3; Josh. iii. 16) holds in
solution not less than 24.57 kg.
of salt in 100 kg. of water, and
after every flood, upon the evaporation
of the water, a coarse-grained
salt is left behind in the pools
and ditches. Saltpits, in which
salt was thus obtained, are mentioned
in Zeph. ii. 9 ("mikreh melah")
and in I Macc. ii. 35. The hill
Jebel Usdum, situated at the southern
extremity of the Dead Sea, and
having a length of ten miles,
is composed almost entirely of
rock salt; and from it was probably
procured the "Sodom salt"
mentioned in the Talmud.
The various ways in which salt
was used in Hebrew cookery need
not be enumerated here. Although
the fact is not explicitly stated
in the Old Testament, salt occupied
the same place as in modern cookery;
it was of course a most important
necessary of life (comp. Ecclus.
[Sirach] xxxix. 26; comp. Job
vi. 6). Eating the salt of a man
means, therefore, to derive one's
sustenance from him, to take pay
from him or to be hired by him
(Ezra iv. 14; comp. "salarium"
= "salt money," "salary").
Salt is considered pleasant and
wholesome for animals also (Isa.
xxx. 24); and the ancient Hebrews
of course knew that food was preserved
by salt. Taricheæ, on the Sea
of Gennesaret, indicates by its
name that, in later times at least,
the preparation of salted fish,
a staple article of commerce,
was extensively carried on there.
The medical properties of salt
also seem to have been known to
the Israelites at an early date.
Newborn infants were rubbed with
it (Ezek. xvi. 4). Though at first
this may have been done for religious
reasons, as a protection against
demons, the significance of the
custom was doubtless forgotten
at the time of Ezekiel, and probably
much earlier. The curative and
sanitary properties of salt are
probably referred to in the story
related in II Kings ii. 19 et
seq., according to which Elisha
"heals" the poisonous
spring near Jericho by throwing
salt into it.
This indispensable ingredient
of man's food naturally assumed
a great importance in the ritual.
Just as salt was absolutely necessary
at meals, so it was indispensable
at the sacrifice, the "food
of God" (comp. "leḥem
Elohaw," Lev. xxi. 22). The
Law expressly says (ib. ii. 13):
"Every oblation of thy meal-offering
shalt thou season with salt."
This prescription referred not
only to the meal-offering but
also to the burnt offering of
animals, as appears from Ezek.
xliii. 24 (comp. Josephus, "Ant."
iii. 9, § 1). Salt was used also
in the preparation of the showbread
(comp. LXX. on Lev. xxiv. 7) and
of Incense. Great quantities of
salt (Ezra vi. 9, vii. 22; comp.
"Ant." xii. 3, § 3)
were therefore required in the
Temple service. The expression
"salt of the covenant"
in Lev. ii. 13 shows that at the
time with which the book deals
salt was regarded in a symbolic
sense. Originally, however, it
is probable that the use of salt
at a sacrifice did not arise from
this conception, but from the
fact that an offering was the
meal of God.
The importance of salt in daily
life and in the ritual explains
its symbolic importance in the
ceremony of the covenant. Particularly
holy and inviolable obligations
were designated as "salt
covenants" (ib.; Num. xviii.
19; II Chron. xiii. 5). It must
be borne in mind that in ancient
times, as today among the Arab
nomads, a meal taken in company
meant temporary association among
the members of the company and
that a covenant was accompanied
by a sacrificial meal. Consequently,
as salt was always used on both
occasions, it was probably taken
as an especially fitting symbol
of the eternal duration of such
a covenant. To-day the Arab still
says, "There is salt between
us" (comp. Wellhausen, "Reste
Arabischen Heidentums," 2d
ed., pp. 124, 189; Trumbull, "The
Covenant of Salt," 1899).
The practice of sprinkling salt
on the ruins of a doomed city
may also refer to the ritual use
of salt (Judges ix. 45), expressing
its entire dedication to Yhwh
(for parallel instances see W.
R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem."
2d ed., p. 454).E. G. H. I. Be.
—In Rabbinical Literature and
Owing to the fact that salt is
referred to in the Bible as symbolizing
the covenant between God and Israel
(see Biblical Data, above), its
importance is particularly pointed
out by the Rabbis. They interpret
the words "a covenant of
salt" (Num. xviii. 19) as
meaning that salt was used by
God on the occasion in question
to signify that it should never
be lacking from sacrifices. Thus,
although it appears from Lev.
ii. 13 that salt was required
for meal-offerings only, the Rabbis
concluded from a comparison between
Num. l.c. and Num. xxv. 13 that,
just as none of the sacrifices
could be offered without priests,
so they could not be offered without
salt (Men. 19b-20a). The salt
which belonged to the Temple for
sacrificial purposes could be
used by the priests when they
ate their portion of the sacrifices,
but not otherwise; this was one
of the seven institutions of the
bet din (Shek. vii. 6; Maimonides,
"Yad," Me'ilah, viii.).
As, after the destruction of the
Temple, the table set for a meal
was considered as an altar, the
Rabbis recommended that salt should
be put upon it; nor should the
blessing be recited without salt.
The necessity for the presence
of salt is indicated by the fact
that when the bread is of inferior
quality a man may ask for salt
between the recitation of the
blessing and the partaking of
the bread, while for any other
purpose one is not allowed to
utter a single word. But when
the bread is of good quality,
although salt should have been
put upon the table, yet, if it
is missing, one may not interrupt
by asking for it between the blessing
and eating (Shulhan Aruk, Orah
Hayyim, 167, 5; Jacob Zausmer,
No. 168; comp. Ber. 40a). In the
time of the Tosafists the placing
of salt on the table was dispensed
with; the bread being good, the
condiment was considered unnecessary.
Menahem, however, strictly observed
the above-mentioned custom, declaring
that when people sit at tablewithout
performing any commandment ("mitzvah")
Satan accuses them, and only the
covenant of salt protects them
(Tos. to Ber. l.c.). The custom
was revived later, and to-day
the hand is regularly dipped into
the salt before "ha-mozeh"
(Isserles, in Shulhan 'Aruk, l.c.).
Salt is considered as the most
necessary condiment, and therefore
the Rabbis likened the Torah to
it; for as the world could not
do without salt, neither could
it do without the Torah (Soferim
xv. 8). A meal without salt is
considered no meal (Ber. 44a).
Still, salt is one of the three
things which must not be used
in excess (ib. 55a). It is not
considered by the Rabbis as a
food; thus when one makes a vow
to abstain from food he may eat
salt. It may not be used for an
'Erub ('Er. iii. 1).
The Rabbis recognized in salt
different properties owing to
which it is prominent in the ritual
code. The most important one is
its decomposing action on the
blood; and therefore its use was
recommended by the Rabbis for
draining the blood from meat.
Blood can not be thoroughly extracted
from meat unless the latter is
well salted (Hul. 113a). The laws
for salting meat are given in
sections 69-78 of the Shulhan
'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, some particulars
of which may be here mentioned.
The layer of salt must be neither
too thin, for then it is lacking
in strength, nor too thick, for
then it does not adhere to the
meat; and it must remain on the
meat not less than twenty minutes.
It has no effect on the blood
of meat three days old (as the
blood is then considered to have
coagulated), unless the meat has
been previously rinsed in water
(Yoreh De'ah, 69, 3, 6, 12). Salt
has no effect on liver on account
of the large quantity of blood
contained in the latter; still,
if the liver has been salted and
cooked, it may be eaten (ib. 73,
1; comp. ib. 105, 9-14). In other
respects salting is like cooking
(Hul. 97b); and therefore he who
salts vegetables in the field
makes them fit for the tithe (Ma'as.
iv. 1). Salting food or vegetables
is considered one of the principal
labors which are forbidden on
the Sabbath (Shab. 75b). To dissolve
salt in water is also considered
work; consequently one may not
prepare a quantity of salt water
on the Sabbath. Salt may not be
pounded in a mortar on that day;
but it may be crushed with the
handle of a knife (Orah Hayyim,
321, 2, 8).
Salt of Sodom.
Salt is mentioned as a remedy
for toothache (Shab. vi. 5), and
women were accustomed to hold
a grain of salt on the tongue
in order to prevent unpleasant
odors in the mouth (ib.); and
on this account the Rabbis similarly
recommended that salt be eaten
at the conclusion of every meal,
as it prevents such odors in the
daytime and at night is a preventive
of angina. But it must not be
eaten from the thumb, for that
causes the loss of children; nor
from the little finger, for that
causes poverty; nor from the index-finger,
for that causes murder; but only
from the middle finger or the
ring-finger (Ber. 40a; Orah Hayyim,
179, 6). A kind of salt designated
"salt of Sodom" ("melah
Sedomit"), which was an ingredient
of the spices burned in the Temple
(Ker. 6a), was so pungent that
if one put the finger from which
he ate it on his eye, it might
cause blindness. The Rabbis therefore
instituted the washing of the
hands after the meal (hul. 105b).
In one respect salt is considered
like hailstones or ice; so that
it may complete a Mikweh and make
it fit for a ritual bath (Mik.
vii. 1). Salt was strewed on the
step of the altar to prevent the
priest from slipping ('Er. x.
14). A reference to salt as a
preservative is made in the proverb:
"Shake the salt off meat,
and you may throw the latter to
dogs" (Niddah 31a); that
is to say, without salt meat is
good for nothing. "When salt
becomes corrupt with what is it
salted?" (Bek. 8b). "The
salt of money is charity"
(Ket. 66b). The term "salted"
is applied to a man in the sense
of "quick-minded" (kid.
It has been shown above that during
the Middle Ages salt was connected
with certain superstitious beliefs;
it may be added that these have
continued up to the present time.
In certain places in Russia the
belief is current among Jews that
if salt is thrown in a part of
a house where it is not likely
to be swept away, the inhabitants
of that house will become poor.
In England and Holland it is commonly
believed that the spilling of
salt brings ill luck. Salt is
particularly considered as a safeguard
against the evil eye. This belief
existed in Germany in the beginning
of the eighteenth century, as
is narrated by Schudt ("Jüdische
Merckwürdigkeiten," ii. 385),
who states that a Jewish woman
who visited him advised him to
hang salt and bread about his
children's necks to preserve them
from evil persons. This belief
is especially current in Russia,
where salt is put into the arba'
kanfot and into children's pockets,
and is thrown into the four corners
of the room. There is also a saying
in Russia: "Throw salt on
a Gipsy as she or he leaves your
Bibliography: Kohut, Aruch Completum
Lampronti, Pahad Yizhak
Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb.