Encyclopedia Judaica 1906
Spices By : Emil G. Hirsch Immanuel Benzinger
Aromatic vegetable substances used in preparing food or in compounding salves or perfumes. With the exception of salt, no condiments were known to the ancient Jews, and even cinnamon, with which the Hebrews were familiar, was employed only in unguents and similar mixtures, while aromatic herbs and spices found their sole use in the preparation of mulled wine (see Wine). With a single exception, all the ingredients of unguents and perfumes were vegetable. This exception, called "shehelet" (A. V. "onyclia"), the operculum of a variety of mussel found in the Red Sea, formed one of the four components of the incense burned in the Temple. It is still used in the East, for, though it exhales a disagreeable odor when burned alone, it gives the requisite pungency to a composition of several spices. Such animal substances as ambergris and musk seem to have been entirely unknown to the ancient Hebrews.
Many of the plants from which spices were obtained are described in special articles (see Aloes; Balm; Balsam; Bdellium; Calamus; Cassia; Cinnamon; Frankincense; Spikenard; Stacte; Storax). To these may be added the bitter, odorous gum galbanum ("helbenah"), another component of incense (Ex. xxx. 34), which is described in Ecclus. (Sirach) xxiv. 15 as yielding a pleasant odor, and which was regarded by the ancients as the pith of the narthex, although the common Persian ferulæ of the family of the Umbelliferæ contain a pith with an odor of peculiar strength and likewise called galbanum. The odor of this alone is by no means pleasant, but when mixed with other scents, it adds, like sheḥelet, an agreeable pungency. It is used also for the extermination of insects, and in therapeutics it is employed as an aphrodisiac.
There are no details regarding the preparation of these vegetable products; the modern method of extracting the ethereal oils by distillation was unknown to the ancient Jews. The aromatic elements of such gums and woods as could not be used in their natural state were obtained by boiling the substances in oils or fats (comp. Job xli. 23). The fondness of the Orientals, of both ancient and modern times, for incense and perfumed unguents naturally created an extensive traffic in spices; and the fact that there were professional perfumers shows that the art of manufacturing perfumes by various combinations had reached a high stage of development (see I Sam. viii. 13; Neh. iii. 8)
Jewish and Kosher Spices