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July 25, 2014 | 27th Tamuz 5774

Sand

Galilee Diary #334, April 22, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

In Moses’ blessing, the tribe of Zebulun is promised (Deuteronomy 33:19):

They invite their kin to the mountain, where they offer sacrifices of success.

For they draw from the riches of the sea, and the hidden hoards of the sand.

In a midrash appearing in the Talmud (Megillah 6a), Zebulun complains that his brothers all got rich agricultural land, while all he got was mountains and the beach. The answer he receives is that “hidden hoards of the sand” is actually a great blessing of prosperity, as it implies three very valuable commodities:

“hoards” – refers to the chilazon snail, used for making royal scarlet dye used in the Temple as well as the blue used on the fringes of the talit.

“hidden” – refers to fish

“sand” – refers to glass.

From my back porch, there is a view out the Chilazon valley to where it flows out into the Zebulun plain – and beyond to the Mediterranean shore. The valley was named for the snails once plentiful along the sea coast at its outflow. According to tradition we lost the recipe for making dye from them when the Temple was destroyed, but there are some archaeologists and messianic activists who have reconstructed the process, and it is possible to get a talit with blue fringes today.

Just north of the outflow of the Chilazon is the port of Acco, where on an afternoon stroll through the alleyways of the old city you can still see fishermen sitting in the doorways, mending their nets for tomorrow.

And, according the Roman historian Pliny, glass was discovered by accident in this same spot, when Phoenician traders built a cooking fire on the beach near Acco, using some of the mineral blocks they were shipping to support their pot – and found the next morning that the salts and sand had fused to make glass. Pliny is probably wrong on this, but there is no question that the Galilee was a center of the glass industry for centuries, especially during the Roman period. The technique of free-blowing (i.e., no mold) may indeed have originated in the workshops of first century Galilee. Glass works and workshops have been excavated at numerous sites around the area, including Zippori and Bet Shearim – where a huge slab of raw glass can be seen in one of the caves, apparently cast there and abandoned due to its poor quality. Today there is a modern plate glass factory not far from Zippori, though it uses mostly recycled glass, not local sand.

You can still get glass that is similar to Roman glass in composition, method of manufacture, and appearance, from one factory: an Arab family from Hebron has preserved the ancient tradition and continued to pass it down (except they use gas instead of wood to fire their oven). Their products are sold in souvenir shops all over the country – especially in Arab communities like Acco, the Jordan Valley, and Old Jerusalem.

Between beaches and desert, it would seem that Israel would be rich in sand – note that in the Bible sand is the symbol of infinite quantity. But it turns out that, unlike the image of the sandy Sahara, much of the Negev is rock and dust, and that while there are some broad sand beaches, especially from Tel Aviv south, beach erosion is a problem; in many places as you travel north, the coastline is more rocky than sandy – and so, weird as it sounds, sand theft is a significant area of criminal activity in Israel.

Hannah Senesch loved the beach at her kibbutz, Sdot Yam, near Caesarea; I suspect she never imagined that her famous, simple prayer would some day have ecological significance:

“My God, my God, may these things never end:

The sand and the sea,

The lightning in the heavens,

The rustling of the water,

The prayer of man.”

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