Cedar (ארז)

Cosmic Reference Library Source Sheet

Overview of Cedar in Jewish Traditions

Hebrew: erez (ארז) also sometimes gopher (גפר) in the Torah.

There is a long connection between the Jewish people and cedar. It goes back to the Torah, where we’re taught it was used as the wood for the mishkan, the desert tabernacle and referenced throughout Leviticus as a ritual tool with both water and fire.

In Talmudic times, it was customary to plant a cedar—representing majesty, strength, height, and hardiness—at the birth of a boy, and a cypress—representing beauty and grace—at the birth of a girl. Both trees also represented longevity and life. (Gittin 57a:21)

In Kohenet teachings, it corresponds with the Tzovah (צובאה) Shrinekeeper. And Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer also aligns it with Psalm 127, as part of the Psalms of Ascent read during Tu B’Shevat.

Cedar is cited as an angel governing the south. In other versions he is called Kerkoutha (q.v.).Angel of the South [Kerkoutha, Cedar, Raphael]
(A Dictionary of Angels – Gustav Davidson)

And Professor Cynthia R. Chaphman teaches in her course “The World of Biblical Israel” that “the main room [of The Temple] was decorated with cedar paneling; cypress  floorboards; and carvings of palm trees,  flowers, and cherubim. The account in Kings repeatedly emphasizes that the surfaces of seemingly everything were overlaid with gold.”

Tanach and Talmud

Tanach (selected references)

  • Make for yourself an ark of cedar (גֹפר) wood. (Gen 6:14)
  • the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed. (Lev 14:4)
  • To purge the house, he shall take two birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop. (Lev 14:49)
  • He shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the crimson stuff, and the live bird, and dip them in the blood of the slaughtered bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle on the house seven times. (Lev 14:51)
  • the priest shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff, and throw them into the fire consuming the cow. (Num 19:6)
  • The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters are of cypress. (Song of Songs 1:17)
  • As I moved about wherever the Israelites went, did I ever reproach any of the tribal leaders whom I appointed to care for My people Israel: Why have you not built Me a house of cedar? (II Samuel 7:7)

Talmud (selected)

  • The Sages further taught in praise of the reed: A person should always be soft like a reed, and he should not be stiff like a cedar. (Taanit 20a:16)
  • The Gemara explains that it was customary in Beitar that when a boy was born they would plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born they would plant a cypress [tornita]. And when they would later marry each other they would cut down these trees and construct a wedding canopy for them with their branches. One day the emperor’s daughter passed by there and the shaft of the carriage in which she was riding broke. Her attendants chopped down a cedarfrom among those trees and brought it to her. (Gittin 57a:21)

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