Friday 3 May 2013

Oil press

The next visit was to an oil press. Miryam explained that olives turn red and then black as they mature, and that the best oil is from red olives. The huge oil press before us was for the production of oil on a commercial scale. Human beings must have first discovered that ripe olives released oil. This might have led someone to collect a bit of this oil, and then to the invention of the oil lamp. This was, surprisingly, the first use to which olive oil was put. Eventually it was used for food. The oil press is called BEIT BAD in Hebrew – the house of the Big Log, because of the log used to press out oil from the crushed olives. The crushing was done on a stone and by hand for small domestic quantities, but in a large press, with a heavy stone being pushed around, for commercial quantities. The large stone was for crushing also the seeds, not because the seeds contain oil, but because they contain a substance with preservative properties. This was new to us. The crushed material was then put into baskets, and several baskets were piled under the Big Log, which was weighed down by stones – we see much the same thing still being done by our cashew crushers and feni makers in Goa.

The first pressing releases virgin olive oil, though some people say that virgin oil is what spontaneously comes out of the baskts even before pressing. At any rate, this is the cold press method. The virgin oil was used for the Menorah in the Temple.

Olive oil is used also for anointing, from which the work MESCHIACH and in Greek Christos. If Israel used to be famous for Jaffa oranges, it is now famous for olive oil. In fact, the symbol of Israel is the Olive Tree: the orange originates in China and came to the Middle East through India.

The olive is also a symbol of peace: the dove brought back a branch of an olive tree to Noah. Why would it bring an olive branch and not a date palm leaf? Because the olive tree is much smaller, and would indicate better the receding of the waters. Also because the dove – and anyone – would rather eat bitter fruit in freedom than sweet [date] fruit in captivity. So the olive is also a symbol of freedom.

The Menorah is mentioned in Zechariah. “Not by might, not by force, but by the Spirit.” The Menorah is not so much for giving light; it represents the Spirit. It may be seen on Titus’ Arch in the Roman Forum, where the Jewish slaves are shown carrying it, a sign therefore of humiliation. The only time the Romans minted a coin commemorating the defeat of a people was upon the capitulation of Judea: Judea Capta. The State of Israel turned the Menorah into a symbol of victory, and coined a medallion depicting a man carrying a baby and a woman planting a tree: Judea Liberata. During the compulsory military training, the young people are given a rifle and a bible, and they are read this verse from Zechariah: Not by might, not by force, but by the Spirit.” Emanuele De Maria made a connection with Don Bosco’s dream at the age of 9: “not by blows, but with kindness will you gain them.”

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