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June 9, 2001 / 19 Sivan 5761; Issue #313

A Holy Vegetable


Howard Lucas in the UK <> wrote:

Dear Rabbi,
I have a somewhat obscure question, but I would like to ask nonetheless! When in Jerusalem I was told that the foliage that grows from the Western Wall of the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) is the plant called caper. This is a fairly common ingredient in Mediterranean cookery and a topping on pizzas and so on. Is there any "special" or mystical significance that it grows where it does on the wall? If so, is there any special blessing to be recited when eating it? I don�t want to read too much into this, but I also know that nothing is "coincidence."

Dear Howard Lucas,

The Kotel is the western wall of our ancient Temple built almost three millennia ago by King Solomon. Today, it remains a bustling center of prayer and Torah study. Hundreds pray there daily, and thousands on Shabbat and holidays. The city surrounding it, Jerusalem, hosts tens of thousands of Torah students and scholars.

And, as is known to anyone who has been there or seen pictures, green shrubs grow from between the ancient cracks. What is their significance?

A friend and colleague of mine visited the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient temple in Greece where they used to worship their pantheon of gods. My friend was struck by two marked differences between this ancient site of worship and (not to be mentioned in the same breath) the Western Wall, the Kotel.

One difference he saw was that — unlike the Kotel — no one was praying at the Acropolis. And, two, unlike the Kotel, nothing grew from it.

My friend took the first difference at face value: Their religion is dead, while ours thrives. The second, he saw as a sort of symbol of the first; that while Judaism lives, thrives and flourishes as a vibrant lifestyle, their religion persists only as a fossil in the relics of ancient stone.

I’m no botanist, but I hear that it is the caper which grows from the Kotel. In Hebrew, caper is called "tzalaf." I don't know of any special or mystical significance of this plant. As for the blessing before eating tzalaf, it depends which part you eat. On the berries, the blessing is "ha’eitz." On the three other edible parts (the leaves, the "tamarim" found among the leaves and the berry peels) the blessing is "ha’adama."

There would be no other special blessing for eating tzalaf even if it grew from the Kotel.

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 202:6

Yiddle Riddle

Last week we asked:
If ten animals are born to a person’s flock in one year, that person is required to separate one of the animals as ma’aser beheima, an animal tithe, and bring it to Jerusalem. If less than ten are born to his flock in a single year, he is exempt.

There was once a man who owned only one female animal, a sheep. One year this sheep gave birth to five lambs and to no more; yet, the owner was obligated to separate ma’aser beheima from these lambs. How can this be? (This man would never in his life buy, find, inherit, receive as a gift, or steal another animal, nor would he ever have joint ownership in any animal. A year in this context is from one Rosh Hashana to the next.)


These five lambs give birth to five other lambs during the same year. (Rambam)


Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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