LENTIL (Heb. עֲדָשָׁה, adashah, pl. עֲדָשִׁים, adashim), the legume Lens esculenta, one of the earliest of the flora of Israel. Remains dating to over 3,000 years ago have been discovered in excavations and in Egyptian tombs of the 12th dynasty as food for the dead. In the Bible they are mentioned as the red "pottage of lentils" for which Esau sold his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:29–34). They were supplied by Barzillai the Gileadite to David's forces (ii Sam. 17:28), and were included in the bread mixture that the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to eat for 390 days (Ezek. 4:9–10). In mishnaic and talmudic times, lentils were the most important of the legumes and many details about them occur in this literature. They lie on the surface of the ground, hence the expression "as lowly as the lentil" (tj, Sanh. 2:5, 20b). The seed is like a discus – "round like a sphere" and has no protuberance – "the lentil has no mouth." The custom therefore obtained of providing mourners with lentils to eat, to symbolize that "the mourner has no mouth," i.e., is obliged to be silent, and that mourning is "a wheel that revolves throughout the world," all men being mortal (bb 16b; Gen. R. 63:14).
In addition to the species with a reddish seed there was a dark brown species (tj, Shab. 7:6–end, 10d). Lentils were essentially the food of the common people; fastidious people who abstained from eating them suffered harm when obliged to do so (Ket. 67b). On the other hand it is mentioned that lentils were served at the table of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel (Beẓah 14b). Like other legumes they leave a bad smell in the mouth but they are noted as a remedy for diphtheria (Ber. 40a). A delicacy called ashishim was sometimes prepared from them. It consisted of "ground roast lentils kneaded in honey and fried" (tj, Ned. 6:15, 40a). This is apparently the scriptural ashishah ("sweet cake"; i Chron. 16:3), regarded as a cure for lovesickness (Song 2:5).
Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 442–52; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), index; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 159–61. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 108.
len·til / ˈlent(ə)l/ • n. 1. a high-protein pulse that is dried and then soaked and cooked before eating. 2. the plant (Lens culinaris) that yields this pulse, native to the Mediterranean and Africa.