Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
The Olive in the Jewish and Israeli culture
The amazing olive tree can reach the age of 2,000, regenerate after fire, and produce oil for cooking, lighting, and even anointing kings.
Olives – tiny fruit, bitter when picked, tasty and healthy after being treated; dark-green leaves that reveal their silvery glow, when they meet the sun rays; a magnificent latticed trunk, evolving from strong and figurative roots that hold on to a light, non-rich soil. Olive trees can easily resist drought, diseases, and even fire - their roots regenerate the trees even after the ground is destroyed. Therefore they live many years, and the older they get, the more interesting and pictorial they appear.
1,200 years old olive tree in Tsuba, near Jerusalem
Picture by Shira Cohen-Regev
The olive fruit is tasty and healthful, not to mention the oil that it produces – known for ages for its nutritional and healing value, as-well-as its significant role in anointing kings and high-priests.
Name: Jonah (Yona)
Gender: Male / Female
Meaning: Dove, pigeon.
History: A name of a prophet. While trying to escape from his mission as a prophet, he was swallowed by a big fish and lived in its belly for three days.
Citation: "Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me." Jonah 1, 1-2.
Potent medicine from the BibleBy KARIN KLOOSTERMAN/ISRAEL 21C
When Shaul Eger was told he had an incurable heart condition and could die, he turned to the Jewish sources – and to olive oil.
He turned to ancient Jewish sources, where he read about the health benefits of olive oil.
“I realized I had a problem, so I went back to my ancestors – to the Bible,” Eger says.
He was particularly inspired by the Jewish doctor Assaf Harofeh (Assaf the Physician) a Mesopotamian believed to have lived in the sixth century, whose works opened Eger’s mind, and heart, to a new remedy.
Assaf Harofeh writes that olive oil staves off mental illness and other ailments, including those which afflict the heart.
“We know from the Bible and Rambam [Maimonides, the leading 13th-century Jewish scholar and physician] that olive oil is good for the memory,” says Eger, citing the Talmud, where it is written that those who drink olive oil will retain their memory for 70 years.
“I found a lot of scientific basis for using olive oil,” says the scientist, “and I started to consume it.”
Eger adds that his Arab neighbors near Yokne’am, a village close to the Carmel region, agreed about the oil’s health benefits.
At the time, while olive oil was a mainstay of the diet of Israel’s Arab population, Jewish Israelis hadn’t yet discovered it, so he bought it unrefined from his Arab neighbors.
“It was awful – the quality at the time [was low] because it was made in the traditional way, on stones. From a sanitary point of view, it was a disaster. The acidity was high, the peroxide value was terrible.”
Still, he swallowed the stuff.
His self-prescribed remedy was a spoonful of olive oil a day, and within six months Eger was up to eight spoons a day. His arrhythmia disappeared.
Before taking the olive oil, Eger says of his arrhythmia: “I suffered from it badly and had two bad experiences where I blacked out.”
But after drinking the olive oil, his entire outlook and career path were transformed. He decided to quit his job at the Agriculture Ministry and make his own olive oil.
Eger believes that he was one of the first Jews in modern Israel to grow olive trees and harvest the oil, “on the same land and in the same climate that made olives 3,000 and 4,000 years ago.”
Born in 1944, before Israel became a state, Eger was infused with the Zionist ideals of being a pioneer and farming the land, but he also wanted to be a scientist.
He had earned a PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his studies were focused on cattle, but after tasting the healing properties of olive oil, he switched gears.
“I learned by myself, and got into a niche, in a subject I found to be very complicated, interesting and significant to human health,” he recounts.
“Olive oil is a tricky raw material. It’s easy to produce, but easy to spoil – it’s so delicate. In terms of medicinal value, it’s potent. I decided I was going to deal with this.”
The married father of three (who says he almost became “unmarried” as a result of his olive oil passion), has three grandchildren, and has planted 1,000 olive trees, whose fruit he reaps today.
With his money invested in science, Eger’s efforts have yielded a number of new products which he hopes will make Israeli olive oil competitive in the global market.
With around 160 olive oil producers, Israel currently supplies only about 1 percent of the world’s total olive oil and, according to Eger, the Israeli oil has no relative advantages in cost and taste.
So Eger chose to manufacture health products, with his oil as the key ingredient. One example from the line of Dr. Eger Olive Oil Products is a non-dairy, low-sugar chocolate spread.
Together with Prof. Ishak Ne’eman of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Eger developed a technology for waterfree, preservative-free, transfatty-, acid-free solidification of oils. The ensuing margarine substitute or spreadable olive oil is solid and stable at room temperature.
It can be used to make puff pastry, lip balm to treat herpes cold sores – even diaper rash cream.
The Eger line also offers beauty products for the face and skin.
A firm believer that people should not eat cheese and dairy products, Eger hopes to share his life experience, and cure, with the world.
Olive oil has fatty acids, good anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antiinflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, he says, concluding, “It has the optimal composition of fatty acids, and five percent of its micro-ingredients are so important to our health.”