Manners & Customs
: Grain Farming
Grinding at the Mill
GRINDING OF THE GRAIN BY THE WOMEN
The first sound to greet the ear in the early morning in many a Palestinian village will be the sound of the grinding of the grain. Today, as in the long ago, many of these people resort to the handmill for this purpose. A traveler passing by these humble homes will hear the hum of the handmill morning or evening and sometimes after dark. This sound of the grinding is not exactly musical, and yet many love to go to sleep under it. In the mind of those who live in the East this sound is associated with home, and comfort, and plenty. The women are the ones who engage in this task, and they begin it early in the morning, and it often requires half a day to complete.
When Jeremiah foretold judgment upon Israel for her sins, he said concerning what GOD would take from her: "I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle" (Jeremiah 25:10). From this it can be seen that the sound of these handmills is an indication of life and activity, and the absence of them would be a sign of utter desolation.
The Bible references to the grinding mills are true to Oriental customs. The task is for servants if the family has them, and if not the women do the job, but the men would consider it beneath them to engage in such a menial task. Part of the judgment upon Israel at the destruction of Jerusalem was that the enemy "took the young men to grind" (Lamentations 5:13).
And the Philistines punished Samson in this way, for it says of him, "and he did grind in the prison house" (Judges 16:21).
Although there are simple handmills made for the use of one person, more often two women operate one together. The mill is composed of two stones eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter. The two women sit at these stones facing each other. The upper stone turns upon the lower one by means of an upright handle which the women alternately pull and push.
Here is how the process works:
The upper stone rotates about a wooden pivot fixed in the center of the lower. The opening in the upper stone for the pivot is funnel-shaped to receive the corn, which each woman throws in as required with her disengaged hand. The flour issuing from between the stones is usually caught on a sheepskin placed under the mill.
Job speaks of a heart being as "hard as a piece of the nether millstone" (Job 41:24). Thomson says that the lower millstone is not always harder than the upper, but he had seen the nether made of a very compact and thick sandstone, while the upper was of lava no doubt because being lighter it would be easier to drive it around with the hand. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]