The Seven Species

Meyrav Shay

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, and a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.

(Deuteronomy 8: 7-8)


The Book of Deuteronomy mentions the seven species that the Land of Israel is blessed with: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The term “seven species” is not mentioned in the Bible; this is a post-biblical expression: “Bikkurim are brought only from seven kinds [species], but none [may be brought] from dates grown on hills, or from valleys-fruits, or from olives that are not of the choice kind”

(Mishnah, Tractate Bikkurim, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3).

Six of the seven species grow wild in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives and dates; the origin of the pomegranate is not known. The seven species ripen throughout the year: first to ripen is wheat, in the spring, and the last are olives and dates, in the early autumn. The order in which they appear in the biblical verse is also the order in which they ripen. The seven species constituted the basis of the economy in antiquity and great importance was ascribed to their fruit: they could be eaten fresh, stored and preserved for long periods, dried (figs, dates and grapes) and crushed (olives), and they could also be processed for products such as oil and wine.

Arbor Day, that is the “New Year” for trees, falls on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This date is determined based on the agricultural reality in Israel, for it is at this time that the fruit on the trees begin to ripen. Over the years the “New Year” for trees has become a holiday and it is customary on that day to eat the fruit with which the Land of Israel has been blessed.

In the sixteenth century the Cabbalists of Safed gave this holiday another twist, with the celebration of the “Tu B’Shevat Seder”, during which they ate fruit, recited verses and sang songs in praise of Israel. Today the “Tu B’Shevat Seder” is more similar to the Passover Seder and four glasses of wine are drunk, prayers and blessings are said, and fruit is eaten. However, unlike the Passover Sedar, there is no customary and set version to the “Tu B’Shevat Seder” and dozens of variations are available, practically none of which have anything in common.

The seven species were frequently used as decorative motifs in synagogues and commonplace objects in early Jewish art. They appear on coins, seals, rings, lamps, jewelry, glass vessels, coffins, etc.

Wheat and barley
In ancient times grain served as a staple in man’s diet. Wheat and barley symbolize tilling the soil and agricultural prosperity, the basis of existence and the hope for a source of sustenance on a personal and national level alike.

Grapes, the fruit of the vine, symbolize peace, tranquility and eternal life. The vine and its fruit symbolize the abundance of the land, as it is depicted in the description of the spies who carried a cluster of grapes on their shoulders (Numbers 13: 23).

The fig symbolizes vitality, passion, temptation and wisdom. The Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden is oftentimes identified with the fig tree.

The pomegranate symbolizes beauty, love, fertility and abundance. The fruit of the pomegranate, packed with juice and a multitude of seeds, was a symbol for beauty, fertility and abundance.

The olive, being a tree that is green year-round, is closely tied to the Land of Israel, its habitat. The olive is a metaphor for beauty, fertility and robustness, and it symbolizes peace and hope, wisdom and happiness. The fruit of the olive tree and its oil have been used by the residents of the country for generations.

The date-palm, one of the most ancient trees in Israel, was a key element in the economy of the region’s residents. The date symbolizes honesty, justice, independence and victory.


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