by Liz Ison
The seven Biblical species are traditionally eaten on Tu B’shevat. Find out below what they are and what makes them truly Biblical – from Adam and Eve, through Noah to the Land of Milk and Honey; and how they link the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Hanukkah.
Why not try some of our recipes incorporating all seven species to really connect your taste buds to ancient times? …“Seven Biblical Species” Muffins and Cookies and Biblical Hallah…and find out what makes them modern day superfoods.
For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land,
a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths,
springing forth in valleys and hills;
a land of wheat and barley,
and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates;
a land of olive-trees and honey;
a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it (Deut 8)
- When Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, God told him, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground”. Making bread was going to be a lot of work.
- “Without flour, there is no Torah. Without Torah there is no flour” (Avot 3:21).
- Hallah is part of our weekly Shabbat ritual.
- And, of course, wheat is the main ingredient of Matzah.
Contemporary matzah making in Ethiopia
- Barley was one of the first grains cultivated by humans. Its harvest was celebrated on the second day of Passover when the children of Israel would cut an omer (measure) and bring it to the Temple as an offering. This was the start of the Counting of the Omer, 49 days to the start of Shavuot when the wheat harvest is celebrated.
- The fig tree is the third tree to be mentioned by name in the Torah, after the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve, expelled from the Garden of Eden, used the leaves of the fig tree to hide their nakedness.
- The Good Figs and The Bad Figs? That’s the parable told to Jeremiah: “What seest thou, Jeremiah?’ And I said: ‘Figs; the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, that cannot be eaten, they are so bad.’” Find out a lighthearted interpretation of the parable here.
- This species is in fact “date honey,” also known as silan, made from boiling dates a long time to produce a thick syrup which was used as a sweetener.
- “A land flowing with milk and honey” refers to date honey not bees’ honey.
- Grape is one of the oldest known cultivated fruit trees.
- Noah planted a vineyard after the Flood. Unfortunately, he drank too much of the wine that was made from the vine and embarrassed himself.
- The children of Israel are referred to as a vine. Isaiah likens God to the owner of a vineyard and Israel is the vineyard.
- Wine is how we sanctify Shabbat and festivals, marking the day as holy and elevating the meal or service. A blessing over a cup of wine is how we create a sense of celebration at many Jewish life cycle events from a Bris to a wedding. It is also a particularly important part of the Passover Seder service.
- The dove from the ark brought back an olive branch to Noah.
- Oil is used for lighting lamps (think of the story of Hanukkah) and as part of the grain offerings. Kings were anointed with olive oil as a sign that they were chosen by God to rule: “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him [David] in the midst of his brethren”. Olive oil was used to sanctify the tabernacle and all its furnishings. Olive oil was also used in cooking.
- The pomegranate is one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, having been domesticated around 4000 B.C.E. Jews have been eating pomegranate from the time that they were slaves in Egypt.
- Some say there are 613 seeds in each pomegranate, equal to the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah.
- The pomegranate has been used as a decorative emblem: “Make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe.”
- Pomegranates appeared on the design of the ancient coins of Judea.