“A land of wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, and land of olive oil and dates.”
Seven agricultural products are listed in the Bible as being special to the Land of Israel. Although these species no longer dominate the diet of people living in Israel these species still characterize the local landscape and are widely used in the Israeli diet. In biblical times the species were the staple foods consumed by the people in the land. In modern times only wheat is a staple but the fact that these species continue to dominate the landscape accentuates a sense of continuity between Biblical Israel and Modern Israel.
Wheat: The cool, wet winters and dry springs in Israel make it a perfect place for growing wheat. The northern Negev is the bread basket of Israel and in the winter time the fields around the city of Kiryat Gat are a lush green. In late spring the fields turn a beautiful golden color before harvest time around the time of the festival of Shavuot. Today, as in biblical times, bread is a staple of the local diet.
Barley: In biblical times barley was the staple of the poor and it was eaten in the form of porridge and barley cakes. Also cattle and livestock were fed barley. Today barley is a marginal ingredient used in soups and stews. Barley is used most commonly in Israel today as a basic ingredient for beer.
Grapes: The grapevines in Israel are heavy from their fruit in the late summer in Israel. Wine is a main part of Jewish rituals with a blessing being made over wine at every meal on Shabbats and festivals. Wine is a major industry today in Israel with almost one-hundred boutique wineries in the country.
Figs: The fig tree is found throughout the land and in biblical times was eaten fresh or as a seasoning. Figs ripen in midsummer and are a delicacy today.
Pomegranates: Pomegranates are popular today in Israeli gardens. The tree is heavy with fruit just around Rosh Hashanah, the festival with which it is associated. Tradition has it that a pomegranate has 613 seeds that represent the 613 commandments in the Torah.
Olives: Olive oil was used in the Temple to light the Menorah on a daily basis. The olive is loaded with symbolism and resulting customs such as the custom to light Shabbat candles with olive oil in order to merit righteous children and the custom to eat olives in a house of mourning due to the round shape of the olive that symbolizes the continuity of the circle of life are examples of the importance of this fruit in Judaism.
Dates: Dates were made in to honey in biblical times, hence the reference in the Bible to honey in the list of the seven species which refers to the honey of dates.
Judaica gifts that feature the Seven Species are a popular choice with items such as Candlesticks, Challah Boards, Washing Cups, Menorahs, and Challah Covers displaying these beautiful and meaning-laden foods.
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