by Yael Adar
Israel has long been described as a land that flows with milk and honey. Wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; these are the biblical Seven Species (Shiva’ at Ha’minim),
of the Promised Land. For thousands of years they have played an important role both in the diet of the Promised Land’s inhabitants as well as in religious traditions.
Many references to these basic foods can be found, throughout the bible, specifically to four of the Seven Species, wheat, barely, (olive) oil and grapes in the form of wine. The Mishna specifies that only first fruits of the Seven Species could be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, as bikkurim, or offerings.
As is evidenced by Israel’s modern landscape, many of the Seven Species still play an important role in our diet (although of the seven, it is wheat which is most prominent in the modern Israeli diet). As you travel through Israel you can see wheat fields, vineyards and olive groves across the breadth of the country.
Figs, pomegranates and dates can also readily found in Israel and are still used in the local cuisine. Probably the least used, is barely – which is primarily used for making beer, as well as in soups. Barley has traditionally been associated with the spring harvest. It is also the first grain to ripen and is traditionally used to mark the counting of the Omer (between Passover Shavuot). Pomegranates also have a special significance, since according to Middrash, these fruits have exactly 613 seeds, one for each of the 613 mitzvot (precepts, good deeds) found in the Torah. The honey mentioned in the bible is not bee honey, but rather honey made by boiling dates with sugar and scooping out the sugar that rises to the top.
To get better acquainted with the foods of the Seven Species, enjoy the recipes included in this issue.
Seven Species Glossary:
Wheat - Chita
Barley – Se’orah
Grapes – Anavim
Fig – Te’enah
Pomegranates – Rimmonim
Olive - Zayit
Honey - D'vash