The Seven Species of Shavuot
by Elinoar Moore
Deut. 8:8 describes the Land of Israel as a "land of wheat and barley, of (grape) vines, figs and pomegranates, and land of olives for oil and date for honey."
The offerings of the first fruits (bikkurim) brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on Shavuot were brought only from seven species, despite the fact that ancient areas of Israel were blessed with many other choices of products. The holiday takes place in the spring, in the time of new blossoms, and therefore symbols of the season prevail.
The seven species of agricultural produce that symbolize the fertility of Israel celebrated at Shavuot are wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey (from dates). They were the staple foods consumed by the Jewish people in the Land of Israel during biblical times. In modern Israel with dozens of species in a diverse diet only wheat remains a staple.
Wheat - Chitah
Wheat has been a major foodstuff in the human diet since neolithic times, and was, of course, a main crop throughout Israel, Egypt and parts of Mesopotamia. In biblical times, as today, wheat ground into flour was the ingredient that made bread and earned it the term 'staff of life.'
Wheat is easily processed into various forms of breadstuffs: crackers, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, pasta, pizza, and many prepared dishes. Wheat is common thickener in soups and sauces.
Barley - Se'orah
Barley was an important grain to the ancient Israelites. Barley requires less water than wheat, and grows even in arid areas, such as the Negev (Southern Israel). Bread prepared from barley was called "poor man's" bread, and the grain was eaten as porridge and barley cakes. Barley provides feed for cattle and other livestock. In today's usage, you find barley in soups, stews, and mixed with vegetables for summer salads. Barley's most common modern use in Israel is as the basic ingredient for beer, sold in bottles and cans and served in pubs from the barrel.
Barley is the first grain to ripen in Israel. Because of this, it is barley that marked the start of the spring harvest season and is an integral part of Shavuot.
Grapes - Anavim
Man has cultivated grapes from the earliest times.The first vineyard mentioned in the Bible was planted by Noah after the Flood. Grapes provided fruit and wine, the latter, a symbol of joy, is used in many Jewish rituals. The spies that Moses sent into the Land of Israel, returned with grapes so large that the cluster had to be carried on a pole suspended between two men.
Ancient Israelites knew the taste of wine two thousand years before the first vine appeared in Europe. They planted the vineyards on the slopes of mountains, hoed and weeded the ground annually, and watched the direction of the growing vine. To prevent from the ground from slipping, they stacked terraces of stones. Harvest time was a time of celebration.
In ancient times as in today's life, grapes were also used for seasoning and in vinegars. Today wine is a major industry, and over the past decade high-quality Israeli wines have become widespread. Moreover, because grapes, especially dark grapes, are rich in iron, the fruit is recommended to ward off heart disease. Stuffed with meat and rice, the leaves of the vine make a popular dish.
Figs - Te'enah
Figs are first mentioned in the bible when Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves. Figs are of such ancient origin that the first recorded mention occurs in the
tablets of Lagash in Sumer (2738-2371) BC and has since appeared in
the recorded history from Egypt to Greece, where it was a staple food
of both rich and poor .
This fruit ripens in the hot summer can be eaten fresh or dried. The Bible refers to the fig as a symbol of fertility. In biblical times the fig was eaten fresh, was used as a seasoning, or was used to make honey and alcohol. The fig itself, ripe in midsummer, is today an expensive delicacy. The biblical quote "each man under his own vine and fig tree" (1 Kings 4:25) has been used to point out peace and prosperity. to read more about figs and find more recipes, click here
Pomegranate - Rimon
The pomegranate is a dark red fruit with rich red flowers, and its abundant seeds serve as a powerful symbol of fertility. The tree becomes heavy with fruit for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) .
In biblical times the pomegranate was used for making wine and seasonings in addition to its function as a dye. Today the pomegranate is traditionally eaten on the New Year. Discovery of the health properties of pomegranate has made it increasingly popular. Jewish tradition holds that a pomegranate has 613 seeds to represent
the 613 commandments in the Torah. to read more and find more recipes, click here
Olive - Zayit (oil)
The olive tree is one of the oldest and most common trees in ancient Israel and surrounding lands. There are olive trees in the Galilee that are estimated to be thousands of years old. The tree's leaves are green all year round, and both black and green olives are harvested from the same tree. To this day in Israel, olive trees are so valued that it is against the law to cut them down if they are still living.
In ancient times, olive oil was used not only to cook,but also to light lamps. Its soothing qualities made it valuable as a soap and skin conditioner. Today, the olive is a very popular ingredient in recipes, and is eaten on its own. The luscious green-gold oil is valued above most oils. Olive oil has become increasingly popular since the discovery that it lowers cholesterol. Olive wood, with light and dark grains, is popular for small decorative items, while the olive branch persists as a symbol of peace ever since it was used by Noah as evidence that the flood had ended.
Date - Tamar (honey)
Honey is called d'vash in Hebrew, and Israel is called the "land that flows with milk and honey." In the biblical era dates were made into honey, and many believe the notion of the "land flowing with milk and honey" actually referred to date honey. Date honey was made by placing dates in a pot of boiling water and scooping the fruit sugar off what bubbled to the surface. The sweet dates, which ripen at the end of summer, are eaten fresh or dried.
Date palms were one of the few crop plants that could survive desert conditions, and became a reliable source of food in an otherwise inhospitable climate. Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and other ancient people used the palm for house construction as well as for food. It spread across northern Africa along the coast and at oases by nomadic people, where it became a staple crop.