What Are the Seven Species of Israel?
When Moses describes the Promised Land to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8:7-8, he says: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land… a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” Known in Jewish tradition as the Seven Species of Israel (Shiv’at HaMinim), the two grains and five fruits referenced in this Scripture have always held tremendous historical and spiritual value for the Jewish people — from ancient times until today.
While the Bible gives all of these fruits equal value, the pomegranate is perhaps most commonly associated with Jewish tradition. Enjoy our video with Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, about this biblically and spiritually significant fruit.
An Eternal Connection to the Land of Israel
Having grown in the land of Israel for thousands of years, these fruits and grains served as staple ingredients in both the diet and economy of the region in ancient times. They were eaten fresh, dried, preserved, crushed, or processed into other products, such as olive oil and wine. Archeological findings reveal that the Seven Species of Israel were also a common decorative motif found in ancient architecture, seals, rings, and coffins, implying that they were much more than simple foods.
Wheat and barley fields, vineyards, olive groves, and fig, pomegranate, and date palm trees still cover the landscape of modern Israel, and these fruits play an important role in Israel’s cuisine, culture, and economy today. So, too, modern synagogues and Judaica art and jewelry from Israel and around the world often feature these fruits, symbolizing the eternal connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
Beyond their nutritional value, what is it about these seven fruits that has made them so important to Jewish tradition throughout history? Beginning with wheat and barley in the springtime and ending with olives and dates in the early fall, these fruits ripen throughout the year in the order in which they appear in the Bible verse.
While the agricultural roots of Judaism were partially lost over two thousand years of exile, many of the religious rituals of the Jewish holidays are connected to the seasons and fruits of the land of Israel. Even today, it is incredible to witness the fruits ripening in time for the appropriate festival.
Follow the progression of the growing season for each of the seven species and the associated holy day with our chart.
|Fruit||Harvest Time||Associated Festival||Biblical Verse||Divine Attribute|
|Spring||Passover, Shavuot||Psalm 147:14||Kindness|
|Spring||Passover, Shavuot||Numbers 5:15||Restraint|
|Late summer||The Sabbath and most festivals (wine)||Numbers 13:23||Harmony|
|Late summer||Bikkurim, Shavuot||Michah 4:4||Eternity|
|Late summer||Rosh Hashanah||Exodus 28:33||Glory|
The Ritual Significance of the Seven Species
The term “Seven Species” is not mentioned in the Bible, but rather it comes from later Jewish writings that discuss the offerings of the firstfruits, known as bikkurim, to the Temple on the festival of Shavuot (also known as Pentecost or the Festival of Weeks). The Mishnah states that the offering of the finest fruits may only be brought from the Seven Species of Israel, due to their special status (Mishnah, Bikkurim 1:3).
When an Israelite saw the first emergence of one of the Seven Species, he was to tie a string around it, designating it as his “firstfruits,” which would ultimately be offered to God at the Temple in Jerusalem in an elaborate ceremony, with music, song, and great rejoicing. While we may not be able to fulfill this commandment today, this ritual teaches us to express gratitude to God for the blessings He provides, and there is a strong tradition of enjoying the Seven Species on this holiday today.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, however, Tu B’Shvat (the Jewish New Year for Trees) is celebrated by eating the Seven Species of Israel in a festive meal, comparable to the Passover seder. The holiday takes place on the 15th day of Shvat (typically January-February on the Gregorian calendar), and despite the fact that the trees look dead and barren at this time of year, this is actually the time when the sap begins to rise in the trees in preparation for spring. When eating these fruits, we tap into the hidden spiritual potential that lies within each of us, even during our darkest times. In addition to special dates on the Jewish calendar, the unique status of the Seven Species of Israel is recognized in Jewish law every single day. While it is always important to recite a blessing thanking God for nourishment before and after eating and drinking, after enjoying any of the Seven Species, one is required to recite a special blessing that expresses gratitude for the unique goodness and holiness we receive from the land of Israel.
The Spiritual Symbolism of the Seven Species
Beyond their role in Jewish ritual and law, the Seven Species of Israel also have immense spiritual value. According to ancient Jewish tradition, each of the fruits represents a unique attribute of God and a different spiritual energy in the world. A further look into the symbolism of each one can help us bring more Divine connection into our lives.
The first of the Seven Species of Israel listed, wheat (chitah) was a staple ingredient in the diet of the ancient Israelites and still is for Israelis today. The basis of human existence, bread is a symbol of both simplicity and abundance. One of the two grains included in the Seven Species, wheat is harvested in Israel in the spring, just in time to produce bread for the Two Loaves offering which was brought to the Temple during the harvest festival of Shavuot.
According to Jewish tradition, wheat represents God’s loving kindness, known in Hebrew as chesed. In Psalm 147:14, God assures the Israelites that they will live in peace and abundance in the land of Israel: “He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.” This verse reminds us of God’s kindness, encouraging us to extend ourselves to help others. Wheat inspires us to find satisfaction in the simple things in life and always use the blessings we have been granted to give to others.
Check out our recipe for chocolate breakfast muffins.
Similar to wheat, barley (se’orah) has always been of great importance to Israel’s economy and diet. Cheaper and more resilient than wheat, in biblical times, it was considered the food of the poor, also often used to feed livestock or for brewing. The barley harvest spans the period between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot known as the Counting of the Omer.
While it is widely marked today as a time of personal growth in preparation for celebrating the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot, in Temple times, this period was centered around the agricultural reality in the land of Israel. An offering of newly harvested barley, known as the omer, was brought to the Temple on Passover, marking the commencement of the barley harvest.
Barley is associated with the divine characteristic of restraint or constriction, known as gevurah. A coarse grain enclosed in a strong hull, barley reminds us that kindness must be balanced with boundaries, discernment, and direction in order for it to be most effective. In fact, the jealousy offering, brought in the case of a woman’s suspected infidelity to her husband, was specifically made from barley flour. As it says in Numbers 5:15, “He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.”
When we are going through difficult times in our lives, barley reminds us that God’s love for us may not always look or feel like kindness, but that does not mean that it will not ultimately lead to our growth and prosperity.
Check out our recipe for coconut milk cream of barley soup.
Sprawling vineyards have always covered the hills and valleys of the land of Israel. Grapes (or vine, gefen) were eaten fresh and dried, as well as used for the production of wine for both every day and ritual use. Wine has always been an integral part of Jewish traditions, including to sanctify the Sabbath and festivals, during wedding ceremonies and circumcisions, and for wine libation offerings in the Temple.
Grapes are a symbol of prosperity, abundance, tranquility, and celebration in Jewish tradition. As described in the story of the spies who scouted out the Promised Land of Israel, “When they reached the valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them” (Numbers 13:23). The clusters were so enormous that they required two people to carry them, signifying great blessings to come.
Grapes are also associated with the messianic blessing of tranquility in Israel, a time when “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).
Grapes represent the divine characteristic of harmony, known as tiferet, which refers to the perfect balance between kindness and restraint. While life can often bring us to one extreme or another, grapes remind us of the need to return to our center and find balance.
Check out our recipe for fruit salad.
As mentioned in Micah, as well as other Bible verses such as 1 Kings 4:25, the fig tree (te’enah) is also a symbol of living in peace and prosperity in the land of Israel. With large leaves granting ample shade and delicious fruit, it’s not difficult to understand why fig trees were so common in Israel in both ancient times and today.
Their fruit can be eaten both fresh and dried, and the Bible often describes fig cakes made of chopped, pressed fruit. Often associated with the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the fig tree is also a symbol of vitality, passion, and wisdom.
On a spiritual level, figs are connected to the godly attribute of eternity (netzach), which refers to longevity and perseverance. With a ripening period of more than three months, figs take longer to ripen than most other fruits, but once the fruits become ripe, they must be picked daily, as they ripen all at once and remain fresh for a short time. According to Jewish wisdom, this reminds us to always observe our teachers closely and harvest the fruits of knowledge from those around us each and every day with patience, care, and diligence.
Bursting with juicy, ruby red seeds, the pomegranate (rimon) is one of the most beautiful symbols in Judaism, representing love, fertility, abundance, and righteousness. Pomegranates have grown in Israel for thousands of years, where they were enjoyed fresh and dried, as well as used to make juice, wine, and dye.
Pomegranates were one of the fruits brought back by the spies that Moses sent to scout out the Promised Land, they adorned the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and they were a decorative symbol on the robes of the High Priests, as the Bible describes in Exodus 28:33, “Make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them.”
As they ripen at the end of the summer, it is customary to eat pomegranates on the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah after reciting the following prayer: “May we be as full of righteous deeds as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”
It is said that the pomegranate contains 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments in the Torah. As we enjoy the seeds, we hope for wisdom, righteousness, and abundant blessings in the year to come. The beautiful fruits are often featured on holiday greeting cards, Judaica art and jewelry, and used to decorate the temporary sukkah in which Jewish people dwell during the holiday of Sukkot.
With its royal hue and natural crown, the pomegranate corresponds to the divine quality of majesty and glory, known as hod. The Hebrew word hod is also connected to hoda’ah, meaning gratitude or recognition. The pomegranate reminds us that we are all the children of God and that we should strive to act in a way that reflects His majesty in the world, while being grateful for the blessings which He has granted us.
Check out our recipe for pomegranate salad.
Green all year round, despite the fact that it requires little rain, soil, or cultivation in order to thrive, the olive tree (zayit) is a symbol of prosperity, longevity, and strength. Both the fruit and oil of the olive tree have featured heavily in the cuisine and ritual of the Holy Land since antiquity. Thanks in part to its role in the story of Noah’s Ark, the olive branch is also a symbol of peace and hope: “When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth” (Genesis 8:11-12).
Its rich oil, often associated with wisdom, light, and wealth, was used to light the lamps in the Temple, for sacrificial offerings, and when anointing priests and royalty. The strong, beautiful wood of the olive tree was used to make the doors and posts of the Temple, as well as the cherubs in the Holy of Holies. Even today, olives are harvested in late autumn, in time to produce oil to light the Hanukkah candles, which bring much-needed light into the world during the darkest time of year.
In Jewish teaching, olives represent the divine attribute of foundation, or yesod. Considering its strength, vitality, and prevalence across the region, this quality is reflected in its natural characteristics. As it says in Psalm 52:8, “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God.” The olive tree inspires us to be strong, grounded, and rooted in truth so that we can bring God’s light, wisdom, and hope into the world.
Check out our recipe for creamy tahina salad/rice dressing.
Check out our recipe for olive dip.
Dates (Honey): Royalty
One of the most ancient trees in Israel, the date palm is a symbol of honesty, justice, and independence. While the Bible verse that lists the Seven Species of Israel simply says d’vash, meaning honey, Jewish tradition teaches that it refers to date honey, as opposed to bee honey, similar to the biblical description of Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). While dates were also eaten fresh and dried in ancient times, they were usually mashed and boiled into a thick, long-lasting syrup — known today as silan — that was used as a sweetener.
Every part of the date palm tree has a use — the closed fronds, known as the lulav, are used for ritual prayer on the holiday of Sukkot, its fibers were used for ropes, its trunks for building, its fruit for nourishment, and its large, open fronds for shade, often in the temporary dwellings used on Sukkot.
Dates represent the godly characteristic of royalty, known as malchut. They remind us to use every gift given to us to serve God, fight for justice, and bring sweetness into the world.
Check out our recipe for honey chicken.
Applying the Lessons of the Seven Species
The centrality of the Seven Species of Israel to Jewish tradition, ritual, and spiritual practice teaches us to exist in this physical world through righteous living. When we enjoy these grains and fruits with the right intentions, we can connect to the Holy Land, emulate God’s greatness in this world, and deepen our relationship with Him. Each of the fruits possesses many layers beyond the delicious taste and nutritional value they bring to our bodies; they teach us deep spiritual lessons and give us endless opportunities to serve God and grow as people.
The role of these fruits in sacrificial offerings reminds us that all of the abundance with which we are blessed in this world comes from God. We must recognize God as the source of our blessing, express our infinite gratitude, and find ways to give back to Him and to those around us. As it says in Deuteronomy 8:17-18, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”