Foto Friday – The Seven Species
The biblical Seven Species (shiva’at ha-minim) are seven agricultural products listed in Deuteronomy 8:8 as typifying the bounty of the Land of Israel. There are two grains — wheat and barley — and five fruits — grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and/or olive oil, and dates and/or date-honey (silan), which is alternately interpreted as honey.
At Sukkot, the Seven Species are traditionally used as decorative motifs all over the Jewish world. In Israel, however, they are actually harvested at this season and, like all things Israeli, these ancient fruits of the land are being adapted to the modern world.
Wheat, for example. In 1906, on a trip to Rosh Pina, agronomist, botanist and underground Zionist leader Aaron Aaronsohn discovered wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides), also known as “the mother of wheat” — one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. To paraphrase Wikipedia, Aaronsohn’s discovery was an important one as emmer (also known as farro) can be grown in areas with poor soil providing countries around the world with the ability “to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare”.
More recently, an Israeli evolutionary biologist has found hard evidence of global warming in the changes found in wheat and barley plants. On a more cheerful note, Israeli microbreweries are using wheat and barley to good effect… and according to Israel21c, they’ve brewed up Pomegranate Ale in time for the High Holidays, too.
Olives and olive oil are major agricultural products in modern-day Israel and related research ranges from biofuel generated from olive pit waste to using brackish water in growing olive trees to fight desertification to creating innovative olive oil-based nutraceuticals and food products.
The land flowing with milk and honey is also fighting the mysterious killer known as colony collapse disorder that has threatened the world’s honeybee population as well as researching bee and honey-related medical applications.
Although, in fact, the “honey” referred to in the Old Testament is apparently silan, a sticky-sweet syrup derived from dates. Cultivated in the region since time immemorial, Israeli agronomists were actually able to sprout a live date tree seedling from a 2000 year-old seed while medical researchers have discovered that eating dates can protect against atherosclerosis.
Figs have also been grown locally for millennia as proven by the archaeological finding of an elaborate ancient garden near Jerusalem that housed a wide variety of imported and domestic plants, including fig trees and grape vines.
Today’s Israeli wine is far cry from the rough stuff produced by the ancients, or the sugary carbonated swill produced here in the 1970s and early 80s, (glass of Fantasia, anyone?) Last year, Golan Heights Winery was the first Israeli winery to win a Gran Vinitaly Special Award as “world’s best wine producer”. Although Israel’s modern viticulture has roots in California wine country, Napa Valley and Sonoma County are now turning to Israeli technology for help.
As we sit in the Sukkah this year, lets look up at the Seven Species decorations and contemplate these modern miracles.
Olive image courtesy of the JNF-KKL photo archive. All other images: Wikipedia.