Perpetuation of the species

The Seven Species are more than symbols of Tu Bishvat.

January 21, 2016 13:24
4 minute read.
Tu Bishvat



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Tu Bishvat is not simply a “birthday” for trees, epitomized by the early flowering almond. It also has halachic, agricultural relevance, signifying the beginning of the agricultural cycle for the purpose of biblical tithes – ma’aser sheni (eaten in Jerusalem) and ma’aser ani (given to the poor).

Modern-day Tu Bishvat in Israel has become inundated with dried kiwi, papaya, cranberries, pineapple, etc., imported from Turkey rather than our own indigenous fruits.

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In an attempt to restore the Tu Bishvat symbolism to its former glory, I want to briefly discuss the biblical Seven Species and examine history’s and modern society’s effects on our land’s symbolic fruits.

Wheat: Biblical wheat was probably of the emmer variety, a wild wheat species that predates modern wheat. This grain (along with barley) was the mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Israel and was locally grown.

In biblical times the Fertile Crescent, of which Israel was a part, was the “grain basket” of the world.

Biblical wheat can still be found growing wild in certain parts of Israel and is cultivated on a limited scale in some Arab villages.

There have been numerous initiatives to revive large-scale cultivation of Israel’s indigenous grains, none of which have yet borne fruit.


Barley: Biblical barley has largely remained unchanged and untampered with to this very day. Originally used for both human and livestock consumption and in the production of alcoholic beverages, barley continues to be used as animal feed but has been mostly supplanted by wheat for human consumption. Modern-day usage is mostly limited to production of malt and in grain form for soups and stews (such as cholent). Local cultivation today is even lower than that of wheat.

Grapes: While grain cultivation has almost ceased indigenously in modern Israel, grapes remain a major local crop. While Israel cannot yet claim to be on a par with France, this industry is growing among the Israeli population and wine culture is no longer the sole domain of connoisseurs.

Figs: The fig tree is one of the most widespread indigenous species in Israel since ancient times. Figs are found growing wild and are cultivated in private gardens for their tasty fruit, which may be eaten fresh or dried. Due to the rise in pest infestation in modern times, figs are easily infested by worms, causing kashrut ramifications.

Rather than explore ways to reduce infestation, the rabbinical authorities have preferred to take the path of least resistance and have dramatically curtailed their certification for dried figs and fig products.

The only way to remedy this is by applying public pressure to find a way to cultivate figs that are bug-free. Is it conceivable that one of the biblical Seven Species will no longer be allowed to be eaten for kashrut reasons, at least without a fight? Pomegranate: Practically unchanged since biblical times, the pomegranate is one of Israel’s modern indigenously grown fruits. In biblical times, branches of the pomegranate tree were used as skewers to roast the Paschal lamb. Today they are grown predominantly for their symbolic significance on Rosh Hashana and for the growing health industry (in juice form).

The pomegranate remains a key crop on the local scene with only positive directions in the future.

Olive: In ancient Israel, olive oil was used for cooking and for lighting the lamps in the Temple. Modern Israel, like many other Mediterranean countries, continues to be a major cultivator of olives, mainly for the purpose of producing oil. Olive oil claims the No. 1 spot among other oils in culinary use for both flavor and health considerations.

Dates: A famous biblical crop, the date had all but vanished from the local scene by the turn of the 20th century. There are many interesting stories about how this industry was revived in the early 1900s by smuggling in seeds from other countries. Today, Israel is a major producer of dates, with date plantations in the Arava and Jordan Valley, stretching as far as the eye can see.

In summary, on a scale of 1 to 7, modern Israel scores 4 for its persistence in perpetuating its famed indigenous Seven Species.

The direction seems clear. The Seven Species are unique in their nutritive and health qualities. As the world rediscovers this (ancient) fact and as modern medical and scientific research corroborates it, the world market for these products will grow, and Israel will conform to supply a growing need from crops that have been indigenous to our country since biblical times.

PULL-APART SEVEN SPECIES LOAF Soaker ✔ ½ cup pearl barley grains ✔ 4 cups water ✔ ½ cup raisins ✔ ½ cup chopped figs (or fig jam) Boil barley grains in water until soft.

Drain and let cool. Mix barley with raisins and figs.

Final dough ✔ 2 cups white wheat flour ✔ 2 cups whole-wheat flour ✔ 1 cup pomegranate juice ✔ ¹⁄3 cup date honey (silan) ✔ 1 egg ✔ 3 Tbsp. olive oil ✔ 2 tsp. instant powdered yeast ✔ 1 Tbsp. salt Mix and knead dough for 8 minutes. Add barley/raisin/fig soaker and knead for another 2 minutes until incorporated. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Punch down and divide & shape into 7 round balls. On a parchment-lined tray, arrange 6 of the balls in a ring and place the 7th in the middle of the ring, resembling a flower pattern. Leave to rise for 45 minutes.

Bake at 180° for 25 to 30 minutes. ■

Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and is the inventor of Rambam Bread.

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