The Seven Species or Shvat HaMinim

The First Fruits of the Land of Israel

The Seven Species. Artist Unknown

The Seven Species (Shvat HaMinim in Hebrew) are the seven types of fruits and grains named in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8) as the main produce of the land of Israel. In ancient times these foods were staples of the Israelite diet. They were also important in the ancient Jewish religion because one of the Temple tithes derived from these seven foods. The tithe was called the bikkurim, which meant "first fruits."

Today the seven species are still important agricultural items in modern Israel but they no longer dominate the produce of the country as they once did. On the holiday of Tu B'Shvat it has become traditional for Jews to eat from the seven species.

The Seven Species

Deuteronomy 8:8 tells us that Israel was "a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey."

The seven species are:

  • Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
  • Barley (se'orah in Hebrew)
  • Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine
  • Figs (te'enah in Hebrew)
  • Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
  • Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil form
  • Dates (tamar or d'vash in Hebrew)

The biblical verse from Deuteronomy does not actually mention palm dates but instead uses the word "d'vash" as the seventh species, which literally translates to honey. In ancient times the palm date was often made into a form of honey by mashing the dates and cooking them with water until they thickened into a syrup.

It is generally thought that when the Torah mentions "honey" it is usually referring to palm date honey and not the honey produced by bees. This is why dates were included in the seven species instead of bee honey.

Almonds: The "Eighth Species"

While not technically one of the seven species, almonds (shaked in Hebrew) have become a sort of unofficial eighth species due to their close association with Tu B'Shvat.

Almond trees grow all over Israel today and they tend to bloom right around the time that Tu B'Shvat usually occurs. Because of this almonds are also often eaten with the actual seven species on Tu B'Shvat.

Tu B'Shvat and the Seven Species

The festival of Tu B'Shvat is also known as the "New Year of the Trees," a calendar event on the traditional Jewish cycle which has now become the secular Festival of Trees. The festival occurs at the end of the winter, on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shevat (between mid-January and mid-February. The secular festival established in the late 19th century included the planting of trees to emphasize physical activity and labor and to return what was then the degraded land of Israel to its former glory.

The seven species have held significance in Tu B'Shvat since ancient times, as elements of recipes for soups, salads, and desserts to create a spiritual connection with the creator. The traditions of Tu B'Shvat include eating at least 15 different kinds of fruit and nuts native to Israel, including the seven species, and adding carob, coconut, chestnuts, cherries, pears and almonds.

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