What are the Seven Species?
For Adonai your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey. -Deuteronomy 8:7-8
Wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, and date. Collectively they are known as the sheva minim, the seven species of sacred fruits and grains grown in the Land of Israel.
While Jews are widely known as the People of the Book, the ancient Israelites were a people of the land, mostly farmers and shepherds. Rather than contemplate God’s sacred Torah, they contemplated God’s sacred Creation. Instead of chanting from a prayer book as a means of spiritual uplift, they sacrificed offerings from their flocks and harvests. Indeed, to the ancient Israelites, the seven species were not only evidence of the land’s great bounty, but evidence of God’s love toward them.
Since the ancient Israelites were farmers and shepherds, many of the holidays that we celebrate today began as agricultural festivals. Tu Bishvat marked the emergence of spring. In the exile that followed the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., Tu Bishvat became a way to maintain a connection to Israel and the seven species were incorporated into the observance of the holiday. Shavuot, too, began as an agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. Barley and wheat, two of the seven species, were brought to the Temple as an offering. After the destruction of the Temple, Jews began to decorate their homes and synagogues with greenery and flowers on Shavuot.
After Israel’s monarchies fell, the majority of Jews settled outside of Israel and became an increasingly urban people. Though many rural ways of life were forgotten, the memory of the seven sacred species stayed alive throughout the generations. Now in the modern State of Israel, Jewish farmers are once again cultivating these seven species.