The Jewish People are an ethnoreligious group and a tribe originating in the region of Israel-Palestine. Judaism is the ethnic religion (or “spiritual framework”) of the Jewish tribe. Like other ethnic Indigenous “religions,” Judaism is a land-based spiritual practice in which reverence for the land — in this case, the Land of Israel — is of utmost importance. For example, the Hebrew calendar follows the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel and many of the 613 mitzvot (or “commandments”) can only be performed in the Land of Israel.
Like other Southwest Asian ethnic groups, pomegranates are symbolically and spiritually significant for the Jewish People.
THE SEVEN SPECIES
Pomegranates are one of the seven species mentioned in the Torah (the others being wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olive oil, and date honey). The seven species were the only acceptable offerings in the ancient holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
During the Temple period, pomegranates were eaten fresh or used to make juice and wine. Sometimes they were sun-dried so they could be consumed when they were out of season. Pomegranate patterns adorned the robes of the Cohanim (priestly class), the Temple pillars, and coins.
Pomegranates carry deep symbolism in Jewish tradition and folklore. For example, pomegranate seeds symbolise the 613 mitzvot (“commandments”) because Jews in the past believed that the pomegranate had 613 seeds (in reality, the number of seeds in a pomegranate varies). This belief likely stemmed from a misinterpretation of the Gemara.
Pomegranates are also a symbol of fertility and love. As the Song of Songs states, “Your lips are like a crimson thread; your mouth is lovely. Your brow behind your veil [gleams] like a pomegranate split open.” (Song of Songs 4:3).
IN SEPHARDIC/MIZRAHI TRADITION
While Ashkenazim (Jews that were displaced to Europe) were obviously unable to incorporate real pomegranates into their practice, pomegranates long played an important role in Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish tradition.
For example, pomegranates are traditionally included in the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder*, particularly for the custom of saying a blessing over a “new fruit.”
*in Ashkenazi culture, the word “seder” is only associated with Passover. However, for Sepharadim, the Rosh Hashanah meal is also known as a “seder.”
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