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Tu B'Shevat Seder

Fruits of Israel


Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

This Tu B'Shevat Program was created by:
Foundation for Family Education
Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner, President
Site: www.jewishfreeware.org
Email: bdlerner1@comcast.net


The classical source of fruits and vegetables in the Torah, called the "Seven Species" are: Wheat (Hita), Barley (Se’orah), Grapes (Anavim), Fig (Te’enah), Pomegranate (Rimmon), Olive (Zayit), and Date Palm Honey (D'vash).

In the Paleolithic Age (14,000-12,00 BCE), there were wild carobs, jujubes (Zizyphus) and sycamores (Ficus sycamorus), pistachio (Pistacia palaestina) and perhaps dates. In forest encircling the Sea of Galilee and on Mt. Carmel were indigenous olives, azaroles (Cretaegus azarolus), almonds, carobs, figs and grapes.

In Mesolithic (11,500–8000 BCE) and Neolithic (7800-4000 BCE), humanity began to tend and develop fruit trees and press grapes for wine. Olives were pressed for oil.

Israel is believed to be within the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East the primary source for carob, olive, azarole, jujube and the almond.

In the Bronze Age – Chalcolithic (4000-1200 BCE), fig, pomegranate, citron and date were introduced from India and Egypt, from the south and south-east. From the north and north-east came the vine, apple, pear, peach, pistachio, plum, mulberry, quince and walnut. All of this horticultural “immigration” continued during the 12 centuries of the First and Second Temple and Byzantine period.

Israel and Jewish fruit / horticulture thus advanced civilization in the areas of pruning and trimming, grafting, irrigating, of rooting hormones, forestalling disease and insects They mastered and taught skills in the use of local materials for salting and pickling, mixing with lime to protect trees, sulphur to dust or fumigate, copper and sulphur for dusting as copper sulphate, untreated iron was made into ploughshares, raw copper for pots and pans, bitumen to keep insects from crawling up the trees, plugging the trunks of live trees with bitumen to protect against decay; clay made the storage jars; sand produced glass for bottling wine and oil; fruit-tree timber for indoor and outdoor use.

Of all this virtually nothing has remained as a record of our ancestors. What is left is Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder making small notes extolling, e.g. “nicolavsin” dates of Judea; al-Makdisi confirming the fig “’sbai” from Israel in the 10th century; the grapes known as “dura” or “dabouki” as the Arabs call them today coming from Hebron with the “inuni” coming in second; and the pomegranate renown everywhere.

Flavius Josephus (37-95) glorified: olives of Galilee, vineyards of Judah and Samaria, figs of the Plain, date-palms of the Jordan Valley, and here and there almonds, walnuts, quinces, pomegranates, peaches, plums of which there are survivors today.

Jewish agricultural revival in Palestine/Israel came at the end of the 19th century bringing in grape vines, olives, almonds, bananas, citrus, peaches, plums, apricots, walnuts, quinces, pomegranates from Europe with the newest methods. The most fervent in renewing Israel’s productivity was Baron Edmond de Rothschild who founded horticultural schools and brought vine cuttings in particular.

Why is Israel such a horticultural “paradise?” Geographically there are at least three major climatic zones: Mediterranean, Steppe and Desert climates. Israel is between the sea and the desert, and it has a significant range in topography – from high mountains to below sea-level: Mt. Hermon at 6779 above sea level in the Golan, Mt. Meiron and the Galilee at roughly 3000 feet above sea level, smaller mountain ranges running north to south at 1500 feet above sea level, a seashore the entire length of the country, the Jordan River running from the Golan to the lowest place in Israel and the world, the Dead Sea, at 1250 feet below sea level.

In addition, there are seasons in each locale, punctuated by dry windstorms (hamsin or the sha’rav / kadim), cold winters in the mountains with occasional thunder storms while the near or below sea level sites are generally warmer and drier. There are four different Seas which also affect the climate: Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea into which the Jordan flows and stops, and the Red Sea coast.

Thus there is a wide spread of water from rain (and melting snow and ice) in seven typical regions, ranging from Tzfat with 715 mm, Tiberias with 400 mm, Haifa and Tel Aviv with 550 mm, Jerusalem with 600 mm, Sodom with 40 mm and Eilat with 30 mm.

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