By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
We customarily eat pomegranate seeds on Rosh Hashanah and say: “May it be G-d’s will …. that we be full of good deeds like a pomegranate.” In honor of the upcoming yom tov, let’s take a look at the pomegranate.
The pomegranate tree reaches 3–7 meters high. It blooms in early summer and its fruits ripen in the fall (October–January); the pomegranate is customarily used for Shehecheyanu the second night of Rosh Hashanah since its first fruits generally ripen around Rosh Hashanah. The fruit’s Latin name, Pomum granatum, means “seedy apple” from where the word “pomegranate” is derived. Its circumference can reach 10 centimeters. Hand grenades (rimonim) are also named for the fruit since their explosion is reminiscent of the burst of its many seeds.
At the top of its red (or yellow) husk, is its calyx or crown (netz), which is the remnant of the blossom. The blossoming stage is called henetz (Shir HaShirim 7:13). The pomegranate is unique as it contains hundreds of edible seeds.
The origin of the pomegranate seems to be from the south Caspian Sea (Iran), where it was domesticated and imported to the Mediterranean some 5,000 years ago. Pomegranate remains were discovered in excavations in Gezer (dated to 3000 BCE), Jericho, Arad, and other areas.
The pomegranate has a long shelf life (more than a month without refrigeration), which makes it relatively easy to transport. Its rich taste and many medicinal qualities made it a widespread and sought-after fruit in antiquity. Today, the tree is also planted for ornamental purposes.
The Pomegranate as Sustenance in Tanach and Chazal
The pomegranate is one of the seven species (Devarim 8:8): “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,” and appears in additional places throughout Tanach:
- The spies took pomegranates from the Land of Israel to show the Israelites in the desert (Bamidbar 13:23).
- When Yoel prophesizes about the great famine that will ravish the land, he mentions the seven species, pomegranate included: “… the fig tree withers, pomegranate, palm, and apple — all the trees of the field have dried up” (1:12).
- Chagai, when prophesizing in the early Second Temple period about a drought, refers to the pomegranate: “… the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not yet borne fruit” (2:19).
In antiquity, the pomegranate was eaten raw or preserved, and juice and wine were prepared from its seeds. The Gemara in Shabbat (144b) mentions that the Menashya bar Menachem household would regularly juice pomegranates. Shabbat (115a) states that it is permitted to remove pomegranate seeds in the late afternoon of Yom Kippur when it occurs on a weekday, to save time at the end of the fast.
Pomegranate As the Name of a Place
In contrast to other trees from the seven species, many settlements bore the name of the fruit rimon: Ein Rimon was a city in the portion of Shimon (Yehoshua 19:7; Nechemiah 11:29; Divrei HaYamim I 4:32), today identified as Hurvat Rimon, located approximately one kilometer south of Kibbutz Lahav (approximately 20 kilometer northwest of Be’er Sheva), near the ruins of a settlement known by its Arab name Khirbet a-Rammin. Gat Rimon in Dan’s portion (Yehoshua 19:45) was a Levite city (Yehoshua 21:24; Divrei HaYamim I 6:54 locates it in Ephraim’s territory). Today, Moshav Gat Rimon, near Petach Tivka, bears its name. Gat Rimon in Menashe’s portion was also a Levite city (Yehoshua 21:25); and Rimon in Zevulun’s portion was yet another Levite city (Yehoshua 19:13; Divrei HaYamim I 26:62); Kibbutz Beit Rimon in the lower Galilee is named after this city, and is adjacent to the Arab village Rumana, identified as the ancient Rimon.
The 600 remaining survivors of the tribe of Binyamin sat on the Rock of Rimon after the civil war (Shoftim 20:47). This place is identified with the cliff Khirbet al-Rumana, some five kilometers southeast of Kafr Ramon, featuring many cisterns and rock-cut caves.
Shaul sat “beneath the rimon at Migron” (Shmuel I 14:2); it stands to reason that this is the name of a place Rimon (and not a tree, as it doesn’t offer much shade). This Rimon is identified with the Palestinian village Ramon, located some four kilometers southeast of Ofra, where many archeological findings were discovered, including those dating back to First Temple times. The Jewish settlement Rimonim was established in 1980, 3.5 kilometers from Kafr Ramon, and today is home to approximately 170 (not-yet-religious) families. The location is mentioned in Zechariah (14:10): “Then the whole country shall become like … Geva to Rimon south of Jerusalem … and shall be inhabited from the Gate of Benjamin.”
Naaman apologizes to Elisha that he is forced to bow down to an idol called Beit Rimon (Melachim II 5:18). The eulogy for Hadad-rimmon mentioned in Zechariah (12:11) seems to be a combination of Hadad and Rimmon, two Syrian deities that represent fertility, the pomegranate representing fertility probably due to its bountiful seeds.
There is also the mention of a person in Tanach bearing the name of the fruit: Rechav and Ba’anah, sons of Rimmon of Be’erot (Shmuel II 4:2), from the tribe of Binyamin.
The Pomegranate As an Ornament
The me’il of the kohen gadol was adorned by pomegranates fashioned from “blue, purple, and crimson yarns” (Sh’mot 28:33). In addition, 400 copper pomegranates decorated the tops of the two columns of the Beit HaMikdash (Divrei HaYamim II 4:13).
In ancient cities in the Land of Israel (including Kfar Nachum and Beit Alfa), the pomegranate motif is prominent, and also featured on ancient coins.
The budding of the pomegranate tree is a harbinger of the spring: “Let us go early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom” (Shir HaShirim 7:13). Indeed, the Tunisian custom is to say the blessing of the trees (in the month of Nissan) specifically on a pomegranate tree, whose trees begin budding around the beginning of Nissan.
More on this topic next week, be’H.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email email@example.com or call 972-8-684-7325.