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Israel Environment & Nature: Pomegranate

POMEGRANATE (Heb. רִמּוֹן, rimmon), the tree, Punica granatum, and its fruit. It is one of the seven choice fruits of Ereẓ Israel (Deut. 8:8), and among the fruits brought by the spies sent by Moses, as proof of the land's fertility (Num. 13:23). After the devastation of the land "the vine, the fig tree, and the pomegranate and olive tree" ceased producing their fruit (Ḥag. 2:19). The pomegranate, with its beautiful red flowers, decorative fruit, and its delicate flavor, was especially beloved by the poet of the Song of Songs, who mentions it six times. The loved one is compared to "a park of pomegranates" (4:13); her cheek (rakkah) to a "pomegranate split open" (4:3, 6:7), the reference being to a divided pomegranate, as the cheeks are called "the rimmon of the face" in the Talmud (Av. Zar. 30b). In the spring its large flowers are conspicuous in their beauty (Songs 6:11). The juice of pomegranates is a delicious drink (8:2). Adornments in the shape of the fruit embellished the hem of the robe of the high priest Aaron (Ex. 28:33–34) and the capitals of the pillars of the Temple (I Kings 7:18, 42). Three joined pomegranates also appear on the Hasmonean coins, and it also appeared upon the one lirah coin of modern Israel. A number of localities in Israel have its name: Ein Rimmon, Gat Rimmon, Sela ha-Rimmon, etc.

In the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, the pomegranate was one of the important plants, and details about it abound. It grew in nearly every region of the country, but the best were the pomegranates of the valleys (Tosef., Bik. 1:5). Those from Badan, apparently in the Wadi Badan near Shechem, won particular praise (Or. 3:7). Various species of it were grown (Tosef., Ter. 2:4) and there were both sweet and sour varieties (ibid. 5:10). Pomegranates were of different sizes (Kel. 17:5), but the average size was less than that of the average etrog (TJ, Naz. 1:4, 51c). It is noted that the pomegranate's "fruit is beautiful but not its tree" (TJ, Suk. 3:5, 53d). Unlike the seeds, the peel is very bitter, hence the pomegranate was used metaphorically for a pupil who selected only the good: "He found a pomegranate, ate the fruit and discarded the peel" (Ḥag. 15b). Schoolchildren sitting in their rows and learning Torah were compared to the compact kernels of the pomegranate (Song R. 6:11), and the Talmud interprets the Song of Songs 4:3 homiletically to the effect that "even the most empty of Jews is as full of good deeds as the pomegranate [is of kernels]" (Ber. 57a). The delicate beauty of pomegranate kernels found poetic expression in the description of the beauty of Johanan of whom it was said that anyone wishing to see it: "Let him bring a silver cup from the smelter, fill it with the kernels of a red pomegranate, surround it with a crown of red roses, and put it between the sun and the shade, he will then sense in its brilliance the beauty of Johanan" (BM 84a). The kernels were eaten fresh, or pressed into juice or they were dried and a sort of raisin made from them (Tosef. Shev. 6:29).

The peel of the pomegranate contains a dark brown dye that was used for dyeing (Shev. 7:3) and also as a test for invisible ink (Git. 19b; narah there being the Persian for pomegranate). Pomegranate trees are cultivated in Israel and are frequently to be seen near the houses of Arabs. In the valley of Beth-Shean extensive pomegranate orchards were planted but with doubtful success, since the pomegranate was attacked by pests.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.