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The pomegranate is such a common motif and symbol in Jewish culture. Rabbinic Judaism says that it’s because of the “613 seeds” in the pomegranate that connect to the 613 mitzvot. There aren’t 613 seeds in a pomegranate, but it’s a great story.
Pomegranates have a long connection to fertility and abundance across many cultures and Jewish culture is no different. I’ve found teachings that one should eat a pomegranate at the new year (Rosh Hashanah, or more likely the first of Nisan) to increase fertility. Eating them on the high holidays also is a way to ensure lots of blessings (as many as the seeds) in the new year.
In the Cairo Genizah a magickal formula was found to release men who are impotent to write a specific series of words/symbols on a pomegranate leaf then drink it in wine (Naveh & Shaked: http://amzn.to/2yjs5s9).
I know from my own pomegranate tree that if you cut a green branch, the leaves stay green as they dry — which gives it a sense of eternity.
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Tanach and Talmud
- Exodus 28:33-34 – On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe.
- Deuteronomy 8:8 – A land of wheat and barley; and grape and fig and pomegranate; a land of oil-olive and honey.
- Joel 1:12 – The vine has dried up, The fig tree withers, Pomegranate, palm, and apple— All the trees of the field are sear. And joy has dried up Among men.
- Haggai 2:19 – while the seed is still in the granary, and the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not yet borne fruit. For from this day on I will send blessings.
- Song of Songs:
- 4:3 – Your brow behind your veil [Gleams] like a pomegranate split open.
- 4:13 – Your arid fields are a pomegranate orchard with luscious fruits; henna with spikenard.
- 6:7 – Your brow behind your veil [Gleams] like a pomegranate split open.
- 8:2 – I would lead you, I would bring you To the house of my mother, Of her who taught me— I would let you drink of the spiced wine, Of my pomegranate juice.
Talmud, Commentaries, Midrash
- Perek Shirah 3:4 – The Pomegranate is saying, “…Your brow is like a piece of a pomegranate behind your braids.”
- Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 583:1 – Some eat pomegranates, and say: may our merits be as many as pomegranate seeds! And we are accustomed to eat fatty meat and all sorts of sweets.
- Bava Metzia 84a:7 – One who wishes to see something resembling the beauty of Rabbi Yoḥanan should bring a new, shiny silver goblet from the smithy and fill it with red pomegranate seeds [partzidaya] and place a diadem of red roses upon the lip of the goblet, and position it between the sunlight and shade. That luster is a semblance of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty.
- Mishnah Bikkurim 3:1 – How does one set aside bikkurim [first fruits]? A man goes down into his field, he sees a fig that ripened, or a cluster of grapes that ripened, or a pomegranate that ripened, he ties a reed-rope around it and says: “Let these be bikkurim.” Rabbi Shimon says: even so, he must again designate them as bikkurim after they have been plucked from the soil.
- Chagigah 15b:11 – Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate and ate its contents while throwing away its peel. He said to him: Indeed, your defense has been heard above.
- Berakhot 57a:7 – One who sees pomegranates in a dream, if they were small, his business will flourish like the seeds of the pomegranate, which are numerous; and if they were large, his business will increase like a pomegranate…One who saw slices of pomegranates in his dream, if he is a Torah scholar, he should anticipate Torah, as it is stated: “I would cause you to drink of spiced wine, of the juice of my pomegranate” , which…And if the dreamer is an ignoramus, he should anticipate mitzvot, as it is stated: “Your temples are like a split pomegranate” ….Even the most ignorant [reikanin] among you, Israel, are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate.
- Mishnah Pesachim 7:1 – How does one roast the Paschal lamb? One brings a spit [shappud] of pomegranate wood and thrusts it into the mouth of the lamb until it reaches its anus, and one then puts its legs and entrails inside it and roasts it all together
- Berakhot 56a:12: They said to him: We saw a pomegranate taking root on the mouth of barrels. To Abaye he said: Your business will increase in value like a pomegranate….To Rava he said: Your work will go sour like a pomegranate.
- Eruvin 4b:2 – Pomegranate teaches the measure, as that which we learned in a mishna: All ritually impure wooden vessels belonging to ordinary homeowners become pure through being broken, as broken vessels cannot contract or maintain ritual impurity, and they are considered broken if they have holes the size of pomegranates.
- Legends of the Jews 3:4:96 – But what they had believed to be a cave was only the rind of a huge pomegranate that the giant’s daughter had thrown away, as they later, to their horror, discovered. For this girl, after having eaten the fruit, remembered that she must not anger her father by letting the rind lie there, so she picked it up with the twelve men in it as one picks up an egg shell, and threw it into the garden, never noticing that she had thrown with it twelve men, each measuring sixty cubits in height. When they left their hiding place, they said to one another: “Behold the strength of these women and judge by their standard the men!”
- And there is Rabbinic lore/midrash about the pomegranate actually being the “fruit” that Chavah ate in the Garden of Eden, more on this below.
- The pomegranate, a “new fruit” (fruits that have not been eaten in a long time), are typically eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Pomegranates are also (apocryphally) said to have exactly 613 seeds, connecting it to the 613 commandments of the Torah. (Pomegranates for Rosh Hashanah – The Jewish Museum)
- 9 Jewish Things About Pomegranates (My Jewish Learning)
- Pomegranates (Jewish Virtual Library)
- The Magical, Mystical Pomegranate (Reform Judaism)
Book excerpts are from private files of Cosmic Reference Library including
- Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols
- Foods at the Time of the Bible
- The Jewish Dream Book
- JPS Guide to Jewish Tradition
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Note: The copyright for each of the books excerpted here is owned by the author and publisher. These excerpts are posted as a way of raising awareness of these great resources.