The pomegranate is a funny sort of fruit. Rather than eating the flesh and throwing away the seed, as one does when eating an apple or orange, pomegranate seeds are the parts that are eaten, and the flesh discarded.

It is, therefore, interesting that God commanded that the image of this fruit be reproduced on the High Priest’s garb: “You shall make on its [the coat’s] hem, pomegranate… and gold bells between them all around. A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe all around…the sound thereof shall be heard when he [the High Priest] goes into the holy place before God, and when he comes out.” (Exodus 28:33-35)

So, what is so special about a pomegranate?

The pomegranate is a very symbolic fruit. Judaism views it as a representation of the righteousness within each Jew: “Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate, as the verse states (Song of Songs 4:3), ‘Like the separating of a pomegranate ra’kataych.’ Don’t read the word ‘ra’kataych‘ but rather ‘rey’kataych,’ [empty ones] even the empty ones [the sinners] among you are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate” (Eiruvin 19a).

Traditionally, pomegranates are reputed to contain 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot, which is why it has become customary to eat pomegranate as one of the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana, after which the following prayer is recited, “May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.” (Before you ask, pomegranates do not have a set number of seeds!)

Pomegranates are one of the seven species identified with the Land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 8:8), and many Jewish artisans found the fruit an alluring subject for reproduction. They were used as decor in Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 7), on ancient Judean coins and, even today, are often used in the design of the silver ornaments found on many Torah scrolls.

November is National Pomegranate Month.

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