Pomegranate in the Jewish Culture
"Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them." (Exodus chapter 28 verse 33)
The pomegranate is a symbol of sanctity. The cohen had had pomegranates on the sleeves of his robe, and pomegranates decorated the pillars both of the first and the second temples.
But the pomegranate is also the symbol of passion and desire:
"Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil." (Song of Solomon chapter 4 verse 3)
How does the bible merge sanctity and passion which is the root of inclination?
According to the Jewish holy and literary sources – it is not passion which is the root of inclination towards evil, and it is even encouraged to act upon your desires if it is within a sacred Kiddushin (marriage): The Babylonian Talmud tell us about Rabbi Hiyya that did not act upon his and his wife's desire for fear it would keep him from the Torah. The Rabbi's wife disguised herself and tried to seduce him by asking him
to give her a pomegranate (the symbol of desire). The Rabbi agreed, and by that he violated a prohibition. He suffered a lot the rest of his life.
The common interpretation to this story is that if Rabbi Hiyya would have acted
upon his desires within marriage he would not have been tempted to violate a prohibition.
One interpretation of Song of Solomon is that this book tells us about the love between a man and a woman as an allegory to the love between Israeli people and god.
The combination of passion and sanctity is abundance; In Exodus it is written:
"For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land--a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;"
(Deuteronomy chapter 8 verses 7-8)
The spies that Moses sent to Israel brought back grapes, pomegranates and figs as a symbol of the prosperity and abundance of the land. The pomegranate is one of the Seven Species - seven fruits and grains mentioned in the Bible as typical of the land of Israel – the land of Israel is considered as blessed with these species.
Tarbut Movement wishes you a year full of sanctity and desire. Shana Tova!
(Midrash by Maa'yan Magali, Tarbut Art Kibbutz, Netanya)