The Seven Species are seven agricultural products − two grains and five fruits − that are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel and were given to Israel as a gift and a blessing by God upon entering the land after its long exile.
“A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey”
For thousands of years, the Seven Species have played an important role in the food of Jews in Israel and the religious traditions of Judaism. For example, it is traditional to decorate the Sukkah (a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot) with the Seven Species. It is also traditional to eat the Seven Species during the Tu Bishvat holiday. This name means “the 15th of the month of Shvat, on which day Jews celebrate the ‘New Year of the Trees.’”
Our word today is the sixth of the Seven Species, she•men za•yit, olive oil. She•men is oil and za•yit is olive.
Olive oil is a fat obtained from the olive (the fruit of Olea europaea, family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. During the biblical era, olives were almost the only source for oil.
Olive oil was the first of the Seven Species to be recognized in the West with the new trend of health food and sensible nutritional awareness. The early studies over the last two decades that compared the Mediterranean diet to the traditional American and Western diets resulted in growing awareness on the part of consumers regarding the health benefits of olive oil. Olive oil consumption is thought to positively affect cardiovascular health and blood cholesterol levels. Epidemiological studies indicate that a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats in the diet (such as in olive oil), may be linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. Cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been established with sufficient scientific evidence, but little doubt is left about this major component of the Seven Species.
She•men Za•yit in the Bible
Besides the regular uses of olive oil, it also had a sacramental purpose:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Command the people of Israel, that they bring to you pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually. Inside the veil of the Testimony, in the Tent of Meeting, shall Aaron order it from the evening to the morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations. He shall order the lamps upon the pure lampstands before the Lord continually”
Olive oil has also been used during the biblical time for anointing.