The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a small, bushy tree that grows about twenty feet high. Originally native to Iran, it travelled along some of the same trade routes that would later be associated with the silk trade, and spread across much of the ancient world.
One of the seven species of agricultural products associated with the Land of Israel, the fruit is a symbol of righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds representing the 613 commandments of the Torah. (The actual number of seeds varies, of course, with each fruit.) Pomegranates, in Hebrew rimonim, adorned the tops of the pillars in Solomon’s temple, and ornamented the robes of kings and priests. The fruits represent fecundity and, indeed, life itself; with their abundance of seeds and intensely red juice, they are messy, fragrant, sweet, and tart.
The pomegranate in the Biblical Garden is a dwarf variety that blossoms and grows lovely miniature fruits. Not winter-hardy in New England, it’s grown in a container and brought indoors after Sukkot.
Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah by Jews all over the world as a symbol of abundant goodness and in the hope that the Eternal One will grant us health and happiness in the coming year. Before the fruit is eaten, this blessing may be said, “May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our forebears, that our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.”