Symbols / Torah and Mitzvot

Figs, Fig Leaves, and the Torah’s First Sewing Project

Figs Crna_petrovača_Kričke
The autumn weather has me dreaming of figs. Warm, honey-glazed figs, specifically (the blog for Huppahs.com, Backyard Huppah, has a recipe). One of the simple pleasures of the season.

Figs have long been a popular motif in Jewish design, often in combination with pomegranates and other members of the seven species — the seven fruits and grains that Moses told the Israelites to look forward to in the Promised Land. As one of the seven species, figs represent peace and prosperity, and they evoke a connection to the Land of Israel.

Here’s the relevant Torah passage:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey [from dates]; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.* (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)

(By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why Jews say grace after meals instead of before meals, as in some other religious traditions, it’s because of the last sentence in the passage.)

The fig is the first fruit mentioned in the Torah; fig leaves are at least. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden and saw that they were naked, they sewed fig leaves together to make clothes — the first sewing project in the Bible.

The Torah passage:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:7)

Because Adam and Eve made their clothes from fig leaves, Talmudic rabbis deduced that the forbidden fruit they ate was a fig (Genesis Rabbah 15:7), not the apple we picture today.

The fig makes a more interesting forbidden fruit than the apple, and its unusual shape makes it a more interesting design element as well.

Embroidered Ark Cover, Jewish Museum, London
The Bible translations are from The Jewish Bible: Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by the Jewish Publication Society. I added the bracketed phrase to clarify that honey refers to the seventh species: dates.

[Images: Crna petrovača Kričke via Wikimedia Commons | Postcard of 18th Century Turkish Torah Ark curtain and sketch of fig details.]

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