Figs: A Symbol Throughout Jewish History

By: Yoni Schwartzman
January 31, 2021
a-fig-tree

 The fig tree is very unique compared to other fruit trees in Israel. Its characteristically shaped leaves make it easy to identify even when it is bare of its delicious fruit. You will most often find this marvelous tree growing from the cracks in the walls of Israel’s many ancient ruins. Unlike most other fruit trees, the Common Fig has few nutritional

Capernaum-fig
Carving of fig leaves in limestone found at Capernaum in Israel

needs and can thus grow in the most unlikely places. So long as a trickle of water can be found by its roots, the fig tree can grow in many different soils throughout the country and has done so for thousands of years.

 It is remarkable how little the fig tree has changed over the centuries. Its aforementioned telltale leaves can be seen in a plethora of ancient artifacts discovered in the Holy Land. One of the oldest such representations can be seen in stone carvings from Capernaum, a synagogue from the time of the Hasmoneans, in Israel’s Galilee. 

Fig iconography, in Jewish culture, represents abundance, wisdom, and fertility. It is so engrained into the psyche of this land that it can often be found chiseled into the wall art of many ancient dwellings, such

A high-relief fig tree decoration (Israel Antiquities Authority)
A high-relief fig tree decoration (Israel Antiquities Authority)

as those discovered and housed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Today, the fig tree can be found throughout the Mediterranean region and the fruit is commonly eaten as part of a Tu B’Shvat celebration by Jews in Israel.

This fruit tree has quite the reputation, one deserving of the first plant mentioned by name in the Bible. It was also one of the fruits that the spies brought back to Moses. In times of antiquity, blessings were accounted to areas that had an abundance of these trees. This can still be seen in several towns’ ancient names, such as Te’enat Shiloh (the Fig of Shiloh), Beit Pag (House of Green Figs) and Beit Te’enah (House of the Fig).

Perhaps, what the fig tree best represents is peace. Tranquility awaits anyone who can find the time to sit back against the fig trees smooth gray bark and listen to its unique leaves rustle softly in the breeze. A symbol of peace since the times of the Prophets, the fig tree is truly engrained into the heart and soul of the Land of Israel.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Yoni Schwartzman

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