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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Who cares about an olive? Understanding the kezayit measure

Sukkah 6

The Land of Israel is like no other land in the world.

The minimum amount of food consumption that is considered eating in order to necessitate the after-blessing is a kezayit – the volume of an olive.   We find this quantity throughout Jewish law.  But have you ever stopped to wonder: what’s the big deal about a little olive?

Every region in the world yields unique native plants and fruit.  There are Florida oranges, Nappa Valley grapes, papaya from Mexico, kiwifruit from China.  The Land of Israel is blessed with seven species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.   The species of Israel, however, are like no other.  Most species are arbitrarily placed throughout the world.  The seven fruits of Israel have deep meaning.

Each of the seven species plays an important role in Jewish law.   The grapes are vital for the law of the nazir, who vowed to abstain from wine.  The wheat, barley and pomegranate define certain amounts and specifications that would render one ritually impure.   The fig defines the minimum amount that would make one liable for carrying in the public domain on Shabbat.  A date’s amount is the volume of food that would remove one’s hunger on Yom Kippur.  And our old favourite, the kezayit or olive’s volume, is used extensively throughout Jewish law.

At first glance, it might appear that these legal amounts were arbitrarily pinned on these fruits because they are native to the Land of Israel.  But we know that’s not the case.  The Talmud explains that the kezayit is the basic amount that a person would generally eat and call it more than just a snack.  And the Talmud similarly explains that the date amount would remove one’s physical hunger.  So we see that these fruits possess an incredible quality – they match up with our natural human biology! 

For this reason, the Torah says that all other lands are blessed through the Land of Israel.  The Holy Land possesses a deep significance that ties the physical biology of human beings to the natural order; and if we merit, to spirituality.    One who eats of the fruits of the Land of Israel is nourished in a profound physical and spiritual manner.


Today, I rededicate myself to the Land of Israel.  I will support the Holy Land.  I will eat of its holy fruits.  And I shall pray for the day that I can dwell on its holy soil and breathe its holy air.