As autumn approaches, so does the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Known as the Jewish New Year, many people prepare for this important High Holy Day. Greetings and well wishes for a good and sweet year are common. As part of Rosh Hashanah, family and friends share apples dipped in honey. The significance of apples and honey during Rosh Hashanah is a symbolic tradition that has special meaning.
Origin of Rosh Hashanah
Observed on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month on the Jewish Calendar, Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holy Days and ushers in a period of repentance. Some Jews believe that Rosh Hashanah is the day on which G-d created the world, but some Talmudic texts cite Rosh Hashanah as the day G-d created man. It’s from this foundation the customs of Rosh Hashanah and the significance of apples and honey flow.
Apples and Eve, Jacob and Solomon
Since Rosh Hashanah is about beginnings, the story of man begins with Adam and the Garden of Eden. In Biblical text and the Torah, man and woman sinned on the same day they were created. By sinning, they were expelled from the Garden. The apple has become a symbol of the Garden of Eden and so, on Rosh Hashanah, sweet apples are eaten.
Generations after the exile from Eden, the significance of apples again emerged in the spiritual texts as part of the tale of Isaac and Esau (Yaakov and Esav). When Jacob had disguised himself as his brother in an attempt to claim Esau’s birthright, Isaac (Titzchok), through different means tried to make sure he had the correct son. He asked to touch him and then to smell him. Once Isaac recognized the smells of a field blessed by the Lord, he mistakenly offered Jacob Esau’s blessing. The smell that Isaac had recalled was described as an apple orchard, which was reminiscent of the scent of the Garden of Eden.
While the smells of the field have evoke great emotion, it is through the Songs of King Solomon that we understand another connection between the apple and the Jewish People. In the muses of King Solomon, the wise man referred to the love of God and his people as that of love being under the apple tree. Since that time, during Rosh Hashanah, the apple serves also as a reminder of mutual love between man and the Creator.
Another favorite for this High Holy Days is honey. References regarding this sweet run throughout the Bible and Torah. Honey is symbolic of wealth and prosperity. Many recall comments that the Promised Land flowed with milk and honey.
The custom of honey on the Jewish table during the High Holy Day period is an ancient and universal Jewish custom. During Rosh Hashanah, when people wish you a good and “sweet” New Year, the use of honey during the holiday seems obvious; however, honey holds some special symbolism also. Honey is seen as a reminder of the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel and also a reminder about the duality of life. Honey’s flavor causes us to recall the sweetness of life, but the process of getting the honey causes of to recall the trials and “stings” of life.
Rosh Hashanah is a special time in the lives of the Jewish people. It’s a time to remember, repent and gain a closer relationship with the Creator. Through the ages many food customs have evolved and the custom of having apples and honey is one of the most lasting and symbolic.
For more back information about food customs or Rosh Hashanah, check out the following websites:
Rosh Hashanah: An Event Replete in Symbolic Significance