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L’ Shana Tovah: Apples and Honey – What is the Origin?

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One of the most well-known customs of Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apple pieces in honey but what is its origin?

In the time of King David, we know he had a “cake made in a pan and a sweet cake” (II Samuel 6: 15, 19) given to everyone. Hosea 3: 1 identifies the “sweet cake” as a raisin cake.

Honey may also have been used in the cake, but the honey of ancient Eretz Yisrael was made from dates or grapes or figs or raisins because there were no domestic bees in the land. At that time only the Syrian bees were there and in order to extract honey from their combs it had to be smoked. Still, honey was of importance in Biblical times as there was no sugar at that time.

During the Roman period, Italian bees were introduced to the Middle East and bee honey was more common.

The Torah also describes Israel as eretz zvat chalav u’dvash, the land flowing with milk and honey, although the honey was more than likely date honey, a custom retained by many Sephardic Jews to this day.

Israel has roughly 500 beekeepers who have some 90,000 beehives, which produce more than 3,500 tons of honey annually. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is the largest producer of honey –10,000 bottles a day.

Among Ashkenazic Jews, challah is dipped in honey instead of having salt sprinkled on it for the blessing. Then the blessing is given over the apple, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year,” and the apple is dipped in the  honey.

Dipping the apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah is said to symbolize the desire for a sweet new year. Why an apple? In B’reishit, the book of Genesis, Israel compares the fragrance of his son, Jacob, to sadeh shel tappuchim, a field of apple trees.

Scholars tell us that mystical powers were ascribed to the apple and people believed it provided good health and personal well being.

Some attribute the using of an apple to the translation of the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit which caused the expulsion from paradise.

A few years ago, an article revealed that the average Israeli eats 125 apples and 750 grams of honey a year.

Israel is self-sufficient with regard to apples with around 9,900 acres cultivated yearly, grown in the North the Galilee hills and the Golan Heights. The most popular types of apples grown are Golden Delicious, Starking, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Gala and Pink Lady.

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