Apples and honey, the words are bound together like peanut butter and jelly but, unlike the favorite childhood sandwich, this pair has the power to conjure up memories with little effort. Ask Jewish pre-schoolers what these words bring to mind and they will shout out gleefully, “Rosh Hashanah!” The Ashkenazi—Eastern European tradition of dipping a slice of apple in honey is a universally recognized custom in Jewish homes to express hope for a sweet and fruitful year. Sephardi custom makes a preserve of apples scented with rosewater. These traditions are based on custom not law. Jewish customs often originate as a way of reinforcing Jewish history and identity and serve to bond Jews throughout the Diaspora to their heritage and homeland.
In medieval times apples were considered so special that prayers were etched into the skin of the apple before it was eaten. Could this have led to the custom of using the apple as a symbol of our “wishes” for a fruitful year?
The use of honey seems obvious; it is sweet and therefore symbolically represents our hopes for a sweet year. Jewish tradition always has deeper meaning and the use of honey is no exception. Consuming honey during the High Holidays was an old custom followed by Jews throughout the world. This custom was referenced in writings in the 7th century by Babylonian Talmudic scholars although its practice is presumed to pre-date the writings.
Israel was described in the Bible as the land that, “flows with milk and honey”.
(A reference to a paste made from over ripe dates, not honey from bees). The tradition of eating honey at the New Year was, therefore, a reminder of our historic connection with the Holy Land of Israel.
Culinary customs and traditions make the preschooler, and all of us, excited with anticipation for the upcoming holiday. The true importance of dipping the apple in honey, however, is remembering our ancient homeland and Jewish heritage and passing it on L’dor Va Dor, from generation to generation.
May your year be fruitful in your endeavors and sweet with friendship and good health!