September 25, 2003


Apples as a symbol of good?: Why Jews eat the "serpent's fruit" on Judgment Day (Rabbi Berel Wein, Sept. 25, 2003 , Jewish World Review)

All Jewish customs have Torah, historical and traditional origins, though many of them may be now somewhat obscure due to the passage of time and the circumstances of the long exile of Israel. On Rosh HaShana, Jews dip an apple into honey. Why? What is the special symbolism of the apple that makes it the fruit that most graces our Rosh HaShana table?

The sophisticated doubters amongst us have stated that the apple is used because it is the fruit that was most available in all of the areas of the world of the Jewish exile. However, such reasoning begs the question and misses the entire point of the reasons for the preservation of Jewish customs.

Jewish customs come to reinforce Jewish identity and memory. They serve to remind us of our special responsibilities and duties towards the Creator and man. They reinforce our sense of solidity with all of the previous Jewish generations and provide an effective method of transmitting our tradition and heritage to our children and grandchildren. One of the tragedies of the alienation of many Jews currently from their heritage is their ignorance and non-participation regarding Jewish customs. Thus, the custom of the eating of the apple dipped into the honey on the night of Rosh HaShana does have a special traditional significance over and above the ready availability of the fruit at this season of the year. And it is this special significance of memory that enhances the beauty and even the sweetness of the custom.

One of the fruits to which the Jewish people are compared in King Solomon's Song of Songs is the apple. "As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved — Israel — amongst the maidens (nations) of the world." The Midrash informs us that the apple tree puts forth the nub of its fruit even before the leaves that will surround and protect the little fruit at its beginning stage of growth are fully sprouting. The Jewish people, by accepting the Torah with the statement that "we will do and we will understand" — placing holy action and observance of Torah commandments even before understanding and rational acceptance — thereby imitated the behavior of the apple. Thus, the apple became a Jewish symbol, a memory aid, so to speak, to the moment of revelation at Sinai.

No one can truly understand the historical suffering of the Jewish people until they've shared a few of the holiday meals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2003 9:23 AM

I feel your pain.

Posted by: h-man at September 25, 2003 3:11 PM