Apples and Honey

by Sybil Kaplan August 27, 2018


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

The Torah 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.

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 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.

Today, 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,” which is dipped in 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.

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.

According to Gil Marks (z”l) in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, “the first recorded association of apples with Rosh Hashanah was in Machzor Vitry, a siddur compiled around 1100, which included this explanation: ‘The residents of France have the custom to eat on Rosh Hashanah red apples….’Future generations of Ashkenazim adopted the French custom …leading to the most popular and widespread Ashkenazi Rosh Hashanah tradition.”

Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, born around 1269 and fled with his family to Spain in 1303, was the first to mention the custom of apples dipped in honey in his legal compendium Arbah Turim, c. 1310, citing it as a German tradition.

A few years ago, an article revealed that the average Israeli eats 125 apples and 750 grams of honey a year, mostly around the High Holy Days. Israel is very 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.

The word honey or dvash in Hebrew has the same numerical value as the words Av Harachamim, Father of Mercy. We hope that G-d will be merciful on Rosh Hashanah as He judges us for our year’s deeds.

Honey is used by Jews around the world not only for dipping apples but in desserts.

Here are some recipes using honey for your Rosh Hashanah eating.

Two Layer Apple & Honey Cake

2 cups flour

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

¾ cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1/3 cup parve milk

½ cup honey

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups coarsely grated apples

Tofu cream cheese frosting

16 ounces tofu cream cheese

½ cup unsalted pareve margarine

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. grated orange peel

½ cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Form well in the center.

3. Add oil, eggs, milk, honey and vanilla. Whisk until moistened.

Fold in apples. Spoon half into each baking pan. Bake in preheated 325° F. oven about 45 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool.


1. Beat cream cheese and margarine in a bowl until fluffy.

2. Add sugar, vanilla and orange peel. Add honey and beat until smooth.

3. Chill.

4. Place 1 cake flat side up on a serving dish. Spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with second layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake.


Middle Eastern Honey-Nut Cake

Honey syrup

1 ½ cups honey

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice


2 cups finely ground almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts

1 cup cake meal

2 tsp. orange juice

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. allspice or ground cloves

6 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 Tbsp. grated orange or lemon zest

1. Stir honey, water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan over low heat.

until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium, bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Let cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan.

3. Combine nuts, cake meal, cinnamon and cloves in a mixing bowl.

4. In another bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar. Add to nut mixture with orange juice. Add oil and orange or lemon zest.

5. In a third bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.

6. Pour batter into baking pan and bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven 45 minutes. Cool.

7. Cut cake into 1 to 2-inch squares or diamonds. Drizzle cooled syrup over the warm cake. Serve at warm or room temperature.

My Grandma Sade’s Teiglach

My Grandmother was born in New Jersey, although her mother came to the States as a young girl from Russia so she probably learned this Eastern European dish from her mother. Teiglach means “little dough pieces” and was originally for family celebrations and various holidays. Today, it is made primarily for Rosh Hashanah as a symbol for the sweet New Year.

My favorite reference book for any food is “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” by Gil Marks (z”l) who wrote about teiglach, a food which was brought to the United States by Eastern Europeans in the early 1900s –although nuts were not part of the recipe in the “old country.”

2 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

4 Tbsp. oil

4 eggs

1/8 tsp. salt

¾ cup brown sugar

1 1/3 cups honey

1 tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, oil, eggs and salt. Stir until a dough is formed.

2. In a saucepan, boil sugar, honey, ginger and nutmeg for 15 minutes.

3. Wet a board with cold water.

4. Pinch pieces of dough and drop them into the boiling honey mixture. Cook until very thick. Add nuts and stir. Pour honeyed pieces onto the wet board and cool slightly.

5. With wet hands, shape dough into 2-inch balls or squares. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and author who lives in Jerusalem. She created and leads weekly walks in Jerusalem’s Jewish food market, Machaneh Yehudah, in English.


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