Apples and Honey on the Jewish New Year

A Rosh Hashanah Tradition

Close-Up Of Honey In Jar
M?nica De La Guardia Dur?n / EyeEm / Getty Images

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (September or October). It is also called the Day of Remembrance or the Day of Judgement because it begins a 10-day period of when Jews recall their relationship to God. Some Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashanah for two days, and others celebrate the holiday just for one day.

Like most Jewish holidays, there are food customs associated with Rosh Hashanah.

One of the most popular and well-known food customs has to do with dipping apple slices into honey. This sweet combination stems from an age-old Jewish tradition of eating sweet foods to express our hope for a sweet new year.  This custom is a celebration of family time, special recipes, and sweet snacks.

The custom of dipping apple slices in honey is believed to have been initiated by Ashkenazi Jews during later medieval times but is now standard practice for all observant Jews.  

The Shekhinah

In addition to symbolizing our hopes for a sweet new year, according to Jewish mysticism, the apple represents the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of God). During Rosh Hashanah, some Jews believe the Shekhinah is watching us and evaluating our behavior during the previous year. Eating honey with apples represents our hope that the Shekhinah will judge us kindly and look down on us with sweetness.

Beyond its association with the Shekhinah, ancient Jews thought apples had healing properties.

Rabbi Alfred Koltach writes in The Second Jewish Book of Why that whenever King Herod (73-4 BCE.) felt faint, he would eat an apple; and that during Talmudic times apples were frequently sent as gifts to people in ill health.

The Blessing for Apple and Honey

Though apple and honey can be eaten throughout the holidays, they are almost always eaten together on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

Jews dip apple slices into honey and say a prayer asking God for a sweet New Year. There are three steps to this ritual:

1. Say the first part of the prayer, which is a blessing thanking God for the apples:

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Creator of the fruit of the tree. (​Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, Borai p'ree ha'aitz.)

2. Take a bite of the apple slices dipped in honey

3. Now say the second part of the prayer, which asks God to renew us during the New Year:

May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You renew for us a good and sweet year. (Y'hee ratzon mee-l'fanekha, Adonai Elohaynu v'elohey avoteynu sh'tichadeish aleinu shanah tovah um'tuqah.)

Jewish Food Customs

In addition to apples and honey, there are four other customary foods that Jewish people eat for the Jewish New Year:

  • Round challah: A braided egg bread that is one of the most popular food symbols for the Jewish New Year after apples and honey.
  • Honey cake: A sweet cake typically made with autumn spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and allspice.
  • New fruit: A pomegranate or other fruit that has recently come into season but has not been eaten yet.
  • Fish: A head of a fish is typically eaten during Rosh Hashanah as a symbol of fertility and abundance.