Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year” in Hebrew) is the Jewish New Year. Or really it’s one of four different dates upon which the year starts in the Jewish calendar for different purposes. Rosh Hashanah marks a new year for people, animals, and legal contracts, and is the date from which sabbatical and jubilee years are calculated. It is believed to represent either the first day of Creation in Genesis, or the fifth (the day upon which the human race was created).
There are many customs regarding food surrounding Rosh Hashanah that carry symbolic meaning. Round items are preferred, such as challah (braided bread) baked into a round loaf, to represent wholeness and community. Pomegranates are a common fruit to serve, as their multitude of seeds is associated with either the 365 days of the new year, or the 613 good deeds that a Jewish person is called upon to perform each year.
The Talmud instructs the eating of certain foods because of what the words for them sound like in Hebrew. For instance the herb fenugreek is specified because the Hebrew word for it is similar to the word for “increase,” so it is symbolic of the commitment to increase one’s merit in the coming year (like a New Year’s resolution).
But one of the foods that is most commonly eaten on Rosh Hashanah is apples dipped in honey. When this dish is served, the blessing for eating tree fruits is recited, and then after the apple is tasted, the prayer for apples and honey is recited.
But why an apple dipped in honey? There are in fact multiple reasons:
* Sweet foods in general are favored on Rosh Hashanah, and bitter or sour foods avoided, to represent the faith that God will grant his people a sweet year. So not only are the apples dipped in honey, but sweet rather than tart apples are chosen.
* In the Torah, when Jacob came to receive his father Isaac’s blessings on Rosh Hashanah, he had upon him the scent of an apple orchard.
* In the Song of Songs, when Solomon seduced his lover, it was under an apple tree. As this story is taken by some to symbolize the love between God and the Jewish people, eating the apple on Rosh Hashanah is a reminder of this love.
* When an apple is cut in half horizontally, in the center can be seen ten small holes and a shape roughly like a five-pointed star. In Hebrew numerology, if you take the letters of which ten and five are the numerical value, they spell the name of God.
For some, eating apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah is simply a tradition they follow because their family always has for as long as they can remember. But in fact, there are multiple symbolic reasons that explain why this tradition is fitting.
Rabbi Yehudah Prero, “Rosh HaShana: The Custom of Eating Symbolic Foods.” Torah.org.
Rabbi Naftali Silberberg, “Why do we dip an apple into honey on Rosh Hashanah?” Ask Moses.
“Rosh Hashana.” Gems in Israel.
“Rosh Hashanah Evening Home Ritual.” Judaism 101.