Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah — Jewish New Year — Shana Tova

I never want to be too old to learn something new. Even though for one year growing up I lived next door to the Rabbi, I grew up knowing very little about Jewish holidays. All I remember learning being Jewish that year was that the Rabbi’s children weren’t allowed to eat my Mom’s cookies, but I could eat cookies from theirs — valuable information to a growing boy. Looking back on it, I should have been more inquisitive. No telling what I could have learned.

A good friend taught me to greet people on Rosh Hashanah with “Shana Tova” or “Shana Tova u’metuka” — a good and sweet year.

This year I learned that we celebrate Rosh Hashanah with apples and honey: We dip a slice of apple in honey to express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. And why were apples and honey chosen for this custom?

It’s not because of what Adam and Eve did in eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden; the Bible never identifies the forbidden fruit. More likely, apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God.

In Song of Songs the Bible says:

“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.”

In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty, represented by God, “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.”

Neither the Bible nor the Talmud dictates the minhag of dipping apples in honey. Traditionally, as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shanah tovah umetukah” (a good and sweet year), and honey, whether from dates, figs, or apiary, was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was thus the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes.

A fun way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah is to go apple picking with your children or to do a honey tasting.

But I divert, whether it is Rosh Hashanah or another religion’s celebration of a New Year, the concept of starting over has a wonderful appeal. I am about to embark on a new adventure for example, and it is helpful to look on it as a new beginning, not the end but a beginning.

May your year be sweet, fruitful, and filled with contentment and promise.

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.

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