Honey is significant during Rosh Hashanah, but honeybees are increasingly more threatened by both natural and manmade causes.
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day event that is considered the Jewish New Year, and occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish year. Just like the American New Year, Jews use Rosh Hashanah as a time to reflect on the past year and resolve to make positive changes in the coming year. Work is not permitted on this day, and most of it is spend in synagogue, praying. A special prayer book called the machzor is used because of the corresponding changes in liturgy.
On this festive day, celebrants typically eat apples and bread dipped in honey. This tradition is known and recognized by many, but do we really know why honey is so important to Jews in Rosh Hashanah celebrations? The reason known to most people is that the use of honey symbolizes the hope for a “sweet new year.” Based on Jewish mysticism, the apples also represent the feminine aspect of God, also called Shekhinah, who Jews believe is watching over our behavior in the previous year. The act of eating honey with apples also symbolizes the hope that Shekhinah will judge us with sweetness and kindness. The apples also signify the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, which has the scent of an apple orchard. Eating it also reminds us of God’s love, as written in the Song of Songs 8:5, “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love.].”
Honey is also used because of its link to manna, which were “honey wafers” provided to the Israelites by God in the 40 years that they wandered the desert, according to Jeffrey Cohen’s 1001 Questions and Answers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They never set foot on the Promised Land because of their doubt and unbelief, even as God had promised them the land of their forefathers, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” The honey is a reminder to the Jews that they are “solely dependent on God’s grace and favor,” and all that they have only comes from Him.
The honey also brings to light the “dual role of bees.” Bees are “feared for their sting, but prized for the sweetness they provide,” just like the Jews’ image of God, as just yet merciful. Honey was also the sweetener that the ancient Israelites used; sugar and maple syrup were not known or available to them at that time. Moreover, honey has been present through written history, mentioned in ancient texts dating back 4,000 years.
The significance of honey to the Jews and their celebration of Rosh Hashanah is just a microcosmic example of the importance of this to our daily lives. Unfortunately, honeybees, the main source of honey, have in recent years been subject to environmental threats. Honeybees also pollinate a large number of the crops in the United States and around the globe, adding value to crops every year of up to $15 billion. 35 percent of global crop production are from plants that depend on pollination.
Currently, both natural and manmade causes have threatened and killed honeybees. A phenomenon called colony collapse disorder is on the rise in the beekeeping industry, with 42 percent of the hives collapsing in the past year, a staggering figure compared to the 31 percent collapse in the last 10 years. In 2006, David Hackenberg, a beekeeper from Pennsylvania, first identified colony collapse disorder, when he lost 60-80 percent of his bee colonies. Another commercial beekeeper, Jeff Lee, owns about 1,700 honeybee hives. He loses 40 percent of his bees every year. Collapses such as this can cost beekeepers a lot of money. Some causes of colony collapse disorder are monoculture cropping, unsustainable practices in beekeeping and diseases and pathogens that have come into human experience recently.
Another recent threat to the existence of honeybees is insecticide spraying with the purpose of eliminating the Zika virus. This too contributes to colony collapse disorder. The bees pick up the insecticides as they go around plant tissues pollinating the flowers, and consequently, become unable to get back to their hives. On August 28 of this year, officials sprayed pesticides to stop the spread of Zika, killing 2.5 million bees in the process. All these factors give rise to a large percentage of honey being imported from other places, because the beekeepers in the country can’t meet consumer demand.
Sam Torres, a beekeeper and horticulturalist based in Pennsylvania, called bees “unsung heroes” in food production. He mentioned that crops increase in size and abundance because of bee pollination. Farmers utilize bees to pollinate flowers, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The good news is companies like Heavenly Organics are doing what they can to make this world a better place for both honeybees and humans by developing a sustainable, bee-friendly and smoke-free method of extracting honey. Company founders Dr. I.S. Hooda and Amit Hooda have created relationships with indigenous honey harvesters in India, teaching this friendly method to local honey harvesters. Heavenly Organics get their honey from wild beehives in the virgin forests of Northern and Central India and parts of the Himalayas, places which contain the purest honey available worldwide. This month of September, the manufacturer of 100% Organic Raw honey from wild beehives is raising awareness of the environmental threats of pesticides and chemical antibiotics on these honeybee colonies with their “Clean Bee” campaign. The timely launch coincides with National Honey Month.
Watch the fun and informative “Clean Bee” campaign videos on the Heavenly Organics YouTube channel.
- Judaism 101
- My Jewish Learning
- Smithsonian Magazine
- 1001 Questions and Answers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
- Got Questions
- Wharton University of Pennsylvania
- Daily Tar Heel
- World Religion News
- Heavenly Organics
- Heavenly Organics YouTube
- PR Newswire