Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Kabbalistic Apple of Rosh HaShanah


"Why eat an apple? Are there no sweeter fruits than the apple? One may explain that it hints at the [heavenly] apple orchard which is known to Kabbalists. 'And he said: See, the scent of my son is as the scent of the field.' (Bereishit 27:27)"

מ"ט למיכל תפוח הא איכא כמה מיני מתוקים טפי. ויש ליתן טעם דרומז לשדה של תפוחים הידוע למקובלים ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה (בראשית כז, כז).

(Maharil, Hilchot Rosh haShanah 7)

Have a great day,



  1. So, would Tosafos (Ta'anis 29b, "Shel Tapuchim") say that one should dip an esrog in honey? On the basis of this Tosafos, R JB Soloveitchik zt"l and R' Herschel Shachter include esrog in his charoses.

    There is a strong argument for translating "tapuach" as "citron". A tapuach is sweet (Shir haShirim 2:3), fragrant (7:9, 8:5), and golden (Mishlei 25:11), although an apple is sweeter, it's not as fragrant and only sometimes yellow. But the clincher is Yo'el 1:12, where the tapuach is listed among the central fruit crops of Israel.

    In any case, the smell of an esrog orchard is strong, and the smell of an esrog. As the gemara says, the taste of the tree and of its fruit are equivalent. (Sukkah 35a) I have never been in an esrog orchard, but growing up, a neighbor who taught the gifted science class at Bronx Sci had an esrog tree in a flower-pot in his living room, and it's true of one tree. Whereas when I go apple-picking on chol hamo'ed, there isn't a strong pleasant smell wafting through the orchard.

    So the Zohar the Maharil is referring to better fits the esrog.

    Translating tapuach as apple dates back to when the word appyle meant fruit in general. Thus the depiction of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as an apple. C.f. Pomme in French, which fits tapuach in modern Hebrew in words like tapuach adamah (potato -- ground fruit) or tapuz (tapuach zahav, orange -- golden fruit; And although I just noted that an orange is "golden", it can't be the fruit in Mishlei because it's native to the Caribbean, not Israel. At least an apple is local to Turkey, Kazakhstan and that region.) But unlike pomme or Modern Hebrew tapuach, I'm not even sure that appyle defaulted to mean what we today call an apple.

    Anyway, if we started eating esrog dipped in honey on Rosh haShanah and used esrogim in charoses, it would help support our esrog growers, as it would give them a market for the esrogim invalid for use on Sukkos.

  2. Hi R' Micha,
    On the other hand, there are very strong grounds for rendering tapuach as apple. Among them: In Israel in the days of Tanach, they had fragrant apple orchards. The Jewish Encyclopedia made fools of many people when it said that there were no apple orchards in Israel, and that tapuach should be rendered as one of several other fruits; in the 1950's, archeologists found the orchards.
    There is much more to be said on this, but it's the night before RH, so I'll just add that Feliks (עולם הצומח המקראי) and Loew insist that tapuach is an apple.