Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sweet As Honey

According to Wikipedia, in 1989, the month of September was declared National Honey Month because it is the month when the honey collection season ends for most beekeepers in the United States. From Jewish perspective, however, the choice of September is no coincidence, for there is no more appropriate time of the year than September for a celebration of honey.

It is well-known that honey is an important and popular feature of the High Holiday season. Apples and challah are dipped in honey, and honey cakes are the desserts of choice. Honey, in Jewish tradition, represents the desire for our new year to be blessed with sweetness, and honey is frequently used to underscore the sweetness of Torah. For instance, it says in Psalms: “How sweet are Your words to my palate, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (119:103).  The sweetness of honey is often used to encourage children in their early Torah studies. Some communities even have the custom to introduce a three-year-old boy to Jewish studies by covering the Hebrew aleph-bet in honey and encouraging the child to lick the letters.

One fascinating question that is raised about honey is why one is allowed to consume it, after all,  anything that is produced by a non-kosher animal is not kosher. This question was raised centuries ago and the Talmud records: “Why did [the sage] say that honey from bees is permitted? Because the bees store it up in their bodies but do not drain it from their bodies...Rabbi Jacob who said the Divine Law expressly permitted honey” (Talmud Bechorot 7b). Honey is processed by the bees but created by the flower and is thus not a direct product of the insect (since almost all insects are not kosher).

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