What’s in a Name? The Apple that (maybe) Wasn’t – Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah

Arguably, the most famous apple since time began was not, perhaps, an apple at all. As we read in Genesis chapter 3 (:6): ‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took from its fruitmipiryo – and ate, and then she gave also to her husband, [who was] with her, and he ate ‘.

The word for fruit is p’ri – as in the blessing for p’ri ha-gafen, ‘the fruit of the vine’, we recite on Shabbat and festivals, and the blessing for p’ri ha-eitz, ‘the fruit of the tree’, we recite before we eat a piece of apple dipped in honey on Rosh Ha-Shanah.

Pr’i ha-eitz: The fruit of the tree. As it happens, there were actually two prohibited trees in the centre of the Garden of Eden – the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 2:9), which as the woman gazed with longing, somehow had coalesced into one (Gen. 3:2)… So did the Sages of old consider the fruit of that infamous tree to be an apple?

The rabbis came up with several possibilities (Midrash Rabbah B’reishit). Perhaps, the woman took grapes? Since the Torah says, ‘she took from its fruit’ – mipiryo – , and not, simply, she took its fruit – piryo – maybe, she created something from the fruit – say, wine – and gave that to her man…? On the other hand, the verse that follows might provide an answer. As we read: ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves garments.’ (Gen. 3:7). Perhaps, the tree which furnished the newly self-conscious pair with their first clothes, was the same tree that had provoked them to transgress God’s command?

The notion that the forbidden fruit was an apple does not feature at all in Jewish tradition. Indeed, interestingly, apples are not included in the seven species of the land, listed in Deuteronomy chapter 8 (:8) – namely: wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and date-palm honey. And yet apples are mentioned in the Bible. Proverbs 25:11 speaks of well-chosen words being like ‘apples of gold’ – tapuchey zahav – in a setting of silver. More significantly, among the luscious fruits, including, grapes, figs and pomegranates, evoked by the lovers in the erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs, there are several references to apples. For example: ‘Like an apple tree among trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the youths. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my mouth.’ (2:3).

So, what was the fruit of that tree? Perhaps, it was an apple, after all? Tu Bishvat – the 15th day of the month of Sh’vat – designated by the Rabbis as the New Year for Trees (Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:1), falls this year on February 8th. It has become customary to eat 15 different fruits of three types on Tu Bishvat:  fruits or nuts with an inedible outer shell and an edible inner core; fruits with edible outer flesh and pithy, inedible cores; and fruits which are edible throughout – including: apples. So, enjoy!