It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by and that we stand at the threshold of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Across the Jewish world, everyone celebrating this great day will be davening, praying for a year filled with health, happiness and only sweet things. As we sit down and sanctify HaShem’s name, we commence the Rosh Hashanah seder by dipping a piece of apple in honey, symbolizing the sweet year we so eagerly desire.
Many people wonder how honey, which is produced by a bee, a non-kosher insect, can be kosher. Honey is produced by bees when they collect from flowers a sugary substance known as nectar, which is then stored in their bodies, in a honey sac. The bee then transforms the nectar into glucose and fructose. Once the moisture has been evaporated, the end product is honey.
The Talmud goes into a detailed explanation as to why honey is permitted. In simplistic terms, one reason is that the source of honey is not the insect itself: the nectar is only processed in the body of the insect. Another reason mentioned is that a substance released from a non-kosher insect is indeed acceptable.
The Talmud adds that there is a difference between honey derived from insects other than bees – like wasps or ants. On this, opinion is divided among halachic authorities, and it has therefore become an accepted practice to use only honey that comes from bees.
The market now boasts a variety of flavoured honeys that do not pose any kashrut issues. Clover and orange blossom are such examples – they are not true flavours, but actual flowers from which the bee collects the nectar, and this affects the final flavour of the honey being produced.
Challenges to kosher certification of honey come with antifoam, which may be added in insignificant amounts to the final product but which must still be kosher, as well as honey being pasteurized in non-kosher vats, or vats that may have been used in the production of dairy products.
There are other items on the market, including royal jelly and beeswax, that are subject matters for a different discussion. Bearing in mind the various halachic issues, it’s important to remember that honey does require a reliable kosher certification.
When we sit down to enjoy our Rosh Hashanah feast, let’s indeed pray for a year as sweet as honey, a year filled with health, simchah and, most of all, peace. Let’s also pray for those who have lost their loved ones through illness, war or any other tragedy.