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Was the Forbidden Fruit Really an Apple?

Was the Forbidden Fruit Really an Apple?

On the Identity of the Tree of Knowlege


Apples have gotten a bad rap, especially in religious art, for their depiction as the forbidden fruit. So let the record stand clear that while there are various opinions as to the fruit’s identity, it most certainly was not an apple. (More about this later.)

Our sages write that the Torah obscures the identity of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden out of concern that people will constantly point and say, “That is the species of fruit that brought death unto the world.”1 Nevertheless, the sages offer various opinions based on clues found in the Torah.

  • Wheat: Wheat represents knowledge in Torah thought, because a child is considered to have attained a certain level of intellectual maturity only after he or she has tasted wheat.2

    According to this opinion, wheat was originally meant to grow on a tree, not as a grain, but as bread already baked. After the sin, this tree which would grow ready-made baked goods was reduced to a lowly plant which had to be harvested and processed to produce flour. In the future, when the sin of the forbidden fruit will be rectified, the Tree of Knowledge will be restored to its former glory.3

  • Grapes or Wine: There is no fruit that can cause as much misery as the grape and its wine.4 According to the Zohar, Noah planted grapes upon leaving the Ark in an attempt to rectify the sin of the forbidden fruit.5

    Some women have the custom of not partaking in the wine of havdalah6 based on the opinion that the forbidden fruit may have been grapes.7

  • Fig: The fig tree plays a well-known role in Adam and Eve’s story, providing clothing rather than nourishment, and some commentators suggest there may be a connection: “By that with which they were made low were they rectified.”8

    The Midrash gives the parable of a king’s son who disgraced himself with one of the maidservants. When the king heard of it, he deprived his son of high rank and expelled him from the palace. The son then went about to the doors of the other maidservants, and none would take him in. But she who disgraced herself with him opened the door of her house and received him.

    “So, too, when Adam ate of that tree, the Holy One deprived him of his lofty status and expelled him from the Garden of Eden. Adam then went about among all the trees, but none would let him take even one leaf . . . But the fig tree whose fruit Adam had eaten opened its doors [so to speak] and received him, as is said,9 ‘They sewed fig leaves together.’”10

  • Etrog (citron): The verse states that “the woman saw that the tree was good to eat.”11 This implies that not only did the fruit of the tree have a good taste, but the wood of the tree itself had a good taste. This is true only with regards to the etrog tree.12

    Furthermore, etrog is related to the Aramaic word for “desire.” Thus, in the verse “G‑d caused to spring up from the soil every type of tree, desirable to look at and good to eat . . . ,”13 the Targum translates the word “desirable” as dimeragag, which shares a root with the word etrog.14

    This is the source for the custom that some pregnant women have, to bite off the tip of an etrog on the last day of Sukkot as a remedy to ease the pains of labor.15

  • Nut: Rabbi Amram Gaon identifies the forbidden fruit as a nut, and mentions it in one of the blessings recited during the marriage ceremony in his siddur.16

Some commentators explain that in truth, the prohibition of eating the forbidden fruit either included in it all of the different opinions mentioned in the Talmud (i.e., grape, wheat, fig), or was a unique fruit which was a blend of all of them.17

As for apples, the modern consensus seems to be that the source of this misconception is that the Latin word mălum, meaning “evil,” was associated with mālum, another Latin word, borrowed from Greek, meaning “apple.”


Bereishit Rabbah 15:7.


Talmud, Berachot 40a and Sanhedrin 70b; Bereishit Rabbah ibid.


See sources in previous note.




Zohar 1:73a.


There is in fact no obligation for anyone but the person who recites havdalah to drink the wine. The issue is about women specifically not drinking from it, as opposed to men, who may drink from it if they wish, as some have the custom to do. Additionally, some are of the opinion that based on this, if a woman were in a situation where she needed to make havdalah herself, it is preferable she use one of the other permitted beverages. The majority opinion, however, is that in such a case she should indeed recite havdalah on wine, and drink the wine herself.


R. Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz, Shaloh, end of Masechet Shabbat, Torah Ohr (cited by Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 296:4): “The Tree of Knowledge was a grapevine, from which Eve squeezed wine in order to separate from man, which corresponds with niddah, menstrual blood. She does not partake of the havdalah (separation) wine.”
Alternatively, Rabbi Yeshayah Viner, Bigdei Yesha 296:4, explains that the 39 prohibited forms of work on Shabbat are parallel to the 39 curses that came because of the snake, and havdalah comes to permit work that was caused by Eve and what she did to the world. Hence women should avoid drinking the wine that is a reminder of her sin.
Still others explain that the reason behind the custom of women not drinking the havdalah wine are halachic considerations that are unique to havdalah, but which are beyond the scope of this article.


Talmud, Berachot and Sanhedrin ibid.


Bereishit Rabbah ibid.


Bereishit Rabbah ibid.


Nachmanides on Leviticus 23:40.


Taamei Haminhagim, Inyanim Shonim 68; Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Friedman, Likkutei Maharich 3:106a.


Siddur Rabbi Amram Gaon, Seder Birchat Erusin Venissu’in, Blessing 147.


Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, (Ben Ish Chai), Ben Yehoyada on Talmud, Berachot 40a.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Discussion (57)
October 14, 2015
that part of the world at that point in history
... had a different climate and vegetation. Paleontologists have proof that even Egypt and Saudi Arabia had humid subtropical or tropical vegetation and not so many thousand years ago: Grapes, figs, citrons and nuts grow in subtropical weather, only wheat doesn't grow naturally in subtropical conditions and degrades the soil. Hence most deserts such as North Africa or Atacama were granaries in the past, where people had to earn their bread with the sweat of the brow.
October 9, 2015
You can't bite into an Etrog . How could you eat it?
David Rude
Los Angeles
October 9, 2015
why not pommegranite since it looks, tastes and (in French) sounds like like an apple and is related both to the redeeming mitzvot and to the idea of many children as its many seeds. Also it has a protective covering so you really have to be determined to be disobedient to eat it.
Tom Rubertone
October 9, 2015
the Pomegranate
the word Pomegranate contains the French word Pomme, which does mean Apple. I see the keys are in the words. So you could say this ancient, still cherished fruit, was the Fruit in the Garden. You don't take a bite of a pomegranate. You peel a pomegranate and there are many red seeds, which are sometimes very sweet and sometimes bittersweet, like life. Whatever the fruit, it is clear how our language is dominated by that Apple Story. I am typing on a Mac computer, and the logo of course is the bite of the apple, and we speak of bytes of information. As for Adam and Eve, we have these words in the Garden Language, Adam's "apple", Evening comes..I could do this endlessly. As for evening it has a doubling of meaning, as being about equality. Could it be, the prescient mind, the mind of a Master Storyteller bringing us all forward, knowing, one day, going down the lines we would see something more, and keep seeing something more? The road after all, does "snake".
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 8, 2015
Any commentary on the pomegranate? I wonder about that, I have read a few things which might suggest it could have been one of those (also a tasty red fruit with connections to other pantheons). As far as the apple goes, I'm not even sure that those were cultivated in that part of the world at that point in history yet. The idea that the fruit could have been something now extinct is also something I hadn't considered, but is an interesting thought. Will definitely be bookmarking this for later, thanks for sharing!

*Is Catholic with a limited understanding of Judaism but actively looking to learn.
October 8, 2015
Should women and wine be blamed for our ills.
This is really a great posting.
I feel that women are generally being held responsible for the sin of the fruit. and that Eve
tempted Adam to eat it. If Eve had a choice to eat it or not, then so too Adam had the choice. The fact that he ate it was also his own choice.
If he listened to his partner it was because it is well known that women by nature have a higher degree of spirituality than men and he was aware of this concept and followed her. It was his choice. There was no force.
Regarding the Nidah concept of the squeezing of the wine as a means of separation, Hashem
would not have considered us blessing the wine for Kiddush Hashem. But who can argue with the great Talmidim.
I may have got it all wrong. I need to be enlightened.
Ike Albert
October 8, 2015
Cashew Fruit
I have often wondered if it could have been the cashew fruit, because it is one of the few if not the only tree who's fruit does not contain the seed, the seed grows on the out side of the fruit in the form of the nut which the shell is toxic, but the seed inside the nut is the cashew that we all know and love. Just a thought.
October 1, 2014
The sin was not in the fruit but the disobedience and wanting to be "like G-d".
Nothing personal here, but we are told to be Gd like, we are told to copy His ways, we are told to be Gd-like. Oh, except when it doesn't go well for us -- then, we're not supposed to be like Gd, not to copy His ways. Sure, I understand. Mostly, I understand that the people saying these things are ..... That wouldn't be nice for me to tell you what I think about them, but I assure you, it's nothing good.
September 30, 2014
Forbidden Fruit
The sin was not in the fruit but the disobedience and wanting to be "like G-d". This was Satan's sin too: he thought because he was smart, cunning and ambitious, that he could stage a coup d'etat in Heaven and usurp G-d's role as Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

Most modern scientists have fallen into the same trap, thinking by their limited understanding of the present, that they can extrapolate right back to Creation and substitute their mindless Big Bang- and Evolution-fables of 'soup to supermen' for the ingenuity of G-d's work, thus relegating the Word of G-d to obscurity.

Phil Hohnen
September 27, 2014
Forbidden fruit is...
The forbidden fruit was grown on the tree of "knowledge" of good and evil. According to the botany class I took when I was a freshman in college, a fuit is defined as anything that has seeds. There is one particular "fruit" that changes my perspective and I feel as if I do have the knowledge of good and evil and this particular "fruit" is currently illegal in most states. But why is it illegal? This particular fruit does not bring any harm to anyone and if anything it can be very motivational if it is used properly. There is nothing wrong with this particular "fruit" but this is God's country, the land he promised us flowing with milk and honey, so it makes sense that the forbidden fruit would be illegal in this land. God has done so much for us on this land, blessed us with many resources for food and brains that enabled us to create homes and transportation. I really enjoy how I feel when im under the influence of what I think is the forbidden fruit but I try to avoid it because