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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

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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.”

FOOTNOTES
1.

Bereishit Rabbah 15:7.

2.

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

3.

See sources in previous note.

4.

Ibid.

5.

Zohar 1:73a.

6.

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.

7.

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.

8.

Talmud, Berachot and Sanhedrin ibid.

9.

Genesis 3:7.

10.

Bereishit Rabbah ibid.

11.

Genesis 3:6.

12.

Bereishit Rabbah ibid.

13.

Genesis 2:9.

14.

Nachmanides on Leviticus 23:40.

15.

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

16.

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

17.

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

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Discussion (47)
September 30, 2013
a cute story
I read about a young, religious Christian woman who approached a scantily dressed girl and handed her an apple. "Oh, thank you" said the girl, "but why are you giving me this apple?" "Well," answered the young woman, "Eve ate the apple and realized that she was naked!"
Shoshana
Jerusalem
September 30, 2013
P.S.
The story about the apple is a Christian story, not a Jewish one. It started with Christianity, a long time after we Jews came on the scene.

With all due respect to everyone's rights to their own religion and beliefs, etc., it doesn't make sense to think that story based on a mistranslation could possibly be right, when our great Talmudic Sages, (Chazal) have told us something else.

We Jews received the Torah, have studied the Torah, kept it, cherished it and died for it. It is our very life's blood. Talmudic sages to this day pour over every word from morning to night, in order to learn it's great truth and secrets, which were also taught to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Around every Shabbos table parents and children study Torah, questioning, probing, in order to understand it each time at a deeper level.

Countless millions of Jews over thousands of years have been engaged in this study and investigation, which is the most important thing in our lives. So maybe we are right?
Shoshana
Jerusalem
September 28, 2013
Are we missing the point altogether?
I see two trees, one has Life, one has Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of one is pure gift of G-d, the other is human wisdom laws and traditions. All of the self efforts to gain g-dlikeness through our knowledge and understanding, lead only to death. There is no life there. In the day that we rely on our efforts to grasp at right and wrong/good and evil is the day we die. Righteousness is and always has been a gift that G-d gives to those who trust him. The sin was not in consuming fruit, but in seeking our way instead of receiving G-d's provision.
Marlowe
Canada
September 28, 2013
Silence
IT is amazing how we can say just one word and have it impact the universe without even knowing the actual meaning of it. We just gather puzzles to construct a word and then we spread it without deeply observing it. An apple is a very tasty fruit and that is why we eat it during Rosh Hashana. We call it apple without knowing its root and the real meaning of it which is 'evil'. Daily we speak, "I crave apple( 'evil')..." I find the importance of diligently study words before they're actually spoken. But we are just in a world that is governed by the society, if something is done by the society, then we feel it is good with us.... I learned more than just about a forbidden fruits in this lesson.... Thank you!
Kwanele Ngema
sioux falls, SD
September 28, 2013
"please speak up"
First, I must tell you that I was really happy to read your comment of Oct. 18, 2012 saying that you have an abundance of joy and I wish you that until "120".

You went on to write "will the real G-d please speak up". He has spoken up, Ruth, in His Torah that was given to us 3,300 years ago on Mt. Sinai, an event witnessed by 3 million people.

In this Torah He tells us that we can not turn "to the left of to the right" of what we are told to do. We cannot make up our own interpretations but have to study in depth the explanations of Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, Iben Ezra, etc., and then maybe we can begin to understand the Torah.

On giving up one's life to save a pet, we also had pets and loved them. But for a human being, whose soul contains something of the Divine, being that G-d blew this soul into him, to give up this life to save an animal is a desecration of all that is Divine within him and is the opposite of holy and a misunderstanding of the importance and holiness of life
Shoshana
Jerusalem
October 22, 2012
Loss of innocence
Hi Ruth
Our children give us joy too and pain. Following your heart is better than most achieve. May G-d continue to bless you and lead you in all that you do. The real G-d does speak up in His infallible, truthful Word. I call my "coincidences" the Hand of G-d.
Phil Hohnen
Chiang Mai, Thailand
October 18, 2012
Sorry
It's not up to you, either then. And it seems these pages on Chabad are filled with people interpreting and re interpreting text. In terms of what is and is not up to me, I could say, everyone these days speaks for G_d. Will the real G_d then please speak up, because it does seem a lot like, a game of, What's My Line?

I could say you are wrong. And you would say I am wrong. I think, however, that I have the Proof of something far far deeper.
Since I see it's all G_d, we have a deep and ongoing conundrum here. If we are all aspects of Divinity, then G_d threw us all into a story, and I am merely pointing out what I get in terms of words, the aleph bet, and my Diary chronicles an astounding series of ongoing coincidences. Let G_d open the book, not me. I would gladly bow out of all of this. I have my own small life which is beautiful, and actually need none of this, to experience, JOY, which I have in abundance.

I really don't care. I come because I follow my heart. In ALL that I do.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 17, 2012
Forbidden fruit
Thanks Ruth Housman, it is not I, but G-d who says we have lost our innocence in the account of the Fall of Mankind. It is not up to you to reinterpret his word. I work with children in an orphanage, and I do not confuse 'cute', 'gifted', 'lovable' with 'loss of innocence' - they can be very naughty and hard to teach too!
Ten years of raising abandoned children from birth and I totally agree with the Word's account, not yours. Sure they are amazing, but wait till they grow up. They are all taught the Word of G-d too.
Phil Hohnen
Chiang Mai, Thailand
October 16, 2012
the sweetness & fragrance, of apples
I believe it all beautifully connects, The Orchard, Pardes, the apples, the fruit of the vine, the fact there is vine in Divine, and now that it is fall, the leave are falling from the trees, and we think about the story of, The Fall, as some call it, meaning the Adam and Eve story. And then there is our beautiful holiday of Sukkot, a holiday of fruit, of very special fruit and that celebration, and it's a holiday very much spent in Nature, in the orchards. Maybe the ability to talk in a punning way, about having "in cider" information is also deep, and maybe puns, the ability to make them, is divine, and points to the divine alchemy of the very words we speak. Simchas Torah, for JOY. For me, this is a joy of season, and yes, I feel like Moses in the presence of the burning bush, because this New England season of fall is just this, in metaphor and in deeper truth. Maybe I have "pommel"ed you all with this, too much. I feel it, and that's why I'm here.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 16, 2012
Re: An Apple
It is true that the Etrog (citron) is sometimes referred to as an apple in the Talmud and other text (as is explained in Tosfot on Talmud Shabbos 88a - cited by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the footnote you yourself cite). In fact, in hebrew Tapuach is used to refer to various other fruits as well, this should indeed have been included in the article.

However, while the Garden of Eden is indeed sometimes described as having the fragrance of an apple orchard, the story referenced as happening on Rosh Hashanah by the Gra and others (see Shulchan Aruch, Ohr Hachaim 583) is NOT the eating of the forbidden fruit, it is the story of Jacob and Esau receiving the blessings from their father in which Issac remarks about Jacob "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed! which the Talmud (Taanis 29b) explains that it was an apple orchard.

In other words, he does not refer to the forbidden fruit as being an apple.
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
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