Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Judaism, the religious and cultural tradition that traces its lineage back to ancient Israel and the scriptural authority of the Hebrew Bible, has a long and varied engagement with sweets. The paradigmatic sweet of ancient Jewish tradition was honey (in Hebrew, dvash), which in the Bible refers both to the product of bees and to juices or pastes derived from dates, grapes, and figs. See fruit pastes and honey. Honey is one of the two defining features of the promised land of Canaan (“a land flowing with milk and honey”) throughout the story of the exodus and wandering of the Israelites (e.g., Exodus 3.8; Numbers 14.8). The mysterious natural process that produces honey resonates strongly with themes of revelation and preservation. Thus, the Bible describes manna, the magical food that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, as tasting like “wafers in honey” (Exodus 16.31). See manna. In subsequent rabbinic literature, dvash refers specifically to bees’ honey, which highlights the remarkable status of the sweet substance in Jewish thought. According to the rabbinic interpretation of the biblical dietary code, honey is the only food product of a ritually unclean animal that is considered clean or kosher.