Photo Credit: Siona Karen

Honey is a by-product of flower nectar and the upper aero-digestive tract of the honey bee, which is concentrated through a dehydration process inside the bee hive. It has been used both as food and medicine since ancient times. Human use of honey is traced to some 8000 years ago as depicted by Stone Age paintings. Honey has been reported to have an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria, some species of fungi, and viruses.

(Tahereh Eteraf-Oskouei1 and Moslem Najafi, Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases).

The queen bee is surrounded by her sisters in Hebron Honey, July 04, 2014. / Nati Shohat/FLASH90

Human beings have semi-domesticated several species of honey bee by taking advantage of their swarming stage. Swarming is the means by which new colonies are established when there is no longer space for expansion in the colony’s present hive. The old queen lays eggs that will develop into new queens and then leads as many as half the colony to a site for a new hive. Bees generally swarm before a suitable location for another hive has been discovered by scouts sent out for this purpose. Until such a location is found the swarm will simply conglomerate near the former hive, often from tree branches. These swarms are unusually docile and amenable to transport by humans. When provided with a suitable nesting site, such as a commercial Langstroth hive, the swarm will readily form a new colony in artificial surroundings. These semi-domesticated colonies are then looked after by humans practicing apiculture or meliponiculture. Captured bees are encouraged to forage, often in agricultural settings such as orchards, where pollinators are highly valued. The honey, pollen, wax and resins the bees produce are all harvested by humans for a variety of uses.

(Thomas D. Seeley, The lives of bees : the untold story of the honey bee in the wild)

Daniel (R) and David Shmueal (L), beekeepers with Hebron Honey, show their honeycombs, July 04, 2014. / Nati Shohat/FLASH90

Honey is mentioned 61 times in the Bible, but in most cases, it is a reference to date honey – except for the story of Samson.

So, Samson and his father and mother went down to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, a big lion came roaring at him. The spirit of God gripped him, and he tore the lion asunder with his bare hands as one might tear a kid asunder … Returning the following year to marry her, Samson turned to look at the remains of the lion; and in the lion’s skeleton he found a swarm of bees, and honey. … He scooped it into his palms and ate it as he went along. When he rejoined his father and mother, he gave them some and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scooped the honey out of a lion’s skeleton.
Samson visited a Philistine woman that he desired and invited her and her friends to a feast. At the feast, he asked them a riddle, “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” Of course, they couldn’t solve it, but his girlfriend gave him a hard time until he told her the answer and she betrayed him and revealed the secret to his foes (Judges 14).
Samson and the lion by Lord Frederic Leighton. / Public domain

Dipping an apple in honey to secure a sweet new year is an ancient Jewish custom. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson Ztz’l, asked why do we ask for a “good and sweet year,” since everything God decides for us is good – why must it also be sweet? He explained that some things that are good for us, such as surgery, don’t necessarily feel good. So we want our new year to be both good and sweet – free from pain.

Jewish children dip an apple in honey for a sweet new year. / Mendy Hachtman/ Flash90


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