During the recent festival of Rosh Hashanah, Jews dipped bread and apples in honey to usher in a sweet year; some continue to eat bread with honey until the end of the fall cycle of holidays. A London Jew named David Roth has, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, been cultivating the substance himself, and has come to see his hobby in religious terms. Honey and its production also have a unique place in Jewish law. For instance, it is the only kosher food derived from a non-kosher animal. Cnaan Lidor writes:
“I’m a religious person; I don’t believe that the world was created by accident. And when you see the wonders of how bees work and operate, it makes you feel good about God,” [said] Roth, who uses the beeswax candles for Havdalah, the prayer ritual performed at the end of Shabbat.
As a religion with deep agricultural roots, Judaism has a well-documented approach to apiculture, encompassing both the keeper’s responsibility toward their bees and detailing the legal complications that can occur when a swarm leaves its hive. Beekeeping is one of the few situations when children can serve as witnesses according to halakhah: . . . if a child testifies that a swarm originated in an owner’s beehive, then the swarm can be returned to the owner based on his testimony.
Another rare exception, which attests to the significance that beekeeping had before humans learned to mass-produce sugar: bee owners may trespass—a big deal in Judaism—to retrieve escaped or errant bee swarms. They may even cut down branches of other people’s trees—another big deal—but are obliged to compensate the land’s owner for any damage they cause.