The rabbi, his faddishly decaled T-shirt partially obscured by his footlong beard, was handing out honey-dipped apple slices on the steps of the University of Maryland's student union.

"Have a sweet new year," he wished the passing Jewish students who sampled the sugary fruit.

Whether it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebration that began yesterday at sundown, or another religious occasion, Rabbi Moshe Silverman is frequently seen around the College Park campus.

Sometimes he wears his long black coat and broad-brimmed black hat, the familiar attire of male Chasidic Jews in the Lubavitch movement, a passionately orthodox sect inspired by Jewish mysticism and the rapture of-joyful faith.

On this occasion, the 30-year-old rabbi, who works solely among students, was relying on the T-shirt craze to draw attention to the holiday. "Learn Torah - It's the Real Thing," read his blue T-shirt's eye-catching red emblem that could easily be mistaken for a common soft drink insignia.

On the first night of the two-day obsevance, Jews in the spirit of anticipation and renewal dip an apple - the symbol of the earth's fertility - into honey - a source of sweetness - in seeking God's blessing for a sweet new year.

On the second night, it is customary to eat new fruit of the season. Many Jews prepare round loaves of hallah bread to express the hope that the new year will be rounded out and perfect.

The observance is both joyous and penitential, a solemn period of reconciliation and confrontation with the events of the past year and a celebration of creation and God's blessings. Families and friends gather in their homes for ritual meals and in their synagogues for prayers. Worshippers at Rabbi Silverman's traditional services will spend up to six hours in the temple each day.

In 10 days, the High Holidays will culminate with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and, for the most observant, a period of total fasting and sexual abstinence, coupled with abstention from bathing or the wearing of cosmetics. At the close of worship, the loud, long piercing blasts of the shofar (ram's horn) calls Jews to look into their souls.

The services led by Rabbi Silverman at the Hillel auditorium in College Park will incorporate one distinct alteration from contemporate o customs surrounding the High Holidays. Worshippers may attend without making reservations - the seats in most synagogues are reserved long before the holidays begin - and without paying the fees that, at some local temples, can reach as high as $75 a person for Rosh Hashanah services.

The fees and reservations are signs of how "businesslike" Judaism has become, Rabbi Silverman lamented.

The encumbrances of institutionalized religion and the inclination to hide rather than demonstrate one's spiritual path are two modern tendencies the Chasidim say they are resisting as they practice ancient religious and cultural traditions.

"If God is eternal, then the Jewish way of life is eternal," said the quiet-spoken Silverman, who adopted the Chasidic way as a teen-ager in Toronto. His wife, Rochel, also found traditional Judaism more meaningful than her more liberal religious up-bringing.

So, the 10 couples in the Chasidic community in College Park, including Physicians, federal employees and probation officers, walk to sabbath services, dress conservatively (Rochel Silverman is careful to cover her upper arms and her legs above the knee) and keep kosher rigorously.

"No one says it is not easy," said the rabbi. "You're traveling on the highway to New York and you're hungry and the only restaurant available is a MacDonalds. Well, I keep kosher, so we have to pack soggy sandwiches."

It is also this visible religious zealousness and the proselytizing of non-practicing Jews, particularly on American campuses, that draws criticism of the Lubavitch Sect from other segments of the Jewish community.

To this, Silverman replies with a smile: "Extremism can drive the cuplous away, but it also can answer some questions. I certainly avoid the missionary attitude. That's not my pitch. My statement is to a Jew; what do you know about Judaism?"

"If I can give a person a drop of Judaism, I'm happy," he said.