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The Symbolic Foods of Rosh Hashanah
With the Jewish New Year just weeks away, it is the perfect time to begin your preparation. While much of our time is occupied with spiritual readiness, there are also physical preparations taking place. Like many other Jewish holidays, the meals during Rosh Hashanah are filled with special foods connecting the past with the present.
If you begin your work now, you can ease into the holidays with less pressure and more meaning. Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment, the time when G-d determines what the year ahead has in store for us. The month prior to Rosh Hashanah (Elul) is the perfect time for introspection and for setting goals for the upcoming year. The meals we create to honor the New Year represent our renewed commitment and devotion to achieving our goals.
Here are some of the symbolic foods seen at a traditional Rosh Hashanah meal.
The food item most people associate with Rosh Hashanah is the round challah.
Its shape represents the cyclical nature of the year. While we call it a round challah, it is actually a spiral, and the spiral symbolizes growth and change.
You can find many recipes for a sweet, New Year challah. Many of them will add extra honey, sugar or even chunks of apple.
Apples and honey are another Rosh Hashanah tradition that comes to mind. We bring extra sweetness to our Rosh Hashanah meals and avoid serving salty or bitter foods. Our wish, of course, is that we are about to enter a year filled with sweet things. Make sure to pick sweet apples for dipping in honey in order to increase the amount of sweetness at your table.
On many Rosh Hashanah tables you will find the head of a fish. Rosh means head, and Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year. The fish is on our table along with a bracha (blessing) that we may be like the head or a leader rather than the tail or a follower. Fish are also a symbol of abundance and fertility.
If you can’t imagine preparing a fish head for your table, you might want to consider substituting a head of cabbage. Or, you can get more creative (and yummy, perhaps) serving the tops of candy fish or fish crackers.
The Yiddish word for Carrot is merren which means “more”. On Rosh Hashanah, it is tradition to serve a dish with carrots. Our desire is for more - to increase good deeds, acquire more wealth, and gain additional knowledge.
If you are tired of kugels or tsimmes, pay a visit to some of the vegetarian websites for creative ideas for preparing carrots. You can find a unique side dish, a soup, or muffins and cakes.
It is customary on the second night to eat a new fruit, one that you have not yet eaten this season. A fruit commonly found on the Rosh Hashanah table is the pomegranate. The pomegranates many seeds are said to number 613, the number of mitzvot G-d gave to us. We eat it in the hopes of increasing our mitzvot.
You can eat the seeds directly from the pomegranate or, if you have the time for one more recipe, you might want to try - pomegranate in your salad, a pomegranate molasses marinade, or a dessert highlighting pomegranate.
We use leeks in our menu to cut off our enemies. The Hebrew word for leek sounds like another Hebrew word which means to “cut off”.
Try a green bean, leeks and carrot dish (killing two birds with one stone) or a leek soup.
Beets are eaten to remove our adversaries. The Hebrew word for beet sounds like the Hebrew word for remove.
Roasting beets with other vegetables is an easy way to bring them to your table. You can also create a salad using beets.
The first vegetable mentioned in the Talmud as one that should be a part of our meal is the gourd. Gourd in Hebrew sounds like the word for “read” or “proclaim”. Our hope, in serving gourds with our meal, is that our merits may be proclaimed!
Pumpkin is a unique and exciting food to include in your menu. You can use it in a dessert or in a rice or stuffing dish.
Fenugreek is another traditional food served at Rosh Hashanah. In Hebrew, the word for fenugreek sounds like the word for increase. As we approach the day our fate is sealed (Yom Kippur), we certainly wish for our merit to increase.
The best place to find a great recipe using fenugreek is on an Indian website. There are many vegetable side dishes and grain recipes using fenugreek.
In my opinion, dessert is the best way to end any meal. Dates are a perfect addition to dessert. The Hebrew word for date is close in spelling to the Hebrew word for “consumed”. Our desire that our enemies be finished or consumed is most fitting with a dessert that we also hope will be devoured and finished by our guests.
There are many websites with a variety of dessert recipes. You can use dates in muffins, cakes or candy rolls.
Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, is the time of year we appeal to G-d for the things that we want – not a new car or the shoes from the expensive department store, but the things we truly need in our lives. The foods at Rosh Hashanah, rich in symbols, express our needs and demonstrate our understanding that everything ultimately comes from G-d.
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