During the Jewish new year called Rosh Hashanah, traditional foods with symbolic meaning are served .Just as you will find marzot on the table during Passover, doughnuts at Hanukkah and dried fruit at Tu Beshat, the special food of Rosh Hashanah have it’s own symbolic meaning connected to the holiday.
Rosh Hashanah is a solemn holiday, since this is the time when Jews are being judged for their actions during the previous year. It is a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the coming year. Still, a festive meal is served because people believe that a merciful God has forgiven them their sins and will provide for a sweet new year.
Honey is eaten during Rosh Hashanah to focus on the fact that people hope for a sweet new year. Apples are dipped into honey as well as challah. Challah is the sweet bread that Jews eat on Shabbat and holidays. It is usually dipped in salt, but on Rosh Hashanah the challah is dipped in honey after the blessing of the bread. It is the custom in Israel to give to friends, family and colleagues a small jar of honey with the words “Hag Sameach” (Happy Holiday) or “Shana Tova” (A good year) written on it.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish holiday where people send each other greetings cards. Some of these cards have a little plastic container of honey inside them. A favourite staple of Rosh hashanah is honey cake and “dufsaniot”, honey cookies. About a month before the holidays the supermarkets are already selling these delicious desserts.
At the festive meal on the evening of Rosh Hashanah people dip pieces of apples in honey and recite a prayer that asks God to give them a year as sweet as the fruit they are eating. The reason how come apples are eaten goes back to the time when Jacob tricked his father Isak to give him Esau’s blessing. Isak, who was blind, said that his son “smelled like the field which Hashem has blessed”. This field was an apple field and Isak’s blessing was given during Rosh Hashanah. This is why it is fitting to eat apples on the same day that people want to be blessed themselves. You may also be served with apple pie, baked whole apples and even apple jelly during the time surrounding the new year.
During a holiday it is a custom of Jews to eat a seasonal fruit that they have not tasted yet in order to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer. The Shehechiyanu prayer thanks God for bringing people into a new season symbolized by seasonal fruit as well as remind people to be grateful for the fruits of the earth. Since pomegranates are in season during the fall, they are often eaten as the seasonal fruit for Rosh hashanah. They also symbolize a rich and fruitful life, just like the many seeds of the pomegranate.
You will most certainly find a fish head on the festive Rosh Hashanah table, but you do not have to eat it. The fish head represents the “head” of the New Year and a prayer is said to ask God to make the Jews as many and as fruitful as the fish in the sea.
Beets, leeks, fenugreek and dates
These are food that are also found on the Rosh Hashanh table, though they are lesser known. Their symbolism usually are connected to the way their names sound like.
Leeks are eaten because the Hebrew word for leek sounds like the words cut off. As in to cut off our enemies.
The word for beets sound like the word “remove” – to remove the adversaries.
Fenugreek sounds like the word “increase” – to hope for an increase of merit during the New Year.
Dates in Hebrew is similar to the word for “consumed”.They are eaten with the hope that enemies will be consumed. Dates are also a fruit that is plentiful during the fall in Israel, in time to celebrate Rosh Hashanah
Do not think that it ends here. Every family has it’s favourite festive food like meat, chicken, potatoes, rice and vegetables that is eaten after all the blessings have been said and all the symbolic food were eaten. And to end the meal? A nice slice of honeycake served with mint tea!