Jewish holidays are rife with food symbols, and the High Holy Days are no different. We eat many symbolic foods for Rosh HaShanah, but we may not know what all of them mean. If you want to go deeper with your understanding of the holiday, then you will definitely want to know the meaning behind the foods you are eating. In this post, I’m going to explain the meaning behind some of the most common (and not so common) Rosh HaShanah foods. If you want to learn about more symbols of this holiday you can read my post on The Symbolism of Rosh HaShanah.
Apples & Honey
The quintessential symbol of Rosh HaShanah, apples and honey represent all that this holy day represents. We yearn for a sweet year, not just during the start of the year, but throughout the year as well. Apples are sweet and honey is sweet, but when you combine them, the sweetness melds into a deeper level without becoming overpowering. Also, apples have been traditionally seen as having healing properties (you know- they keep the doctor away!).
During Rosh HaShanah, we take our usual braided challah and make it round. The shape symbolizes the creation of the world, as Jewish mystical teaching says that G-d created the world at Rosh HaShanah.The roundness of the challah also symbolizes the circle of life (Hey, I hear Simba loved to eat it on the African plains!) as well as the wheel/cycle of the seasons. We often also stud our Rosh HaShanah challah with raisins or apples. This is another way to symbolize the sweet wishes for the upcoming year.
Fish or Ram’s Head
Traditionally, a ram’s head or the head of a carp is used to symbolize the head of the new year. It’s also a way to symbolize our desire for personal leadership as is reflected in the holiday blessing: May it be G-d’s will that we will be a head and not a tail. If you’re vegetarian or don’t have access to an animal head, you can substitute a head of lettuce.
The pomegranate is another iconic symbol of Rosh HaShanah. The numerous seeds are said to represent the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. No matter what your level of religious observance is, we can all agree that the wish for a year filled with good deeds is an honorable one.
There are several other foods that have symbolic meaning for Rosh HaShanah. These foods take their meaning from the sound of the Hebrew words.
Dates– The word dates (tamar) resembles the word end (yitamu), so dates are eaten for the wish that hatred will end.
String Beans– String beans are eaten because we wish for our merits to increase. The Hebrew word rubia resembles yirbu (increase).
Squash– Root vegetables, usually pumpkin or gourds, are eaten as a symbolic prayer that G-d will tear away all evil decrees against us. K’ra resembles the word for tear, likroah.
Spinach– The word for spinach (selek) resembles the word for retreat (yistalku). As such, we eat spinach in hopes that all of our enemies will retreat.
I hope today’s post helped you to understand the rich meaning behind your favorite symbolic foods for Rosh HaShanah.
Which of these foods is your favorite? Did you learn the symbolic meaning behind a food that you weren’t already aware of? Let me know by leaving a comment below.