This week coincidentally marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year celebration of Rosh Hashanah [literally “Head of the Year”]. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the birth of the world and of humankind, and the beginning of a new year on the Jewish calendar. [This year is 5773, for those keeping score at home.] Why should you care? Because it’s an ancient tradition, and besides sounding the cool shofar ram’s horn, it’s a holiday — and there is fine feasting to be had.
Challah, and Apples, and Beets, Oh My!
Rosh Hashanah meals include foods with symbolic meanings. Round foods symbolize the circle of the year, and sweet foods embody the wish for a happy “sweet” new year. For example, the braided Challah bread present at every Shabbos dinner is specially braided into a round loaf at Rosh Hashanah, and passed around the dinner table with new honey for dipping, round and sweet.
Each of the special prayers offered during the Rosh Hashanah meal are prefaced with “Yehi Ratzon” — “May it be Your will”, and the foods eaten at this time have also become known as “yehi ratzones”. Typical Yehi Ratzon foods include:
- apples dipped in honey. Sometimes apples are baked in an apple-honey cake or are served in the form of a compote called mansanada;
- pomegranates [round *and* sweet], which are filled with luscious little seeds that representing your many good mitzvahs or deeds;
- black eyed peas [searching my brain for a Fergie or will.i.am joke, but I got nothin’], or Lubia, a Syrian symbol of prosperity and good luck;
- fenugreek or, rubia, which not coincidentally is the Hebrew word for increase;
- beets, a pun on the Hebrew word for remove, eaten as a wish to remove obstacles and hindrances to your success.
It is also common to symbolize a year “stuffed” with blessings on Rosh Hashanah by eating foods with stuffing, like poultry or vegetables. The feast may also feature meat from the head of an animal or fish [to symbolize the “head” of the year, or served with a prayer for guidance that their actions in the New Year be guided as those of “a head, and not a tail.”]
Rosh Hashanah is the kickoff to the ten High Holy Days, a time of introspection and repentance, during which [in between delicious meals] people should meditate on the year gone by, and the year to come, asking for forgiveness from anyone they have wronged. At the end of the ten “days of awe,” comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.