The Symbolic Foods of Rosh Hashanah

The Symbolic Foods of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on the evening of September 9th and ends on Tuesday September 11th, is perhaps the most important holiday in the Jewish religion. The two-day holiday, the only one that’s celebrated as two days both in Israel and the Diaspora, is a celebration of the Jewish New Year, during which we recognize the day that G-d created Adam and Eve. In addition to being a celebration of our creation, it is also a time for accounting and judgment of our actions. And, as with most Jewish holidays and customs, we celebrate and mark the occasion with food. 

On the Jewish New Year we greet one another with the words Shanah Tovah or Shana Tova u'Metukah, Hebrew for “a good year" or "a good and sweet new year!” As a result, our table is deliberately filled with foods that symbolize sweetness, blessings, and abundance and reflect a hope for happy, prosperous days to come.

If your family is anything like mine, you’ve been discussing, or at least contemplating, the menu for weeks now.
Here are a few of our favorite ingredients to include in your feast, along with JEW-ishly-approved recipes that should impress even the most critical of Jewish mothers or mothers in law.  
​You’re welcome.

Sweet challah
The Challah is round on Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the circle of life. It is also symbolic of a crown, alluding to the desire to crown G-d as king.  The challah is then dipped in honey instead of salt, our typical Shabbat tradition.
We battled with our parents yearly to find, or bake, raisin-less challah for the holiday. Now that we're in charge, we're team Sans-Raisin-Challah! Challah at us if you agree.

Here is the sweet and salty challah from Smitten Kitchen: it's got figs AND salt, and will make for a fantastic french toast if there are any leftovers.

Apples dipped in honey
One of the most well-known traditions of the Jewish New Year that's been passed down for centuries is eating apples dipped in honey.
The sweet treat symbolizes more than just the sweet new year Jews hope to be blessed with. The apple also represents Gan Eden, or the Garden of Eden, as we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

Fish head (yes fish head!)
Since Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” in Hebrew, many Sephardic Jews will feast on the head of a fish. In Jewish culture, fish represents fertility and abundance, and metaphorically the head represents being a leader and not a follower.  

The pomegranate, or rimon, is special for several reasons. The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot.  It is also said that the pomegranate consists of 613 seeds, which is why we eat it on Rosh Hashanah. But there's another link between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year -- just as the fruits are full of seeds, we hope we'll be similarly full of merits in the coming year. 

We love Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook for many reasons, and this delicious Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut and pomegranate seed salad is no exception. 

The Hebrew word for beet is Selek, to remove, and is eaten to express that we hope our enemies are removed. 
This beets and carmelized onion recipe can serve as your base: you can add sauteed mushrooms and anything else you like to dial it up or down.  Feel free to take out the feta and pine nuts if you don’t like those.  And you can, of course, use fresh beets, rather than canned.  Many grocery stores now sell cooked beets in the produce section for lazy people, like me.

The date, tamar, shares sounds with the verb “finish” (tam) in Hebrew and comes with the wish that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us. 

Though mentioned often in the Bible, figs are probably most famously associated with the story of Creation. When Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden, they cover themselves with fig leaves. Some have even argued that the forbidden fruit was actually a fig, not an apple.
I love figs! they're one of my favorite foods to eat on their own or with cheese, when in season. They're sweet and full of flavor and make a perfect sweet addition to your feast. They also look beautiful and can serve a dual purpose as a centerpiece.

Honey cake 
In our family, no one skips dessert! This Honey Cake, also from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, not your mother’s dry, barely edible honey cake.

Wishing you, and yours, Shanah Tovah u’Metukah.  May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may we be blessed with many simchas in the coming year.

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