10 Symbolic Rosh Hashanah Foods From the Garden

September 4, 2013 by

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Photo, Mike Goldberg

A time for family gathering and feasting, Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year, marks the beginning the High Holy Days, the ten days between it and Yom Kippur, in which people of the Jewish faith make atonement for sins of the past year and hope for a prosperous “good and sweet year.”

Here are ten symbolic foods from the garden traditionally shared on Rosh Hashanah as simanim or “good omens” of success and happiness for the coming year–most being a play on various words:

1. Honey
Archaeological evidence indicates that beekeeping was practiced in ancient Israel, and to symbolize the sweetness, blessings, and abundance, the custom on Rosh Hashanah is to eat sweet foods that contain honey. While reciting of the blessing over the challah, one dips pieces of the traditional round bread into honey to recall the Land of Israel, often referred to as the land of “milk and honey.”

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Photo via Wadam.

2. Apples
For the same reason, it’s traditional to dip apple slices into honey while reciting a prayer for a sweet new year. This sweet fruit is associated with a number of biblical stories, including the scent of the Garden of Eden, but apples were also plentiful and readily available this time of year in Israel.

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Photo via Pinterest.

3. Pomegranates
As another expression of the sweetness of the season, fruit is traditionally eaten or included as an ingredient in many of this holiday’s recipes. According to Biblical folklore, the pomegranate or rimon supposedly has 613 seeds, the same number of mitzvot, or laws, that the Jewish people are supposed to follow.

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Photo, Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

4. Carrots
Gezer, the Hebrew word for carrot, sounds like g’zar, which means decree and is meant symbolize that all negative decrees against us will be nullified. The Yiddish words mehren  (carrots) and mer (more) are very similar, so for Yiddish speakers, carrots connote “more” or “to multiply,” perhaps meaning that we want to have more children, want more wealth, gain more Torah knowledge, give more charity, and perform more good deeds.

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Photo via Pinterest.

5. Beets or Spinach
The Hebrew word for beets, selek is similar to the word for “remove.” Eaten to express the hope that our enemies will depart. In Aramaic, the language of the Gemara, silka referred to a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach, some believing this leafy green is the original symbolic food for Rosh Hashanah.

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Photo via Pinterest.

6. Black-Eyed Peas, String Beans, or Fenugreek
Rubia or rubiyah or several different types of small beans, green beans, or fenugreek, is reminiscent of the word yirbu, “to increase.” These foods symbolize greenery for success, prosperity, and fullness, with the hope for a fruitful year filled with merit. Akin also to the secular New Year’s Eve tradition of making black-eyed peas to bring good luck in the coming year, many in the Syrian Jewish community prepare them for Rosh Hashanah. In lubiya in Hebrew or Arabic, their meaning suggests that our merits should be as plentiful as black-eyed peas.

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Photo via Pinterest.

7. Swiss Chard
The Arabic word silleq for this vegetable is close to the Hebrew word “to remove” or “cast away.” Swiss chard is consumed to symbolize the hope that our enemies (or perhaps bad deeds or debts) will disappear so we don’t have to ignore them.

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Photo via Pinterest.

8. Leeks or Cabbage
The words karti/karsi for leeks or cabbage is related to the word kareyt, to cut, and for cabbage This symbol is linked to a prayer that those who wish to hurt us will instead be cut off.

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Photo via Pinterest.

9. Gourds or Squash
The Hebrew words for gourd qara or squash ara are related to the Hebrew homonyms pronounced k’ra,  meaning “to rip,” or “to announce,” perhaps meaning “tear” or  that we want to tear up any evil decrees against us, keeping the ‘evil eye’ away.

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Photo via Pinterest.

10. Dates
The Hebrew word for dates, t’marim, evokes the word tam, “to end,” and the hope that our enemies will vanish. Another more positive translation is “sense of awe.” Dates, like pomegranates, are one of the Seven Species of Israel. Some believe that when Israel was called “a land flowing with milk and honey,” the Torah was referring to date honey. Moroccan Jews dip dates in anise seeds, sesame seeds, and powdered sugar to “date the new year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all mankind.”

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Photo via Pinterest.

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