Rosh Hashanah Seder

When thinking about Rosh Hashanah food, one almost automatically thinks of the famous apples and honey combination.  From a young age, we are taught the tradition through the song “dip the apple in the honey”, and actually look forward to this tasty act as the Jewish New Year gets closer.  Jewish holidays are filled with copious amounts of delicious foods, but besides for the glorious apples and honey, little know about the feast involved in a Rosh Hashanah Seder. Hours shorter than your average Passover Seder, this tradition is only a starter to your meal.  Mainly practiced among the Sephardi community, the Rosh Hashanah Seder is comprised of eating dates, small beans, leeks, beets, gourds, pomegranates, apples with honey and a ram’s or fish head. It might seem completely random, but the brachot– blessings- said over the food brings everything together. Done on both nights of the two day holiday, the Rosh Hashanah Seder is a fun way to switch things up while trying some new foods!

Dates

“That there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us”

The date, or “tamar” in Hebrew, is one of the Seven Species native to Israel since biblical times. Besides for saying the regular blessing over fruit before, immediately after we eat the date, we say another blessing of which the end is written above. In Hebrew, the word for “end” is “tam”, which we then derive from the word “tamar”. Some say for the Seder that one should eat fresh dates as that was what they did back in the day but dried dates are much sweeter and there is a tradition to eat sweet things for a sweet year, so the choice is up to you.

Small Beans

“That our merits shall increase and that You hearten us.”

To say “small beans” leaves an unlimited selection as to what to eat during this part of the seder. Many often choose to enjoy green beans or black-eyed peas on their own or as a part of a dish, as long as the focus is on the beans when saying the blessing.  The word for these beans is “rubiya” or “lubiya” which we get the words “rav” (many) and “lev” (heart) from. With the small beans, we ask that our merits should increase and be many (rav) and that God should hearten us (lev).  Many also say the word “rav” can refer to the food itself, as it is a food that you do not just eat one, but rather many.

Leek

“That our enemies, haters, and those who wish evil upon us shall be cut down”

You don’t have to eat plain leeks for this part of the seder but instead turn them into something yummy and enjoyable to eat such as leek latkes! In Aramaic, the word for leek is “karti” which is similar to the word “yikartu” meaning to “cut”.  During this blessing we ask that God cut down our enemies and haters who wish evil upon us. Many feel uncomfortable wishing for these types of things on their enemies, so some interpret enemies as our yetzer harah– evil inclination. By using this interpretation, we are then asking God to take down our bad side so that we can become better people in the new year.

Beets

“That our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us shall depart.”

Beets, or “selek” in Hebrew, represents our enemies retreating from us as the word “selek” is similar to “yistalku”- “to depart”. Beets are actually part of the modern tradition for this part of the Rosh Hashanah Seder, as a leafy green vegetable such as spinach was used. The word “silka” is Aramaic for a type of leafy green eaten in biblical times that is said to be similar to spinach or Swiss Chard. The choice is yours when it comes to what to eat in connection to the blessing.

Gourd

“That the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you.”

A gourd or pumpkin is something almost any American can connect to as it fits into the autumn theme that is right around the corner. Fall is peak season for pumpkin, leaving endless of delicious options to make with it and don’t be afraid to get creative with what to make.  In the blessing, we ask that God should tear away any evil decrees against us, as the Aramaic word for gourd is “k’ra”. “K’ra” sounds very similar to the word for “to tear”- “karaa”.

Pomegranates

“That we be filled with mitzvot (commandments) like a pomegranate”

One of the Seven Species, pomegranate or “rimon” actually does not represent a word in the blessing like all other parts of the Seder. Rather, a pomegranate is full of seeds, just like we should be full of righteous mitzvahs- commandments. When saying the blessing, we say just that. In Israel, pomegranate season actually starts around the time of the fall Jewish holidays, which is part of the reason they are have such a presence this time of year.

Apples and Honey

“That You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey.”

Obviously the famous apples and honey combination is a part of the Rosh Hashanah Seder! While in the blessing it only mentions honey, the question comes up as to where the apple came from when saying the blessing for a sweet new year. There are two main reasons- one is that an apple is round and on Rosh Hashanah we eat round foods to represent coming full cycle with the year.  The other opinion is that an apple represents Gan Eden, which supposedly smells like an apple orchard.

Ram’s Head or Fish Head

“That we be a head and not a tail.”

Not too many people choose to buy a ram’s head or fish head, but the meaning behind it is that we should be the head not the tail when we begin this new year. Rather than buying something many people probably will not eat, some choose to get a head of lettuce, or if you prefer a sweeter option, buy some gummy fish and serve only their heads. When it comes to the actual animals, a ram is said to represent strong leadership while a fish represents the chance to always look out for good opportunities as fish are constantly swimming around.

A New Fruit

“Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.” 

While not actually a part of the Rosh Hashanah Seder, people have the tradition to say the blessing of Shehecheyanu which is said over a new experience, which in this case is a new fruit.  While there are few “new” fruits out there, it can also be a fruit that you have no eaten in over a year.  Rosh Hashanah is a special time of the year and by trying something new, we are bringing in the new year with a chance to become “new” people, even better than we were in the past year.

The Rosh Hashanah Seder is a fun and new way to experience the Jewish new year and start off your meal. It is important to remember that these foods do not need to be eaten raw or alone, but just need to be isolated or majority for a bracha to be made on them. Take the chance to partake in this special tradition and enjoy whatever delicious foods you might cook up for each blessing! Shana Tova U’Metuka!

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