Pomegranates are a popular fruit to eat during Rosh Hashanah and a significant symbol in Judaism year-round. Since Rosh Hashanah 2021 begins on September 6 at sundown, now is the perfect time to learn more about the significance and symbolism of the pomegranate in Judaism and Rosh Hashanah.
Pomegranates in the Torah and other Jewish texts
Pomegranates are mentioned many times throughout the Torah, the Tanakh, the Talmud, and other Jewish texts. In the Torah, pomegranates are listed as one of the Seven Species that are native to Israel. Rabbis wrote that the Seven Species were special because the Land of Israel is the only place that the species grew in close proximity to each other, and because together, they provide the necessary nutrients for survival.
In Numbers, when the 12 spies return from scouting Canaan, a pomegranate is one of the items they bring back with them. Pomegranates are also mentioned in Exodus, where they are described as adorning the robes of the high priest in the Temple.
Pomegranates are also mentioned frequently in Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim), where the narrator compares a woman’s limbs to “an orchard of pomegranates” and her glow to an open pomegranate. The juicy fruit is also mentioned several times in the Talmud, where it is often used as a metaphor for the mitzvot, as well as acknowledged for its beauty and revered as a particularly special fruit.
What do pomegranates symbolize in Judaism?
The red fruits are mentioned so frequently in Song of Songs because pomegranates symbolize love and fertility, much like Song of Songs. Some great Jewish thinkers have drawn parallels between fertility and pomegranates because of the abundance of seeds inside the fruit.
In Talmudic times, it was thought that each pomegranate has 613 seeds inside, which is the same amount of mitzvot (commandments) that were given to the Jewish people. While we now know that the amount of seeds inside a pomegranate ranges greatly (anywhere from 200 to more than 1,000!), the significance of pomegranates has continued on.
Today, pomegranates are a popular motif and symbol that can be found on all kinds of Judaica, jewelry, art, and home décor. The sweet and tart fruit is also a symbol of the modern State of Israel and its agricultural success. In Israel, you can find pomegranate orchards everywhere from the Golan Heights to the Negev Desert, where farmers grow more than 60,000 tons of pomegranates each year.
Why do we eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah specifically?
Pomegranates are a symbol of Rosh Hashanah for several reasons. One of the most widespread and logical explanations is that the pomegranate harvest in the Land of Israel occurs around the same time as the High Holidays: in late August through October or early November. Since the fruit is ready to eat right around the holiday, pomegranates are also frequently used as the “new fruit” eaten on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, as one is supposed to use a fruit that they have not eaten in a long time.
Pomegranates are also one of the special fruits used during the Rosh Hashanah seder, a custom popular among Sephardic Jews.
Many rabbis also say that the abundance of seeds within the pomegranate symbolizes the abundance of blessings and goodness that we pray for at the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Kabbalistic interpretations also say that just as we look at a pomegranate and know the best part is inside, God looks at us during Elul and the High Holidays and sees beyond our hard shell.
Is there a special blessing or prayer that we should say before eating a pomegranate?
During a Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder, the following is recited:
Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu, she’nihiyeh m’lei’im mitzvot ka’rimon.
May it be Your will, God and the God of our ancestors, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].
If you choose to use a pomegranate as the new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, you should recite the Shecheyahu blessing either after lighting holiday candles or after saying Kiddush and Hamotzi. The Schecheyanu is:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
The bracha (blessing) said over a pomegranate at any time of the year is:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha’eitz.
Blessed are You Hashem our God king of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the trees.
To learn more about other Rosh Hashanah traditions, check out our Shofar 101 guide.