Top 5 Symbolic Foods of Rosh Hashanah

Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition.
Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition.
Photo by Elena Amsterdam

At Sunday, this Wednesday, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, one of the most important times of the year for observant Jews, and with this holiday, comes many traditions and rituals. Some of the more fascinating (and, might I say, delicious) customs involve the consumption of certain symbolic foods. Here are five of the most important:

5. Fenugreek. One of the earliest traditional foods of Rosh Hashanah, fenugreek, a plant indigenous to southeast Asia and the Middle East, is named in the Babylonian Talmud as a food to be eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Historians believe the religious significance attached to this plant may derive from the fact that its name resembles the Hebrew word for "multiply"; thus, consumption of fenugreek may have been seen as a way to multiply good fortune in new year. Today, fenugreek seeds are toasted and ground for incorporation in curries, sauces, and salsas.

4. Fish (Heads). Fish is one of the staple foods of Jewish holidays because it symbolizes fertility and reproduction. And since Rosh Hashanah literally means "head of the year," many Jews believe consuming the head of a fish such as will bring additional good tidings by ensuring their position at the "head" rather than the "tail" end of things.

Pomegranates, a traditional "new fruit" of Rosh Hashanah
Pomegranates, a traditional "new fruit" of Rosh Hashanah
Photo by Jim Forest

3. Pomegranates. Custom dictates that "new fruit" be consumed on the second night of Rosh Hashanah to herald in the new year. Pomegranates are often the fruit of choice not only because they were a favorite among the ancient Israelites, but also because they are said to contain 613 seeds, which have come to symbolize the 613 mitzvoth (commandments) Jews pledge to uphold in the year to come.

2. Round Challah Bread. Challah bread is a familiar staple of Jewish cuisine, but circular loaves of this wonderful egg bread are specifically consumed on Rosh Hashanah. Round challah symbolizes the circular quality of life, the inevitable highs and lows, and the ultimately infinite cycle of birth and death. Often, pieces of challah, like apples (see #1) are dipped in syrup or honey.

Round Challah
Round Challah
Photo by Sid

1. Apples Dipped in Honey. Honey, an ancient symbol of wealth and good fortune, is eaten with apples (and sometimes challah) the first night of Rosh Hashanah in the hopes of hastening a "sweet" new year. The apple itself refers back to the Garden of Eden, which is described in various Jewish texts as an "apple orchard" or said to have smelled of apples.

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