On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there are several traditional fruits and symbolic foods that are eaten as part of the festive meal. These foods, known as “simanim” in Hebrew (literally ‘symbols’), hold special significance and are associated with specific blessings and symbolic meanings. Additionally, the Shehecheyanu blessing is recited during Rosh Hashanah to express gratitude for reaching this special moment in time. Let’s explore these elements in more detail:
- Apples and Honey: One of the most well-known symbols of Rosh Hashanah is dipping apples in honey. Apples represent a sweet and fruitful year ahead, while honey symbolizes the hope for a sweet and prosperous new year.
- Pomegranate: The pomegranate is a fruit with many seeds, and it is associated with abundance and fertility. It is said that a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments in Jewish tradition. The consumption of pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah signifies the desire for a year filled with abundant blessings and good deeds.
- Dates: Dates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah because the Hebrew word for “date” (tamar) sounds similar to the word for “end” or “consumed” (yitamu). The phrase “May our enemies be consumed” is often recited, expressing the hope for the end of any negativity or obstacles in the new year.
- Fish: Fish, often a head of a fish, is another common symbol on the Rosh Hashanah table. The Hebrew word for fish (dag) is associated with the word for increase or multiply (dagiya). Thus, eating fish represents the wish for increased blessings and prosperity in the coming year.
- Carrots: Carrots, or other root vegetables like beets or turnips, are eaten on Rosh Hashanah because their Yiddish name, “meren,” sounds similar to the Yiddish word for “increase.” Consuming these vegetables signifies the hope for increased merits and good deeds in the new year.
There are many more of these, including leaks, mutton, potato, beets, or gourd, but as far as tradition goes this is fairly open. It’s nice to include all of those, especially apples, pomegranates, and dates or the rest of the 7 Species, but people even make up their own simanim. For example: have a lime to start off a sublime year. Get creative!
People also like to cook some of these foods into special dishes like a leak kugel or apple pie.
The Shehecheyanu blessing is recited for lighting candles and saying kiddush on holidays; it marks the start of something new to that. Rosh Hashanah has that but also we say the bracha shehecheyanu right after the bracha for eating the fruits. This blessing expresses gratitude for reaching this special moment and for the opportunity to experience the joy of a new year. The blessing goes as follows:
“Baruch atah Ad•nai, El•heinu Melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu v’kiyemanu v’higi’anu lazman hazeh.”
(“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”)
Reciting the Shehecheyanu blessing and going through the different simanim acknowledges the blessings and the continuity of life, expressing gratitude and excitement for the opportunity to celebrate and experience another year. May this year be a year full of seeing Hashem’s blessings in your life!