Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה) is the Jewish New Year. Over the centuries it has become associated with many food customs, for instance, eating sweet food to symbolize our hopes for a "Sweet New Year."
Honey (Apples and Honey)
Biblical texts often mention "honey" as the sweetener of choice though some historians believe that the honey referenced in the Bible was actually a sort of fruit paste. Real honey was, of course, available but much more difficult to acquire! Honey represented good living and wealth. The Land of Israel is often called the land of "milk and honey" in the Bible.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we dip challah into honey and say the blessing over the challah. Then we dip apple slices into honey and say a prayer asking God for a sweet year. Slices of apple dipped in honey are often served to Jewish children – either at home or in religious school - as a special Rosh HaShanah snack.
After apples and honey, round loaves of challah are the most recognizable food symbol of Rosh HaShanah. Challah is a kind of braided egg bread that is traditionally served by Jews on Shabbat. During Rosh HaShanah, however, the loaves are shaped into spirals or rounds symbolizing the continuity of Creation. Sometimes raisins or honey are added to the recipe in order to make the resulting loaves extra sweet. (Click here to learn more about challah shapes and meanings.)
Many Jewish households make honey cakes on Rosh HaShanah as another way to symbolically express their wishes for a Sweet New Year. Often people will use a recipe that has been passed down through the generations. Honey cake can be made with a variety of spices, though autumnal spices (cloves, cinnamon, allspice) are especially popular. Different recipes call for the use of coffee, tea, orange juice or even rum to add an additional dimension of flavor.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a "new fruit" – meaning, a fruit that has recently come into season but that we have not yet had the opportunity to eat. When we eat this new fruit, we say the shehechiyanu blessing thanking God for keeping us alive and bringing us to this season. This ritual reminds us to appreciate the fruits of the earth and being alive to enjoy them.
A pomegranate is often used as this new fruit. In the Bible, the Land of Israel is praised for its pomegranates. It is also said that this fruit contains 613 seeds just as there are 613 mitzvot. Another reason given for blessing and eating pomegranate on Rosh HaShanah is that we wish that our good deeds in the ensuing year will be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate.
Rosh HaShanah literally means "head of the year" in Hebrew. For this reason in some Jewish communities it is traditional to eat the head of a fish during the Rosh HaShanah holiday meal. Fish is also eaten because it is an ancient symbol of fertility and abundance.
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- Alphabet Soup: Jewish Family Cooking from A to Z, Schechter Day Schools, 1990.
- A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. Goldman, Marcy. 1996.