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The special foods of Rosh Hashanah
There are 10 special foods that we associate with Rosh Hashanah, and it is a customary to set them all out on the table for the holiday. We say a special prayer for each of them, using their Hebrew names as a kind of pun that ties into the themes of the holiday. Rabbi David Golinkin tells us that there is controversy as to whether they are simply looked at, held or eaten. This is because in the Aramaic language, the word for “hold” and “look at” are very close. I suppose that once they are held, many concluded that one does what one should do with food, which is to taste it.
Tangentially, this actually mirrors the debate in using the fringes at our recitation of the Shema. Some claim that we should merely look at them as we recite the third paragraph; some claim that we should be holding them as we look at them; and some claim that we should be kissing them as we mention the words “tsitsit” or fringes. But let’s get back to our main topic—the various Rosh Hashanah foods and what they symbolize.
There are actually 10 special foods, reminding us of the 10 days of repentance. The first two, and foremost, are the honey and apples. Honey reminds us that we hope for a sweeter year than we had the year before. Apples remind us, some say (since Rosh Hashanah is a reminder of the birth of the world in the very beginning of creation), of the very first fruit with which we sinned. Taking apples with honey in hand symbolizes making a claim to heaven that we will use God’s bounty only for mitzvah and not for transgression. Over these items we say, “May it be your will, our God, that we have a year that is sweet and good.”
The third food is typically a piece of gefilte fish, or, if you are really ambitious, the head of the fish. I remember, as a young rabbi, utilizing a fish head with little children at a Rosh Hashanah service in which we said blessings over these symbolic foods. That was a mistake! The children were frightened. Well, you learn from your mistakes. Therefore, a small piece of gefilte fish does the trick and we can intone, “May we be for a head and not a tail,” meaning, “May we be leaders who are in charge in the next year.” There is a custom to have yet another fish on the table with which we remember that God’s eye of providence is one that neither sleeps nor slumbers, and this is true of fish as well, which apparently never shut their eyes.
The fifth item on the platter should be leeks, which in Aramaic are called “kra.” The same word is used to form the word “karet.” Variations celebrate God, who is koreth Brith, symbolizing the making of a covenant with us or to hope that we should avoid being “cut off.”
The sixth item is dates. A date, in Hebrew, is the word “tamar.” With dates in hand we recite, “May it be your will, Lord God, that all our suffering be finished. (Itamu tzaareinu)
Black beans or “rubia” are held in hand and we say, “May we be as numerous as the stars of the sky”–yirbu zaareinu ke cochavei Elyon”.
A gourd, or “keri,” is another food held in hand as we say, “May Hashem hear our prayers when we cry out to him (beyom Koreinu).”
Pomengranates or “rimonim” also have a place at the table. We intone, “May our mitzvoth be as numerous as the rimon.” Not too long ago there was an article in the Jewish week of a woman who had made a practice of counting the seeds of many rimonim, and then averaging the number. Strikingly it was close to 600.
Last, but not least, we include the “selek” or beet. With the beet, we intone, ”Our God and God of our ancestors, make evil be banished from us” (sheyistalek meitanu Kol rah).
I encourage you all to include in your holiday shopping at least some of these items, perhaps not all of them. But if you can find them all why not!? You would be surprised how they help to set the tone for this important holiday of the new year!
May all of us have no suffering, may evil be banished from us, may your year be sweet and your mitzvahs many. May Beth and I take this moment to wish all of you a Shana Tova Oome Tooka, a sweet, joyful and healthy new year. Read More
Two Jews, three opinions
Over the past few weeks, we ran an online survey to discover how we can best serve our community in terms of a Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat Service. The results, as probably could be expected, were mixed. We asked about starting services earlier or later, and people showed their preferences. Approximated 25% of you preferred an early service; another quarter would rather have the late service, and almost half wanted something in the middle. As a compromise, we will start services on Friday nights at 7:30 PM, and we will be investigating the possibility of adding earlier family-friendly services periodically throughout the year. We hope this will allow our community to enjoy the ruach-filled, participatory Kabbalat Shabbat Service. But all this is theoretical without your active support and attendance, so let’s have everyone come and make this amazing!
It is hard to believe that the High Holidays are here again. I would like to welcome our neighbors who have joined the ENJC family. As of this writing, we have had 9 families from The Seasons sign up as new members!
For the holidays, we will be increasing our security. We are asking our congregants to help us help you. We will be having a security guard checking tickets at the front door, so we ask your cooperation by having your tickets in your hand every time you want to enter the building. We will be making no exceptions–all board members must show their tickets too. The only way we can be 100% compliant in making sure we have a safe and secure building is by everyone helping.
On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all L'Shannah Tovah! I want to wish all a healthy new year. As we know, nothing in this world can replace health. As my mom always said, "Have a happy and healthy new year with the emphasis on health." Read More