Rosh Hashanah literally translates into “head of the year” and is one of the four new years that are celebrated by the Jews. It is considered the New Year of people, legal contracts, and animals and according to the Jewish oral tradition, marks the day when creation of the world was completed. The Mishnah also speaks of Rosh Hashanah as being the “day of judgment.” Jews believe that on this day, God opens the Book of Life to decide who has the right to live and who will die.
Like any other New Year celebration, Rosh Hashanah is also replete with its fair share of traditional practices, the most popular one being sounding a shofar – a musical instrument fashioned out of a ram’s horn. Since sounding of the horn is believed to scare away bad spirits, the shofar is blown one hundred times each during the two day celebration of Rosh Hashanah.
As is typical with these celebrations, food forms an important part of the festivities. Needless to say, the delicacies associated with Rosh Hashanah are absolutely delightful and you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy them. Here are some of the more popular mouthwatering customs associated with Rosh Hashanah.
Honey & Apples
Biblical texts have upheld honey as a symbol of wealth and good living. In fact, Israel was always referred to as the land of ‘milk and honey’ while apples were described by King Solomon as being “rare and unique among the trees of the forest”. Apples dipped in honey are served as snack on Rosh Hashanah in hope of a ‘sweet year’ ahead.
Although braided challah – a sort of rich, eggy bread – is eaten all year round, on Rosh Hashanah, round loaves are served to friends and family. These swirled breads are symbolic of the cyclical nature of the calendar and represent the continuity of creation. On this festive occasion, raisins are added to the bread while honey is brushed on it as glaze.
Honey is a favorite food on several Jewish holidays. It is used as a dipping, applied on bread, and, as is the case here, baked into a cake, too. The honey cake that is baked in several Jewish households is usually a recipe that has been passed down the family for several generations. A variety of spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice are added into the cake. Some recipes even call for the use of coffee, orange juice, rum or tea for additional flavor.
Eating a New Fruit
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, tradition dictates that a new fruit should be eaten. This isn’t meant to be a fruit you’ve never had before; rather, it is one that is in season but the family hasn’t had an opportunity to bring home so far. This is done to say the shehechiyanu blessing in thanks to God’s gift of life and health. Usually, a pomegranate is used as the new fruit, since for centuries it has represented the essence of Torah. Believed to have 613 seeds, a pomegranate mirrors the number of commandments that are contained in the Five Books of Moses and signals towards a fertile new year.