A Sweet Seder: The Rosh Hashanah Meal
Apples and honey are a well-known holiday staple at Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) tables all over the world. We indulge in sweet foods, so that the year to come will be just as enjoyable and delicious. But there are plenty more ways we can use foods and flavors to invite blessings into our lives during the holidays. If you’re looking to elevate your Shabbat dinner with intention-setting for the new year, the Rosh Hashanah Seder is a fabulous way to do just that.
The word seder means “order” in Hebrew, which is fitting for the way the order of rituals guide storytelling and reflection for different holidays (including Passover and Tu B’Shvat — the holiday marking the new year of trees). Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews have been conducting Rosh Hashanah seders for over 2,000 years, and while the specific foods and blessings vary among countries and communities, a common thread in every Rosh Hashanah seder is the presence of hope and positive intentions: peace, liberation, friendship, leadership, and more.
Many of the ritual foods were originally chosen based on their sounds and names in Hebrew or Aramaic, the ancient Semitic language on which Hebrew is based. Here’s an example: the Aramaic word for greens beans is rubia, similar to the Hebrew word yirbu — “to increase or multiply.” So string beans are eaten with a blessing that our merits will continue to grow and increase. The Hebrew word for beet, selek, sounds like the verb lehistalek — “to retreat.” In the blessing over beets, we ask that anyone who wishes harm on us will retreat. Since the Hebrew word for carrot, gezer, sounds like the verb “to decree” (ligzor), a blessing over carrots asks for positive judgement in the coming year. Other fruits and vegetables are used for the symbolism of their physical attributes, like the wish for us all to be as filled with good deeds (mitzvot) as a pomegranate is filled with seeds. (Fun fact: some commentary states that pomegranates contain the same number of seeds as there are mitzvot in the Torah: 613.)
Beyond the literal blessings, the Seder can also inspire your holiday dinner menu. Leek patties, butternut squash soup, black eyed pea stew, and couscous with dried fruits all incorporate Rosh Hashanah seder foods as ingredients.
Here’s to a year full of sweetness, renewal, and all of the joy!
For more on Rosh Hashanah Seder history, recipes, and rituals, head to herefor.com.