by Meredith Jacobs
It is common to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah because the fruit is said to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 commandments given to Jews in the Torah (the “seed” of a righteous life). The many seeds also represent fertility. Other seeded fruit, like kiwi, will work.
It is also a tradition to try a new fruit or one you have not yet eaten this season on the second night of Rosh Hashanah to remind ourselves of how blessed we are to be alive and enjoy the fruits of the earth.
Carrots are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah both because sliced carrots look like gold coins and because the Yiddish word for carrot, meirin, means “more,” symbolizing our wish for a year filled with more blessings and good deeds.
Heads of fish, sheep or lettuce
Eating the head of a fish or sheep is tied to our hope to be leaders rather than followers. (Lettuce heads work just as well.) As we say on this holiday, “May it be Your wish that we be as a head and not as a tail.”
In the Talmud, Rabbi Abaye suggests that Jews should observe the new year by eating foods that grow in abundance, thus symbolizing prosperity. These include dates, beets, gourds or pumpkins, and leeks. In addition to being sweet and symbolizing a “sweet year,” the Hebrew word for date, tamar, is related to the word yitamu, and we say on Rosh Hashanah, “Yitamu hata’im” meaning, “May the wicked be removed.”
Beets are called salka in Aramaic, the language of the Talmud. This is related to the Hebrew word for “removal,” so we eat beets in the hope that our adversaries be removed.
Certain squash (or gourds) are called kera in Aramaic, which is related to the Hebrew word meaning “to read” and “to tear.” Gourds symbolize our hope that God should “read” our list of good deeds and “tear up” any negative judgment against us.
Leeks and onions
The Aramaic word for leeks, karti, is related to the Hebrew for “cutting.” This symbolizes our wish for our misdeeds to be cut down or even that our enemies be decimated.
In addition, Jewish tradition considers the nature of the food when deciding if it is an appropriate (or holy) food to eat. The onion is bitter and opaque when raw, but sweet and translucent when sauteed. Seen this way, onions can symbolize our hope to be sweet and clear, even when under fire.
Green beans and black-eyed peas
In Aramaic, green beans and black-eyed peas are called rubiyah, which is related to the Hebrew word for “increase.” Beans symbolize our prayer that our merits will increase in the new year.