Simanim: The Symbolic Foods of Rosh Hashanah

APPLES DIPPED IN HONEY is a well-known Rosh Hashanah treat, but there are others. In fact, apples and honey represents just one of the Simanim (Rosh Hashanah foods that hold symbolic meaning). There are a number of Simanim that serve as a reminder of the Jewish New Year’s special significance.

 

APPLES & HONEY
Simanim, the Symbolic Foods of Rosh HashanahProbably the most popular Rosh Hashanah treat, apples and honey are historically symbolic foods.

 

After all, Israel is known as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). As rabbi and author Shimon Apisdorf suggests, however, this may not be the only reason for the apples and honey tradition.

 

In his blogpost, “Seven Questions People Ask about Rosh Hashanah,” Apisdorf explains that an apple tree grows differently than other fruit trees. “On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit,” he writes. “The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves. The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected.”

 

Rabbi Apisdorf also suggests dipping apples in honey represents a symbolic bee analogy. “A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey,” he writes. “Life has this same duality of potential. We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

ROUND CHALLAH
It is traditional to eat challah on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. On Rosh Hashanah, however, the challah is specially baked in a round shape to represent the unending cycle of life and creation, a cycle in which there is no beginning or end.

 

 

Many families add raisins and honey to their challah for an extra sweet Rosh Hashanah. When the challah is sliced at the meal, it is traditional to smear additional honey for even more holiday sweetness. (Read “Round Challah and Divine Desserts” from Aish.com, and make your own round challah.)

Related Blogpost, “Making Challah for Shabbat” »

POMEGRANATES
Pomegranates have many seeds. These seeds symbolize the many merits we will create with our mitzvot in the coming year. 

 

 

As writer Sybil Kaplan puts it in her Jewish Ledger article, “The Pomegranate: A Rosh Hashanah Symbol,” the tradition of Kabbalah “recounted that there were 613 seeds in each pomegranate, equaling the number of mitzvot commanded by God.”

 

This new year, consider a tasty pomegranate-based recipe. Chicago-based food blogger Sharon Matten offers a number of her “all-time favorite and delicious” pomegranate recipes in the Aish.com piece, “Cooking with Pomegranates.”

 

FISH HEAD ON THE TABLE
Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year.” Some families commemorate the “head of the year” with the tradition of placing a fish head on the table during Rosh Hashanah meals. On this holiday, we wish for a year ahead in which we lead with strength and determination rather than being at the tail end of things. “And God will make you as the head, and not as the tail, and you will be only at the top, and you will not be at the bottom” (Deuteronomy 28:13).

 

Australian-based Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum explains in his Chabad.org piece, “Head of the Class,” the fish head serves as “a prop: a palpable reminder of the decisions made over the course of Rosh Hashanah, which affect the entirety of the coming year.”  

 

Can’t quite bring yourself to put a fish head on the Rosh Hashanah table? The Jewish Daily Forward offers a few fish head-based recipes to consider as an alternative in Leah Hochbaum Rosner’s piece, “A Fishy Tradition.”

 

CARROTS
The Yiddish word “meren” is translated as both the noun “carrots” and the verb “to increase.” Carrots symbolize our hope that our merits will increase in the coming year. As such, many people maintain the tradition of preparing tzimmes, a sweet carrot-based stew for Rosh Hashanah.

Jewish Federation’s Tzimmes Recipe »

PRI CHADASH (“NEW FRUIT”)
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat a “new fruit,” one that has not been eaten in the last year — or, as Rabbi Jill Jacobs puts it in her MyJewishLearning.com piece, “Rosh Hashanah Customs,” a fruit “participants have not tasted for a long time.”


“This tradition has become a way to literally taste the newness of the year, by enjoying an unfamiliar food,” Jacob says. Indeed, families often take this holiday opportunity to enjoy a new or unusual fruit, such as dragonfruit or lychee. Moreover, many families complement the eating of a new fruit with the Shehecheyanu blessing, which gives thanks to God for granting us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to experience something new or special.


Each family has its own Rosh Hashanah traditions and customs. In whatever way your family celebrates, PJ Library hopes you get a taste of togetherness and enjoy a sweet new year.

 

For more information, check out this video from Mayim Bialik, featuring The Maccabeats: