A look at symbolism of Rosh Hashana food

Published on Friday, 30 August 2013 22:53 - Written by By Rebecca Hoeffner rhoeffner@tylerpaper.com

This year on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there are a couple foods that the Jewish communities will eat, as they do every year. Even those foods have symbolism for the holiday.

“If you’re going to tell a story, it’s better to do it with food,” said Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler. “It gives you something tactile to tell it with.”

There are a number of foods associated with the holiday, but the community in Tyler has specific ones they typically celebrate with.

Yom Kippur — a day of fasting and repentance — occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah is “heavy,” Katz said, the emphasis on Rosh Hashanah is wishing everyone a sweet new year. Thus, most of the foods are sweet.

One of the most prevalent are apples dipped in honey.

“We don’t want to have any bitterness in life in the next year,” said Rabbi Alan Learner of Congregation Ahavath Achim.

Another popular food is challah, or egg bread. Challah is made throughout the year, but at Rosh Hashanah it is made a little differently.

“Generally Challah is shaped as a regular straight loaf,” he said. “At Rosh Hashanah, it’s made in a round shape to symbolize the wholeness and continuity of the year. It’s also dipped in salt during the year, to remind us that life is bittersweet. At Rosh Hashanah, it has raisins in it and is dipped in honey.”

While those are the two most popular traditional foods, there are others. One that many Jews don’t partake in is the fish head.

“The head of the fish symbolizes our wish to be the head, and not the tail in life,” Learner said. “The eye of a fish never closes, so it symbolizes that God’s eye never closes.”

Katz recalled the only time he’s seen whole fish head used at Rosh Hashanah, whenever he was in Israel.

“They put this fish in front of me and they wanted me to eat first — I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said with a laugh. “I said ‘No, you go ahead.’”