Rosh Hashanah Customs

Suggestions for bringing the messages of the New Year home from synagogue.

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Pun Food

A number of other food-based rituals can also enliven the home celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic communities (which trace their ancestry to Mediterranean lands) have developed a Rosh Hashanah seder, which revolves around the eating of symbolic foods and the recitation of prayers that transform these foods into wishes for the coming year.

Many of these prayers are based on Hebrew puns involving the food in question. For instance, the prayers before eating a date (tamar in Hebrew) includes the phrase "yitamu hataim"--may the wicked cease. Before eating pumpkin or squash (k'ra'a in Hebrew), Sephardim say "yikaru l'fanekha z'khuyoteinu"--may our good deeds call out our merit before you--. Alternatively, they might use the resemblance between the word "k'ra'a"--"pumpkin" and the word "kara"--to cut or rip--to express the hope that any bad deeds will be ripped out of God's book.

Other symbolic foods include leeks and onions, which are associated with the exodus from Egypt; beets, whose Aramaic name "silka," similar to the Hebrew "salak"--go away-- is used to express the hope that our enemies disappear; and peas or beans, mentioned in the Talmud as "ruviah," a word that sounds like the Hebrew "to increase," and therefore indicates a desire for increased blessings in the new year.

The foods eaten and puns used change from community to community, according to the types of vegetables available and the inherited traditions. In planning your own Rosh Hashanah menu, you can be creative in developing your own English puns. For instance, you might eat raisins to commit to "raisin' your expectations for the new year" or peas in the hope of increased peace. Your salad might be a chance to say, "Lettuce find happiness in the new year," or "We will beet any obstacles that come our way," or to remind yourself to say "Olive you" to family and friends. Children can be involved in creating puns and devising a menu based on these newly-symbolic foods.

Repenting

Preparation for Rosh Hashanah, as well as the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, can also include discussions of the meaning of teshuvah [repentance] and family resolutions for the new year. This may be a time for siblings, parents, and children to apologize to one another for incidents during the previous year and to make promises for the coming year. Children may also make up lists of classmates, friends, and family members to whom they wish to apologize, and adults may make similar lists of friends, co-workers, family members and others.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.