A variety of symbolic foods, called simanim, are traditionally eaten at the beginning of the Rosh Hashanah dinner. The foods are each accompanied by a short wish for the new year which includes a pun based on the name or characteristics of the food. In the most well-known example, apples dipped in honey are eaten on Rosh Hashanah. The accompanying wish is that we be blessed with a sweet new year.
Simanim in Jewish Texts
Below is an explanation of the practice of eating simanim and a selection of foods with their blessings.
Read the texts and answer the questions below.
1. What foods are pictured on the card and mentioned in the mahzor text?
2. What wishes (Yehi Ratzon prayer) go along with the foods?
3. Which of the simanim, if any, do you eat on Rosh Hashanah?
4. Write a Rosh Hashanah pun based on a food in the style of those listed above. The pun can be written in Hebrew or English and should reflect your wishes for the new year.
Simanim in National Library Resources
Below are two resources from the collection of the National Library of Israel.
Answer the questions below the pictures.
Carmel Market before Rosh Hashana, 1969, National Library of Israel
1. What is being sold in the photograph?
2. What type of market are the people shopping at?
3. What other foods might be available at the shuk (market) before Rosh Hashanah?
4. Have you ever shopped in an outdoor market? How does it compare to shopping at a supermarket? Which do you prefer? If you have never shopped in an outdoor market, would you like to? Why?
Giving apples to soldiers for Rosh Hashanah, 1984, National Library of Israel
1. What are each of the people in the photograph doing?
2. Why were apples and honey given to soldiers? Which holiday was soon to be celebrated?
3. How do you think receiving apples and honey made the soldiers feel?
4. Why do you think the young people distributing the apples and honey wanted to participate in this project? How do you think it made them feel?
5. What can you learn about the connection between Israeli society and the soldiers in the IDF from the photograph?
Simanim in Additional Jewish Texts
Composed in Uzhgorod (c.1844 - c.1864 CE) by Shlomo Ganzfried, the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is a summary of the Shulhan Arukh of Joseph Karo. The Kitzur states what is permitted and what is forbidden without ambiguity, emphasising the customs of the Jews of Hungary at that time.
The selection below discusses the foods that were customarily eaten on Rosh Hashanah.
Highlight the names of foods in the text and answer the questions below.
- Which foods are mentioned in this section of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh?
- What are some of the reasons for eating the foods?
- According to the Kitzur, which foods should be avoided on Rosh Hashanah? Why?
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Historical Records
Read the following passage and answer the question below:
Rosh Hashanah in Czechoslovakia as told by Henrich Zinger and recorded by Centropa.
"Before Rosh Hashanah the shofar played after the morning prayer for the whole month of Tishri and Elul at the synagogue. On the eve of the holiday Jews had to offer an apology to those they hurt even if the hurt was unintentional. On Rosh Hashanah my father put on a white shirt and went to the synagogue with my mother. It was mandatory to wear white clothes. When we grew up we also went to the synagogue with our parents. My father had a special prayer book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My mother cooked traditional Jewish food: chicken, chicken broth and gefilte fish. We ate apples dipping them in honey and my mother explained that we did this to express our hope for a year full of sweetness ahead."
- Which of the traditions that Mr. Zinger described does your family also do?
Wrapping it all up!
How does eating symbolic foods enhance your Rosh Hashana experience?
What is your favourite symbolic food? Why?