From the Desk - Special Foods on Rosh Hashana
Shalom Friends! Last night we saw the last BBQ in what has been a fabulous season at Beth Ora. It is always wonderful to spend the evening with so many members as well as the many local not-yet-members who join us for our BBQs. Of course, none of this would be possible without our wonderful volunteers who spend the entire duration of the BBQ taking registration and serving customers, not to mention all the setting up beforehand and clearing up afterwards! A big yasher koach to Howie Brown and his team! The High Holiday period is nearly upon us and I'd like to remind you of the great event we have planned to start the season. On the evening of September 1st, as well as our regular memorial and selichot services, Beth Ora is screening Have a Little Faith. This is an entertaining and inspiring movie which highlights some of the themes of the High Holidays. You can check out the trailer here:
Below, I discuss some of our Rosh Hashana practices. Please look at the question of the week below. If you're in synagogue this Shabbat, be ready to answer the question for the usual fantastic prize! Wishing Shabbat Shalom to all of Congregation Beth Ora, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... Special Foods on Rosh Hashana? A couple of years ago, I was leading a Hitchhiker's Guider to Rosh Hashana at Beth Ora. I discussed shofar blowing and everyone knew what I was talking about. I continued with tashlich which is a practice with which some people were familiar. The next topic was the special foods which we are accustomed to eat on Rosh Hashana. Immediately, I was faced with puzzled looks from around the table! Nobody seemed to be aware of this custom. Eventually, I realised that it was because everyone uses a Birnbaum Machzor :-(. Anyway, there is a custom to eat various special foods on the first evening of Rosh Hashana (see the Artscroll Machzor for a wonderful, clear explanation!). These foods are called Simanim ('signs' or 'omens'). There is a special prayer that we make before eating each of the foods, stating our aspirations for a good year ahead. The truth is that, until recently, this practice was most commonly associated with Sephardic homes. Now however, it is more widespread and it actually dates back to the Talmud where it is written that 'a person should always be accustomed on Rosh Hashana to see or eat gourd, fenugreek, leek, beets and dates.' The great commentator Rashi (12th century, France) explains that these foods are apt for Rosh Hashana because they either grow rapidly or taste sweet. The names of the foods are also significant. For example, the Hebrew for fenugreek is "rubia" which is similar to the word "leharbot" which means abundance or increase. We thereby ask G-d that our merits and good deeds should increase. In fact, in the 17th century, the great legal authority Rabbi Avraham Gombiner wrote that any food that sounds like the word for abundance in any language may be used as one of the simanim. There is a similar custom to eat meat and drink sweet beverages as simanim for a prosperous and sweet new year. There are those who trace this custom back to the time of the Second Temple when Ezra, the leader of the Jewish People, read the Torah at a public gathering on Rosh Hashana. The people were distraught to realize that they weren't keeping G-d's laws. Ezra told them not to be sad and implored them to eat rich foods and sweet beverages. One of the simanim which you've probably all heard of is the dipping of the apple in honey. How old is that custom? This practice is already recorded in the Tur, an important code of Jewish law from 13th century Spain. Also interesting is the Tur's description of how the Jews of Provence came up with new simanim for Rosh Hashana including grapes, red apples, figs and even a calf's head! Of course, another famous practice that many of you will have heard of is the Ashkenazi custom of dipping challah in honey rather than salt. This beautiful custom associates the mitzvah of eating bread with our prayers for a sweet year. Many keep up this practice right until the end of Sukkot or even until Simchat Torah. Question of the week: What is the significance of eating a raisin on top of a piece of celery on Rosh Hashana?