10 Traditional Foods of Rosh Hashanah and The Meaning Behind Them

pot of honey with slices of apple

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, a time for celebration, reflection, reciting communal prayers, and of course, eating lots and lots of delicious foods. The timeless dishes enjoyed during this holiday have been passed down for generations and offer the very best of Jewish cuisine. Beyond great flavors, the meals chosen for Rosh Hashanah also serve as reminders of the values, hopes, and aspirations being celebrated during the Jewish New Year. Each of these 10 foods has a fascinating meaning behind them that’s steeped in symbolism and tradition.  

Sweet Foods of Rosh Hashanah

Many of the most memorable food traditions enjoyed during Rosh Hashanah revolve around indulging in sweet flavors, as an expression of optimism for the possibilities of the new year and all the great things to come.  

Reflect Over Kiddush Wine

The beginning of Rosh Hashanah meals is commemorated with the Kiddush, a special prayer recited over an extra-sweet variety of wine to signify joy and celebration. Drinking Kiddush Wine is also considered a moment of gratitude where it’s traditional to pause and reflect on life’s blessings.  

Apples and Honey for Sweetness and Prosperity

No Rosh Hashanah celebration could be complete without the tradition of dipping apples in honey and making a prayer for a sweet new year. Some families even have a special honey pot in the shape of an apple that’s only used once a year. This simple ritual has deep significance, with apples representing a fresh start while honey symbolizes the hope for sweetness and prosperity in the coming months. There are many other interpretations for having this custom during Rosh Hashanah, such as that the resilience of apple trees has been an inspiration to the Jewish people.

The practice of dipping apples into honey to usher in the new year is the most well-known and popular food associated with Rosh Hashanah and has ancient roots in Jewish culture, dating all the way back to medieval times.

Round Challah to Symbolize Renewal

Challah, the traditional egg-based Jewish bread, is typically braided and enjoyed on the Sabbath. However, on Rosh Hashanah, it’s baked round to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year and the potential for renewal. The round shape is also meant to resemble a crown, which reflects the sovereignty of God. Round challah typically has raisins baked into it and is often dipped in honey as another representation of ushering in sweetness. 

New Fruits, Like Dates or Pomegranates

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it’s traditional to eat a “new fruit”, one that has only recently come into season and hasn’t been eaten yet, and then recite a special blessing to thank God for nature’s bounty.  Eating dates as part of this custom expresses a desire for protection from enemies and the end of animosity. Like many other foods enjoyed during  Rosh Hashanah, the symbolism for this tradition is based on a play on words because the Hebrew word for dates is similar to the word for “to end”. Pomegranates are also one of the typical new fruits enjoyed on Rosh Hashanah, chosen as a hopeful gesture to have as many blessings in your life as a pomegranate has seeds.

Share Honey Cake to Spread Good Wishes

Another staple on the Rosh Hashanah table is honey cake, or “Lekach”, and every family has their own twist on how to prepare it. This moist, spiced dessert is often baked with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, which creates its distinctively rich flavor and aroma. Honey cake is another symbolic expression of wishing for a sweet New Year, as well as a traditional and delicious way to end the festive meal. It’s also customary to make extra batches of honey cake to share with loved ones as part of spreading good wishes to family and friends.

Savory Foods of Rosh Hashanah 

While sweet foods hold a special place at the Rosh Hashanah table, the traditional savory foods enjoyed throughout this holiday have an incredibly rich heritage.   

Fish Head to Encourage Progress and Success

The word for head in Hebrew, “Rosh,” means “head of the year”. The tradition of serving a fish head during Rosh Hashanah, often as the centerpiece of the holiday table, expresses an aspiration to be the “head” and not the “tail” in the new year, which means a leader rather than a follower. This custom is a way to encourage progress and signify the desire to strive for success.

Lamb or Sheep to Bring in Faith, Mercy and Innocence

Eating lamb or sheep is traditional during Rosh Hashanah not only as a delicious favorite but also as a reminder of the binding of Isaac, a well-known story in the Jewish tradition. It’s meant to inspire a reflection on faith, obedience, and mercy. The lamb is also a symbol of being innocent and pure before God and the desire to pursue spiritual growth. 

Tzimmes to Welcome Blessings and Prosperity

Tzimmes is a thick stew typically made with carrots, dried fruits, and other root vegetables, all slowly simmered together and served as a side dish. This rich and comforting Rosh Hashanah favorite is known for being both sweet and savory. In Yiddish, ‘meren’ means both ‘carrots’ and ‘increase,’ making this dish a symbol of increased blessings, prosperity, and overall goodness.

Leeks, Chard, or Spinach to Avoid Adversity and Harm

Leeks, chard, or spinach are included in Rosh Hashanah meals in many different forms, partly because the Hebrew names for these green vegetables are similar to the words for cutting, removal, or destruction. The custom is to eat these veggies as a symbol of removing adversity or harm and asking for protection over the coming months.   

Pumpkins or Gourds to Rid Negative Energy

Whether baked into a sweet bread or incorporated into a wide range of savory dishes, pumpkins feature prominently in many Rosh Hashanah meals. The Hebrew term for gourd is “k’ra,” which sounds similar to the Hebrew word for both “tear” and “proclaim”, and becomes a symbol for tearing away negative energy and proclaiming good deeds for the new year.  

The traditional foods of Rosh Hashanah offer a delicious way to usher in the new year as well as a rich tapestry of hopeful symbols. This Rosh Hashanah, get everything you need for a memorable and meaningful table by ordering grocery delivery in Skokie from Sarah’s Tent Kosher Market. Enjoy the convenience of having all the ingredients for these traditional dishes brought right to your door, allowing you to spend more quality time celebrating this special holiday with your loved ones instead of at the supermarket.  


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