It is customary to eat certain symbolic foods during the two nights of Rosh Hashanah which signify good fortune for the entire upcoming year. It is therefore customary to eat black-eyed peas, pumpkin, leek, spinach, dates, pomegranates, apples dipped in honey, and meat of a sheep’s head on the nights of Rosh Hashanah. The source for this custom is based on the Gemara in Masechet Horayot (12a) which states, “One should always look at pumpkin, leek, spinach, and dates on Rosh Hashanah as a good omen.” Rashi explains: “These things grow quickly and it is a good sign to see them on Rosh Hashanah.”
When These Symbolic Foods Are Eaten
By eating fruits or vegetables before a meal, one places himself in a doubtful situation regarding whether an after-blessing is required on these items or perhaps one fulfills his obligation to do so by reciting Birkat Hamazon at the conclusion of the meal. Since one should preferably not place one’s self into a doubtful situation regarding blessings, it is preferable to eat the aforementioned fruits and vegetables during the meal, meaning after one has eaten an olive’s volume (approximately 27 grams) of bread following the “Hamotzi” blessing. This was indeed the custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l.
Are Blessings Recited on These Foods
When the various vegetables (black-eyed peas, leek, pumpkin, and spinach) and the meat of the sheep’s head are eaten during the meal, a “Ha’adama” or “Shehakol” blessing (respectively) should not be recited before eating them, for the “Hamotzi” blessing exempts them even when these items are eaten without bread since cooked vegetables are usually eaten along with bread.
When the various fruits (dates, pomegranates, and apples dipped in honey) are eaten during the meal, one must recite the “Ha’etz” blessing before eating them, for the “Hamotzi” blessing does not exempt them as they are not usually eaten together with bread.
The Proper Order for Eating the Symbolic Foods
The following is the order for eating the symbolic foods on the nights of Rosh Hashanah: First, one should take a date in his hand and recite the “Ha’etz” blessing over it; if the dates are a new fruit for the individual, one should recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing as well (if this is the case, one should not leave them on the table during Kiddush when the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is recited, for in this case, the “Shehecheyanu” blessing recited during Kiddush will exempt them and one will have lost the ability to recite a separate blessing over them; rather, they should be removed from the table or covered with a napkin or cloth during Kiddush) after which one should taste a small amount of the date. One should then proceed to recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and all those who seek our harm cease to exist.” One should then proceed to eat more of the date.
One should then take some pomegranate seeds and recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that we be filled with Mitzvot like a pomegranate.” One should then proceed to taste some. Next, one takes an apple dipped in honey and recites: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that a good and sweet year be renewed upon us.”
When one recites the text of the “Yehi Ratzon,” (“May it be your will” etc.) one should recite the actual names of Hashem. After tasting some of the apple dipped in honey, one should take some black-eyed peas and recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that our merits be multiplied and that You make us beloved.” One should the take some pumpkin and recite: “May it be your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that You tear up the harsh edict of our judgment and that our merits be declared before You.” (Some customarily eat carrots together with the pumpkin, as the Hebrew word for carrots, “Gezer,” is similar to the Hebrew word for edict, “Gezar.”) One should then take some leek and recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and all those who seek our harm be decimated.” One should then take some spinach (not beets) and recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that our enemies, haters, and all those who seek our harm be removed.” One should then take some meat of a sheep or ram’s head and recite: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that we be a like a head and not a like tail and remember on our behalf the ram of our forefather, Yitzchak, of blessed memory, son of our forefather, Avraham, of blessed memory.”
Some customarily have a slightly different order of what symbolic foods to eat first which can be found in any Machzor of Rosh Hashanah. Every family should follow the custom of the community they originate from.
Kashrut of Meat
One should be extremely careful regarding the Kashrut of the lamb’s meat and one should not purchase it unless one is certain that it is undoubtedly kosher, meaning that it was slaughtered by an expert and G-d-fearing slaughterer and that upon being checked, it was found to be “Chalak” (Glatt Kosher according to the opinion of Maran Ha’Bet Yosef). If one cannot find meat of a sheep’s head that meets these criteria, one should take the head of a chicken, fish, or any other kosher animal instead.
Eating Fish on Rosh Hashanah
Some customarily eat fish on Rosh Hashanah as this symbolizes being fruitful and multiplying like fish. This custom is quoted in the name of Rabbeinu David Abudirhem. However, Maran Ha’Chida writes that one should not eat fish on Rosh Hashanah, for the Hebrew word for fish, “Dag,” is similar to the Hebrew word for worry, “Da’ag.” He continues to quote sources for this from the Tikkunei Ha’Zohar. Nevertheless, when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, one should not neglect one’s usual custom of eating fish on Shabbat for this reason.
Serve Hashem With Joy And Rejoice Amid Trembling
The most important of all symbols that one should observe on Rosh Hashanah is for one’s behavior at home be calm, peaceful, and joyous on these days. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l would serve Hashem with special joy and enthusiasm on Rosh Hashanah and he would treat everyone who came in contact with him with a radiant countenance, love, and affection without any exception. Nevertheless, one must make sure to stay away from frivolity and excessive idle chat on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment; one should focus instead on Torah study, prayer, and reciting Tehillim on this special day.
We at Halacha Yomit would like to bless all of our site’s dear members and visitors along with the entire Jewish nation with wishes for a good and sweet new year. May Hashem fulfill all of your heart’s desires for the good and may we all merit ascending higher and higher in Torah and fear of Heaven. Ketiva Va’Hatima Tova and Tizku Le’Shanim Rabbot Ne’Imot Ve’Tovot.