The Talmud records the opinion of Abayei: “Since you hold that symbols are meaningful, everyone should make it a habit of eating the following on the New Year: black-eyed peas, leeks, beets, and dates.” It is told that when the Babylonian scholar Hai Gaon left the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, his students brought him a basket filled with different fruits over which he recited blessings and biblical verses.
Sephardim still follow this practice, generally before the evening meals of Rosh Hashana. Before tasting each item, a passage beginning with the words “yehi ratzon” is recited, along with the appropriate blessing. This ceremony generally features delicious foods including dates, pomegranates, apple dipped in honey or sugar, pumpkin turnovers, leek patties, beets, black eyed peas. There also is a “yehi ratzon” said over the head of a fish or lamb. Some Sephardim make a “soup of seven vegetables” that includes symbolic foods for a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Is it proper to add additional simanim? For us Sephardim, we already have plenty on our plates! Most others also have symbolic foods for the occasion, including apples dipped in honey. If they wish to add appropriate simanim that add joy to the occasion, why not?
The “yehi ratzon” passages and the symbolic foods are a happy way to inaugurate the New Year. We pray that all of us, and all Israel, are blessed with a happy, healthy New Year. Tizku leShanim Rabbot, Shalom al Yisrael.
– Rabbi Marc D. Angel is director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.
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Since the Gemara prefaces the idea of eating these foods on Rosh Hashana with the general idea that a siman (hint) is significant, these foods are only examples of this concept. Hence any siman would be significant. In this vein the Mishnah Berurah points out that getting angry during this time is a bad siman. Likewise, the poskim add that eating tart and sour things are a bad siman, the opposite of sweet things that are a good siman. (The Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav E.M. Bloch, zt”l, said that if one enjoys eating fish with chrayn or enjoys eating pickles then refraining from enjoying his Yom Tov meal is a worse siman than eating tart (horseradish) and sour things (pickles).)
Bottom line: creating additional simanim seems to be perfectly ok. However, one should be more concerned with the essentials of teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah as means to secure a good judgment rather than being obsessed with extraneous hints.
– Rabbi Zev Leff is rav of Moshav Matisyahu and a popular lecturer and educator.
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Well, raisins might not be the best siman as raisins are dried grapes, and grapes are on the forbidden list for Rosh Hashanah according to the Vilna Gaon (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 600:4). One opinion in the Midrash is that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam illicitly ate – on Rosh Hashana – was a vine and we rectify Adam’s sin by abstaining from grapes. (It is thus clear that Adam did not eat an apple, which we famously dip in honey on Rosh Hashana night, and it should be noted that Rav Elyashiv permitted raisins as an ingredient in another product, such as challah.)
In general, the simanim are not magical entities whose consumption on Rosh Hashana automatically transforms a sinner into a penitent. Rather, these foods are reminders of the kedushat hayom, the unique holiness of Rosh Hashana that reflects the Heavenly judgment that is the essence of the holiday. When we eat the foods and recite the tefillot, we are reminded of the awesomeness of this moment, when we are all judged by the King of Kings.
In theory, it is not improper to create simanim using English terms of reference, as the existing simanim generally rely on Hebrew or Yiddish words. Hebrew is always effective and the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 583:1) notes that other languages can be used, “each country in its own tongue.” But it should not be done in a frivolous, whimsical, or mocking way, which would defeat the purpose of amplifying our sense of personal judgment.
Whatever evokes Hashem’s majesty on this holiday is welcome as it will aid us in our quest for repentance – if that is the motivation.
Shanah tovah to all!
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is Israel region Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of six books, including the recent “Road to Redemption,” available at Kodeshpress.com.