Rosh HaShanah 5760
Brief Summary of the Keter Shem Tov’s( Rabbi Shem Tov Gaguine) comments on the various minhagim practiced on the two nights of Rosh HaShanah at the evening seudoth( vol 6, pages 96-101) compiled and explained by Albert S. Maimon
- the “oriental” Sepharadim bring to the table a variety of fruits and vegetables
which are apple, karati( prasa/ leek), salka( spinach or beet leaves), temarim
(dates), kera( calavasa/ squash), dag( pescado/ fish), head of lamb, “rubia”,
and on the second night they add new olives( and/ or some type of
Shehechiyanu) and their custom is to place a bowl of sugar on the table and,
instead of dipping the bread in salt, it is dipped in sugar
- the Sepharadim of London and Amsterdam do not have this practice, but
dip their bread in honey-covered apple
- the Ashkenazim dip their bread in honey and they also dip apple in honey
and, on the second night, have some type of Shehechiyanu
(Above: paraphrase of main paragraph/ other comments. Below: editorialized summary of explanatory notes. AM)
1- The first custom is very ancient and is based on a Gemara in Keritot 6, 1- Abaye says, now that we’ve agreed that symbols have meaning, a person should get used to eating Kera, Rubia, Karati, Silka and Temarim on Rosh HaShanah. In fact, he believes this custom of having sweet symbolic foods originated with Nechemia, albeit there have been changes over the years and in different places.
2- There are several variants of the Talmudic text as to whether the objects should be eaten or simply be brought to the table; apparently the practice of the Rishonim was to simply have them brought to the table( some used to have them brought in a basket full of the fruits and vegetables), hold or touch them one at a time, make an appropriate comment and contemplate the “good sign” symbolism.
3- The practice has evolved to what is done today, that is not only mentioning the “good sign” , but associating an appropritate pasuk and eating them[ we eat only after reciting all of the Yehi Ratzones and associated Pesukim- I practice eating bread with the food to clearly bring the food into the seudah; if you wish to say HaEtz then you enter the difficulty of blessing apple before dates( one of the “seven species”- see Kaf HaChaim)].
4- The order
4a- The honeyed apple comes first and symbolizes “softened or tempered” justice( the apple represents Shechina in a Kabbalistic metaphor and the honey symbolizes tempering strict judgement with “sweetness”). There is an interesting opinion which recommends using Ethrog instead of apple for a variety of reasons. There are many reasons given from many references of juxtaposition between din and sweetness- honey and apple.[ We say only the Yehi Ratzon, no pasuk although KeTapuach BaAtzei HaYa’ar... would seem to fit].
4b- Then comes Karati, Prasa/ Leek, in our nusach we ask HaShem to terminate all of His enemies and “haters” and those who seek evil against us( other texts focus solely on asking HaShem to help us- terminate our enemies and those who hate us and who seek evil against us). The Pasuk is from Michah 5,8 with direct word association.
4c- Then Salka- spinach or beet ends( here he has an interesting digression on his opinion- with several supporting sources- on the close relationship between Arabic and Hebrew leading to the practice of using Arabic as a source to understand “difficult” or rare Hebrew words- the context is whether Salka means spinach or beets). There are two Pesukim- one from Tehilim 6,9; the other from Yish’ayahu 52,11. There is only an indirect word association here since Salka in Hebrew also means to leave or remove, so it’s close in meaning to Suru , Ze’u.
4d- Temarim, dates, is next with the Pesukim from Tehilim 104, 35 and 143, 12 with direct word association in the first Pasuk.
4e- Kera, calvasa/ squash is next with no Pasuk.
4f- Dag, pescado/ fish, with no Pasuk. Our merit should multiply like the fish in the sea( there may also be a fertility reference as well- who knows about being against a’in ha ra?) Interesting note is that some hold that we shouldn’t eat fish on Rosh HaShanah because of an unwanted association between dag and de’aga( worry). This is related to wanting to keep only positive associations in what we say and what we do and what we eat on Rosh HaShanah( e.g., no nuts, no dark grapes). This leads to the custom some have of using black eyed peas as a substitute( rubia, lubia- another Hebrew-Arabic connection, as well).
4g- Head of Lamb- symbolizing both being the head( and not the tail) and the ram of Isaac’s binding with no Pasuk.
5- Additional notes
There are many customs of bringing other food stuff into the ceremony, each according to their language, food and appropriate associations- one other which we’re familiar with is the pomegranate as a symbol that our merits should be multiplied like the seeds of a pomegranate. Others include carrot( gezera- gezer or mehren in Yiddish), lung, ( re’ah: “re’eh na be’onyenu ve riva rivenu”), garlic( as a sustitute for dates- it’s called “tumi”), white figs or grapes( white symbolizing kaparah).
Tizku LeShanim Raboth Ne’imoth VeTovoth! Tizke VeTichye VeTa’arich Yamim!
Come’ con gana!
NOTE: Bracketed comments- [...] are my additional notes on our particular practice.
Parenthetical comments are explanatory notes.