Symbolisms: High Holiday Foods

Religious holidays unite through symbolic foods. Jewish high holidays and their meaningful culinary traditions.


Drew Williams

9/22/20233 min read

Rosh Hashanah foods
Rosh Hashanah foods

The Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are filled with prayer and reflection and encompass a rich tapestry of culinary traditions. These symbolic dishes serve as tangible representations of cultural heritage and spiritual connections. This post will delve into the deep-rooted symbolism behind some of these traditional foods, highlighting their significance in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Challah Bread: Embracing the Cycle of Life and Creation

Challah, a traditional Jewish bread, holds a special place of honor during the high holidays. Typically baked in a round shape during this time, the challah symbolizes the continuous cycle of life and creation. It represents the notion that there is no true beginning or end in the universe's divine order. As families gather around the table, the round challah serves as a reminder of the eternal nature of spirituality and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Apples Dipped in Honey: Embracing Vulnerability and Sweetness

Another significant culinary tradition during the Jewish high holidays is the dipping of apples in honey. The apple tree, unlike other fruit trees, blossoms before it leaves. This unique characteristic symbolizes how Jews live their lives exposed and vulnerable, embracing the uncertainties and challenges that come their way. The symbolism of sweetness amidst life's sting is portrayed by dipping the apple in honey. Like the bee that produces honey despite its sting, Jews understand that life is a blend of challenges and rewards, and sweetness can be found even in difficult circumstances.

Head of a Fish: Symbolizing Leadership and Strength

The term "Rosh Hashanah" translates to "head of the year," it is customary to place the head of a fish on the table during this holiday. This tradition symbolizes leadership and strength, reflecting the verse from Deuteronomy 28:13, "And God will make you as the head, and not as the tail." By incorporating the fish's head into the meal, Jews acknowledge their role as leaders in their communities and their commitment to positively impacting the world.

Pomegranates: Seeds of Empathy and Kindness

Pomegranates hold a special place in Jewish culture and symbolism. The seeds within these vibrant fruits represent the commandments, which are actions that exemplify empathy and kindness, ultimately bringing people closer together. Each seed serves as a tangible reminder of the daily actions one should perform or avoid to promote understanding and compassion. Pomegranates on the table reinforce the importance of embodying these values throughout the year.

Carrots: A Symbol of Hope and Increase

In Yiddish, the word "meren" translates to both "carrots" and "to increase." During the Jewish high holidays, carrots symbolize the hope that goodness and positivity will multiply and flourish in the coming year. By including this humble vegetable in their holiday meals, Jews express their desire for personal and collective growth, placing their faith in overcoming challenges and embracing a brighter future.

New Fruit "Pri Chadash": Tasting the Freshness of the Year Ahead

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, eating a fruit that has yet to be consumed in the past year is customary. This act symbolizes the experience of tasting the newness and freshness of the year ahead. By exploring flavors they have not encountered in the previous year, Jews open themselves up to the possibilities that the future holds. This tradition serves as a powerful reminder of embracing change and approaching each day with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Through these culinary traditions, the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come alive with symbolism and spiritual significance. The foods on the holiday table serve as reminders of the timeless wisdom imparted in the Hebrew Scriptures and foster connections with others around the world who celebrate the same traditions. As we partake in these symbolic dishes, we are reminded of the Divine presence in our lives and the power of tradition in shaping our spiritual journeys.