Tag Archives: fertility

A Seder Plate for Rosh HaShannah? (It’s not just for Passover!)

RoshHashanna_SederPlate_4_blog

Did you know that in some Sephardic homes there is the custom of presenting a special Seder plate before the Rosh HaShanna meal, just like one does for the Passover Seder? Eight symbolic foods (Simanim) are selected and arranged on a platter to ensure a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year, and while certain ones may physically represent an idea (such as using pomegranates to symbolize fertility and abundance because of the many seeds within), another less obvious food choice may be made simply because its name in Hebrew sounds like another Hebrew word with a different meaning (for example: using a leek because its Hebrew word karati sounds like karat meaning “to cut off,” implying the hope of breaking away from one’s enemies). Below is a quick guideline or listing of the types of things often used on a Rosh Hashanna Seder plate:

For the New Year, we eat foods that symbolize the following:
Luck

Abundance (foods that are plentiful)
Mitzvot (good deeds)
Fertility, Life (foods that are round, continuous, plentiful)
Leadership
The act of breaking away from evil, enemies and bad things

 

VARIOUS FOODS USED TO REPRESENT THE FOLLOWING IDEAS:

happiness, prosperity, good luck and success:
Aniseed, round challah with raisins added, sweet wine, stuffed foods like gefilte fish,
tzimmes (sweet stew: carrot, sweet potatoes, prunes, raisins, sometimes meat)

fertility:
Apples, pears (first fruits of season from the tree,
dipped in honey, sugar, or sesame seeds for abundance and extra sweetness)

good deeds (mitzvot) and abundance:
Pomegranate seeds (belief that there are as many seeds — 613, as there are mitzvot)

peace:
Dates (Hebrew word for date is tamar and is related to word tam meaning, “to end” in hopes
that our enemies will end)

happiness: Gourd, pumpkin, butternut or acorn squash (Hebrew word for gourd is kara, which also means “to announce,” and rhymes with a similar sounding word meaning “to rip apart”)

freedom: Spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, beet leaves
(Hebrew word for beets is seleka and related to root selek meaning, “to depart” or “remove” implying that enemies and bad luck be taken out; Aramaic word for leafy green, like spinach, is silka)

friendship, freedom from enemies: Leeks, chives, scallions, spring onions
(Hebrew word for leek is karati and sounds like karat meaning “to cut off,”
implying from one’s enemies)

leadership: Whole Fish (with head left intact), ram’s head, head of cabbage, garlic
(“Head” of year, leaders to all nations, poor and powerless, move forward/ahead/progress)

commemorating tribulations, difficulties, struggles, and hardships of past year:
Savory and bitter foods

prosperity: String beans, peas, beans (plentiful, abundant, round/circle of life)
(Hebrew word for beans is lubia, sounds related to Hebrew word lev meaning “heart,”
and rav meaning “many”)

NOTE: Some refrain from eating lemon or salt fearing that it will bring bad luck in coming year.

SHANA TOVA METUKA!

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Will the single, marriageable girl please leave the room?

Serving_ShadowLately I’ve been interviewing individuals from the Levantine countries of Syria and Lebanon. An interesting custom that has been described to me (with slight variations) is the one where a young, single woman of marrying age would pick up the Seder tray at the very start of the Seder and leave with it to another room. During her absence those sitting at the table would sing a song or two, then call her back in when finished. Upon returning to the room with the tray, the young woman might be asked, “What is it that you have there?” (Indicating the tray), or she herself may ask them, “What is going on here?” (Indicating that they have gathered around the table and that something is about to happen.) Immediately after this brief inquiry, the leader would then begin with the first lines from the Haggadah, and with that the Seder (and Passover holiday) has officially begun. I find this custom interesting on many levels. For one it shows the importance of marriage in the community, and how it then takes the opportunity during the Seder to indicate “who is next in line.” It also elevates the act of carrying and presenting the Seder tray/plate to one of honor. Secondly, it highlights the importance of hospitality in the Middle Eastern culture, especially with regards to a woman serving a guest in her home. And thirdly, it connects the Seder, which symbolizes freedom (and therefore, the future of the Jewish people), renewal (spring season, cycle of life, fertility), with the woman’s future to getting married, raising a family, and therefore, continuing the lifeline of the Jewish community as a whole. When I first learned about this ritual my first reaction (as an American, Westerner, and New Yorker) was one of discomfort. I wondered how these young women felt to have the spotlight put on them, which basically said, “Hey, you’re single — it’s time to find a husband!” But when I asked many of these women individually how they had felt it about it, many of them instead said that they were happy to do it, and that when it was their turn, they in fact felt proud.

The Moroccan Mimounah Celebration: The final night of Passover

Mimounah_Table_BlogCelebrated at sundown on the eighth or final day of the Passover holiday (the seventh day for Reform Jews and those residing in Israel), Mimounah is a unique custom observed by the North African Jews of Moroccan origin to mark the conclusion of Passover. During this celebration any foods forbidden during Passover are consumed as a way of symbolizing “freedom” (such as sweet leavened cakes and breads) over “slavery” (the unleavened matzah). Many Moroccan Jews believe that after fulfilling their week-long holiday of Passover, the gates of heaven will open wide (during Mimounah) so that God may hear the prayers of the faithful and bestow abundance and prosperity in the coming year.

On this special night, a festive table is covered with a white tablecloth and adorned with foods representing spring, prosperity, abundance, fertility and overall good luck. Because Moroccan Jews once refrained from eating dairy during the Passover holiday (most likely because KLP/Kosher for Passover dairy was once unavailable) dairy products are the highlight of the post-Passover Mimounah meal, and meat is therefore avoided. A pitcher of buttermilk or milk is placed in the center of the table, along with white candles and a small bowl of flour to symbolize purity. Since the number five (chamsah, in Arabic) is believed to bring good luck in the Middle East (referring to the Five Pillars of Islam for the Arabs, or the five books of Torah for the Jews), the flour is topped with five of each of the following: silver coins, eggs, beans and dates. Some hosts will even go so far as to display a live fish swimming in a fish bowl to represent good luck and specifically fertility. In addition, green stalks of wheat, beans, nuts and lettuce leaves are placed on the table to invoke abundance, while several small plates of honey, sweets, fruits and preserves are served to represent spring and to ensure a sweet year.

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