01 January 2021
‘May it be your will to renew
for us a happy and sweet year’
There is a Jewish custom of eating symbolic foods at Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year. This is based on the Talmudic statement that ‘omens have significance’ (Horayot 12a).
The Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah began on Friday 18 September 2020. But on this Friday evening, on this New Year’s Day 2021, as I take some time for Friday evening prayers and reflections, but without confusing or conflating two very different commemorations, I find myself once again reading the commentaries of the former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, in the Authorised Prayer Book.
He points out that customs on Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, vary from community to community. The most widespread is to eat an apple dipped in honey as a sign of a ‘sweet New Year.’ Others eat carrots, leeks, beets, dates, gourds, pomegranates, fish, or the head of a sheep. Each custom has its own symbolism and associated prayer.
In Judaism, Lord Sacks writes, the beginning of something contains within it the potentiality of the whole, hence what we experience on the first day of the year is a token of the days that are to come. Tasting the sweetness of the apple and honey, we pray that the rest of the year, too, will bring sweetness.
Commentators note that our prayers on Rosh Hashanah speak of exalted things: God’s sovereignty over the Universe and his judgment of our lives. We do not pray for material blessings; rather, we do so, obliquely and gently, at the table while eating symbolic food. The custom mitigates the severity of the day and serves as a reminder that all we enjoy comes from God.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.
Following Kiddush and Blessing over Bread, an apple is dipped in honey, and the following is said:
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the tree.
After eating some of the apple and honey, say:
May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to renew for us a happy and sweet year.