About the Sephardic Rosh Hashana Seder Tradition

Sephardic Jews practice a ‚ “Seder of Rosh Hashana”  where prayers are offered and symbolic foods are eaten as a vehicle for these prayers. As each symbolic food is eaten a prayer is offered that relates either to the taste, name or shape of the food.


Each prayer when offered in Hebrew begins with the words ‚ ‘Yehi Ratzon‘  may it be your will. For this reason the ceremony if called in Ladino (the Yiddish of Sephardim of Turkey, Spain and Portugal) ‚ ‘Los Yehi Rasones‘. The custom of eating these foods was not originally a Sephardic custom. It is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud but unfortunately; fell out of practice in many Ashkenazic communities.


Recently, there has been a resurgence of these food rituals among Ashkenazim. The following is a list of symbolic foods eaten at the beginning of the two evening meals of Rosh Hashana:


Apples dipped in honey or sugar, which is most popular, uses the taste of the honey to symbolize sweetness in the coming year. The apple is chosen because one way to refer to God‘s judgment is known in Kabalistic Hebrew as ‚ ‘jakal Tapuchim‘  which refers to apple orchards. This prayer is clearly asking that God‘s judgment be soaked in sweetness.


Leek is eaten because its name in Aramaic (the language of the Talmud) was Karti which sounds like the words ‚ ‘Sheyiskartenu oyevenu‘may our enemies be cut off’. This prayer asks God to cut off our enemies.


Swiss Chard is called ‚ ‘Salka‘ which sounds like disappear in Aramaic. Therefore the prayer is ‚ ‘ Sheyistalek oyvenu‘ may our enemies disappear. (sometimes we use spinach leaves here)


 Dates are used for the prayer that our adversaries be finished playing off the word ‚ ‘ tamar‚ ‘ for dates and the word ‚ ‘sheyitamu‘  that our enemies disappear.


Pumpkin or gourd is called ‚ ‘ kara‘and is used during the prayer, ‚ ‘ shetikra oyevenu‘ may any negative judgment be annulled against us.


Black eyed peas are also used for this prayer since they are called ‚ ‘rubiya‘ and that prayer plays off the words ‚ ‘rov‘ meaning ‚ ‘many‘, asking that our many positive actions during the year be taken into account during the days of judgment.


Pomegranate is eaten as a symbol and prayer that we be as fruitful as the pomegranate has seeds and that we accomplish as many mitzvot during the incoming year as the pomegranate has seeds. Jewish legend has it that the pomegranate has at least 613 seeds!


Fish is eaten as a symbolic reminder. Since fish are so numerous in the seas, we hope that our positive actions will be increased likewise during the incoming year and that our merits also increase similarly. Fish also have no eyelids. They never sleep and this is taken as a symbolic reminder that God never sleeps and is always watching us and guarding us.


 The lungs of a sheep are eaten because they are called ‚ ‘ rea‘ so that God looks upon us and has mercy. The Hebrew word for seeing is ‚ ‘ rao‘ Another reason for eating lungs uses the word ‚ ‘ rea‘ asking God to enlighten our eyes with Torah during the year. (Not sure where to get this one easily so we don’t include this one really)


The head of the sheep is eaten to remind us of the binding of Isaac, who was replaced with a ram. For this reason, the Shofar is used as well. The prayer is also added that we become heads (leaders) and not blind followers. (sometimes it is the head of a fish and you just have a picture of the sheep – and we have even used candy in the shape of the head!)


Another Sephardic custom is to read the book of Psalms twice during the holiday. This is because there are 150 chapters in the book. When they are read twice it equals 300 and numerically 300 is equivalent to the Hebrew word ‚ ‘ kaper‘ which means atoned.


Rosh Hashana brings with it a mix of emotions. We have been saying the selichot (repentance) prayers for the entire month that precedes the holiday. Our minds are clearly focused on our short comings of the previous year and we ask God for forgiveness for these. But we also look forward to a new year filled with hope and blessings. It is definitely a time for deep prayer but often, it is difficult to express our deepest hopes and prayers. For this reason the sound of the Shofar is so powerful. It can break right through into our hearts, reach in and offer our deepest most primitive prayers that we do not even have the words for. At the end of services we leave with our hearts filled with hope, knowing that God answers prayer and that we can be hopeful for the incoming year.


We wish each other ‚ ‘tizke leshanim rabot neimot vetobot‘ may you be remembered for many pleasant and good years. And the person responds ‚ ‘tizke vetihye vetarikh yamim‘ wishing a similar prayer.


Source: http://www.jewishjournal.com

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