Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rosh Hashana - Sour, Bitter, & Sharp Foods

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Talmud teaches that one should eat symbolic and meaningful foods on Rosh Hashana, as "omens are significant [and have influence]…on the entire year".[1] For example, there is a universal custom to begin the Rosh Hashana meal with an apple dipped in honey in order to symbolize our hope for a sweet new year. Eating sweet foods is said to be able to influence God in "sweetening" our judgment for the coming year. It is interesting to note that the apple evolved as the primary symbolic food of Rosh Hashana because an apple orchard represents “a field blessed by God”[2] and is also symbolic of paradise.[3] There are many other foods as well which have evolved throughout the ages which are customary to eat on Rosh Hashana as a segula for a good year.

Click here for moreIn contrast, there is also a widespread custom to avoid eating sour or bitter foods, in order not to arouse any "bitter" influences for the coming year. It seems that the custom to refrain from such foods evolved in the era of the Gaonim, circa 600-1000 c.e. According to the custom,"…we don’t cook dishes that are sour [sheyesh bo chometz]…we only eat sweet things…so that the entire year will be sweet and pleasant with nothing bad nor any stress".[4] It is noted that the only foods cited in the original enactment to avoid on Rosh Hashana are "sour" ones – there is no mention or ban on "sharp" (charif) or "bitter" (mar) foods. Indeed, the primary contemporary halachic authorities only cite the practice of avoiding "sour" foods on Rosh Hashana.[5]

Nevertheless, there are later authorities who have incorporated "bitter" foods in the custom, as well.[6] That being said, however, there is no restriction on adding "pepper" and other sharp spices which are needed to enhance the flavour of the food.[7] As such, although one is well advised to avoid "sour" and maybe even "bitter" foods in compliance with the custom, there does not seem to be any need to avoid "sharp" foods.[8]

It is also worth mentioning that the original custom of avoiding sour (and later, bitter) foods may have only been intended to apply on the first night of Rosh Hashana and not the second one.[9] In some communities the custom is to avoid all such sour, bitter, or sharp foods for the entire aseret yemei teshuva, from Rosh Hashana until after Yom Kippur,[10] and some even do so until after Simchat Torah.[11]

Nevertheless, common custom is not like this view and most people only observe the injunction on the first night(s) of Rosh Hashana. Additionally, it seems that virtually all halachic authorities sanction eating "sharp" foods on Rosh Hashana, especially when it is merely being added to a dish as a spice. It is also argued that even those who suggest avoiding "sharp" foods on Rosh Hashana were not referring to sharp foods in the way we understand the term. Rather, "sharp" in the Middle Ages was also used as a word to describe something exceptionally "bitter".[12]


[1] Keritut 6a
[2] Tur and others, Bereishit 27:27.
[3] Zohar, Bereishit 27:27; cf. "Chakal Tapuchin Kadishin".
[4] Kaf Hachaim 583:19
[5] Mishna Berura 583:5, Shulchan Aruch Harav 583:3
[6] Mateh Ephraim 583:3, Aruch Hashulchan 583:3
[7] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 583:3
[8] Birurei Chaim 4:20
[9] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 583:3
[10] Leket Yosher p.124, cited in Birurei Chaim 4:20
[11] Piskei Teshuvot 583:5
[12] Birurei Chaim 4:20

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More