In two places (Horayos 12a and Kerisos 6a), the Gemara mentions that it is an auspicious omen to have foods on Rosh Hashanah whose names carry positive connotations. Additionally, one of a number of Teshuvos HaGeonim on the subject, mentions the custom to consume honey and succulent meat on Rosh Hashanah, based on a passuk (Nechemiah 8:9) in which Nechemiah instructed the Jews to consume sweet things on Rosh Hashanah.1
A number of different approaches are offered to explain the seemingly superstitious practice of eating simanim. Some teach that the simanim serve to arouse a person to do teshuvah and to daven, and to thereby help the person in his judgment on Rosh Hashanah.2 Others state that this practice reflects the concept that actions taken in this world engender similar actions in Heaven.3 A third view sees eating the simanim as a way of expressing our trust that Hashem will do as we are asking Him.4
Although the accepted halachah calls forthesimanim to be eaten,5 it has been argued that the desired effect would be accomplished even if one merely looks at them.6 The Poskim therefore advise that one who cannot eat of any of the simanim should nevertheless look at it and recite the appropriate tefilah.7
â€¢We have already noted the importance of eating honey on Rosh Hashanah. The kabballistic significance of apples is used to explain why it is specifically that sweet fruit that is eaten with the honey.8 The minhag is to eat a sweet apple together with honey.9
The brochoh of haâ€™eitz should be made before the apple is eaten, despite the fact that the minhag of most people is to eat the simanim after making hamotzie. The reason for this is that the simanim are not considered to be part of the actual meal.10 A brochoh need not be made on the honey because it is eaten as subordinate to the apple.11 If one will also be eating a date or pomegranate, then the haâ€™eitz should be made on one of those fruits as they are from among the shivas haminim.12 And because dates are mentioned closer to the word haâ€™aretz in Devarim 8:8 than pomegranates are, the brochoh should be made on a date even if a pomegranate is present.13
The yehi ratzon should be recited after having eaten some of the fruit , so as not to interrupt between the brochoh and eating.14
One need not make a hoâ€™adomoh on cooked vegetables that are eaten as simanim as these items may be considered components of the meal.15 There are, however, those who are stringent and make a hoaâ€™adomoh on a banana or a piece of melon before eating the vegetable simanim.
It should be noted that if either haâ€™eitz or hoâ€™adomoh is made at the beginning of the meal, that brochoh should not be repeated later on, when dessert is served.
â€¢There are a number of different customs regarding exactly when the simanim should be eaten. While several Poskim state that they should be eaten on both nights of Rosh Hashanah,16 another view contends that they should be eaten at each of the Yom Tovâ€™s four meals,17 some would eat them throughout the aseres yemei teshuvah,18 and there is a popular custom to eat them only on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.19 As is generally the rule with minhagim, one should follow his familyâ€™s custom.
â€¢Meat from the head of a sheep should be eaten both as a siman that we should be a head and not a tail, and to recall the ram involved in akeidas Yitzchak.20 In consideration of the second reason, a ramâ€™s head is preferable to a sheepâ€™s,21 and because of the first reason, one who has neither of these should eat of another type of head.22
â€¢Walnuts should be not be eaten on Rosh Hashanah as the gematria of egoz (walnut) is equal to that of cheit (sin),23 and because they tend to cause an increase in mucus that may prove disruptive during davening.24 This second concern is weighed heavily on Rosh Hashanah when one should be extra careful to quietly listen to chazaras hashatz.25 Furthermore, this reason is applicable to almonds26 and beans as well.27
Nuts that have been baked as part of a cake do not cause excessive mucus. The first concern, however, may still exist. Thus, while walnut cake should be avoided on Rosh Hashanah, because almonds are subject only to the second concern, one may eat almond cake.28 Cooked beans, such as arbis or beans in cholent are similarly permissible.29
â€¢Since, as we have seen, there is a source in Tanach for the idea that sweet foods should be eaten on Rosh Hashanah, some have a custom to avoid tart or bitter foods.30 These include foods cooked in vinegar31 and lemons.32
The minhagim are varied regarding when to refrain from eating walnuts and tart or bitter foods, with some abstaining until after Hoshanah Rabbah.33 One who does not know what his familyâ€™s custom is may certainly be lenient after Yom Kippur has passed.
â€¢While some authorities caution against eating grapes on Rosh Hashanah, based on kaballah,34 others were not concerned by this.35
â€¢From the significance that we attach to the foods that one eats on Rosh Hashanah, it is obvious that one must be extremely careful regarding what he does on those days. One must take care to remain in good spirits and to avoid becoming angry36 and wasting time.37 Certainly, one should learn as much Torah as possible on Rosh Hashanah. It is a segulah to learn one of the four perakim of mishnayos Rosh Hashanah at each of the seudos.38
The minhag is to eat a sweet apple with honey. Sour apples should not be used.
One who cannot eat a siman should simply look at it before reciting the appropriate yehi ratzon.
While some have the minhag to eat simanim on only the first night of Rosh Hashanah, others do so on the second night as well. One should follow his familyâ€™s minhag.
On Rosh Hashanah, one may eat cake containing almonds.
It is preferable to eat meat from the head of a ram on the night of Rosh Hashanah as opposed to another type of head.
Questions and comments may be addressed to DovidKaiser@gmail.com. Rabbi ZevSmithâ€™s weekly halachah shiur takes place on Sunday mornings at the Stoliner shul 4609 16th Aveat 10:00am. Tapes/cds of the shiurim are available at 718.851.8651 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 The teshuvah is quoted at the beginning of Mordechai to Masechta Yoma; also see Maharil, Minhagim, Rosh Hashanah 7, where five additional pesukim are brought to prove that sweet things should be eaten on Rosh Hashanah.
2 Meiri, Horayos 12a; Mateh Yehudah 583 s.v. din aleph; Shelah, Rosh Hashanah, Ner Mitzvah, cited in Eliyahu Rabbah, Mateh Ephraim, and Mishnah Berurah, all in siman 583.
3 Maharal in Beâ€™er HaGolah (p. 200 in the Hartman Ed.) and Chiddushei Aggados to Horayos 12a, Chayei Adam 139:6, both based on Ramban to Bereishis 12:6.
4 Chochmas Shlomo, Orach Chaim 583.
5 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 583:1.
6 See Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 583[:1].
7 Kaf HaChaim, Orach Chaim 583:6; Ketzeih HaMateh 583:9.
8 Maharil ibid. states that the apple is suggestive of the â€œchakal tapuchinâ€; see further Beâ€™ur HaGra, Orach Chaim 583, s.v. tapuach [and Halichos Shlomo, Rosh Hashanah, Ch. 1, note 75]; see Ben Ish Chai,Shanah Rishonah, Nitzavim 4 for additional approaches.
9 Rama, Orach Chaim 583:1, with Beâ€™ur HaGra and Emes LeYaâ€™akov there.
10 Darkei Moshe 583:1, citing Maharil.
11 Mishnah Berurah 8:3; see Shevus Yaâ€™akov, cited in Shaâ€™arei Teshuvah, Orach Chaim 583:2, for a different view.
12 See Kaf HaChaim ibid. 13 and 25; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 211:1.
13 See Kaf HaChaim ibid. and Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 4.
14 Mishnah Berurah 583:4.
15 Mateh Yehudah 583 s.v. shom silka; see Maharil ibid. 8.
16 See Shaâ€™arei Teshuvah 583:1; Mateh Ephraim 583:2 and 600:14; Ketzeih HaMateh 583:13.
17 See Mateh Ephraim 597:4; Ben Yehoyada to Horayos 12a s.v. shom yeheih ragil.
18 Leket Yosher p. 129.
19 Aishel Avraham MiButchatch 583 s.v. veâ€™omrim; see Benei Yisaschar, Maâ€™amarei Chodesh Tishrei 2:11.
20 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 583:2.
21 Mishnah Berurah 583:6.
22 Magen Avraham 583:3.
23 Rama, Orach Chaim 583:2. [This gematria assumes that cheit would be spelled ches-tes.]
25 Peri Megadim, Aishel Avraham 583:4.
26 Magen Avraham 583:4.
27 Mateh Ephraim 583:3.
28 Beâ€™er Moshe vol. III #97.
29 See Shefa Chaim vol. I #50.
30 See Mishnah Berurah 583:5 and 600:4.
31 Mishnah Berurah 583:5.
32 Chida in Moreh Etzba 254 and Tov Ayin 18:95.
33 See Leket Yosher p. 124; Ketzeih HaMateh 583:19; Piskei Teshuvos 583:5.
34 Mishnah Berurah 600:4, from Gra.
35 See Chayei Adam 139:6; Mishnah Berurah ibid., from Mateh Ephraim.
36 Mishnah Berurah 583:5.
37 Ibid. 9.
38 Ketzeih HaMateh 583:22, from Sifrei Mussar.