Why Pomegranate Is A Symbolic Food For Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this Sunday, September 25 at sundown. It's a time for families to gather at home for celebrations, and where food, especially symbolic foods, plays an important part in the festivities. Apples dipped in honey are probably the most common food associated with Rosh Hashanah, and symbolize wishes for a sweet new year. Challah, a special braided bread often eaten on other Jewish holidays and ceremonies, is baked in a round shape for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the never-ending cycle of life. Many families will also place a cooked fish head on the table, both as a literal representation of Rosh Hashanah (which means "head of the year" in Hebrew), and as a hope for leading, rather than following, in the new year.

Another commonly served symbolic food is pomegranate. Pomegranates have been cultivated in the Middle East for thousands of years. It's one of the seven species native to Israel (along with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, and dates), and often included in art and ceremonies, including Rosh Hashanah. Here's why.

The symbolic reasons behind pomegranates

For the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary for celebrants to eat a "new fruit" — a fruit that hasn't been eaten that year, or for a long while. According to My Jewish Learning, it's a way to "literally taste the newness of the year, by enjoying an unfamiliar food." Pomegranate, with a harvest season in Israel that typically occurs from late August to October or early November, right around the time of Rosh Hashanah, is commonly used for that "new fruit."

Another reason pomegranates are eaten for Rosh Hashanah is due to the belief that they contain 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitvot, or commandments, in the Torah, explains the Jewish Museum. In reality, pomegranates don't have precisely 613 seeds. However, as Jewish Action explains, the symbolism of pomegranates is still apt, but should refer instead to abundance in general, rather than 613 in particular, noting that the name pomegranate is derived from the Latin for seeded apple, or an apple with an abundance of seeds.

According to Chabad.org, there is another deeper, symbolic meaning behind eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah, and that is to express a prayer to not be judged for any outer "peels" or actions, but instead, for the inner intentions to do and be good.