The onset of a new year brings with it the hope of rectifying past problems and the anticipation of fulfilling achievements and wishes. These feelings are expressed through New Year's greetings and by performing actions symbolizing renewal and hope for a better future. The Rosh Hashanah feast includes various types of food that serve as symbols of the holiday.
The inclusion of foods with symbolic meaning in the Rosh Hashanah feast is an ancient tradition, the roots of which may be found in the writings of the Sages. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Kritot, page 6a) says, "Abaye said, 'at the beginning of every year a person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates"'. The Hebrew names of these foods are symbolic as they serve as the basis for the blessings customarily recited prior to eating them: gourd (krah) - "May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers that our bad decrees should be torn up" (yikrah); fenugreek (rubya) -"May it be Your will... that our merits should be numerous" (yirbu); leek (karti) - "our enemies should be cut off" (yikratu); beets (silka) - "our enemies should be removed" (yistalku); dates (tamarim) - "our enemies should be finished" (yitamu).
Along with these foods, the holiday table is also filled with foods whose natural characteristics serve as festive symbols of the good wishes for the New Year:
Apple and Honey
One takes a slice of sweet apple and dips it in honey, reciting: "May it be Your will... that we should have a good and sweet new year".
One eats a piece of a fish head, saying: "May it be Your will... that we should be the head and not the tail". It is customary to recite additional blessings based on the characteristics of fish, such as "we should multiply as fish" or "that You should watch over us with the open eye of a fish" (fish do not have eyelids so their eyes are always open).
Among some ethnic groups it is customary to eat a piece of a sheep or ram head, rather than that of a fish, reciting the blessing "and remember the ram of Isaac" alluding to the ram that was sacrificed in lieu of Isaac.
When eating pomegranate seeds one recites the blessing: "May it be Your will... that our merits should increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate". The Talmudic legend notes that each pomegranate fruit has 613 seeds, as the number of mitzvoth (commandments), equating the People of Israel, who are full of mitzvoth, to the pomegranate fruit.