Rosh Hashanah and Fish
Even though fish in general is an important staple in the Jewish diet, on Rosh Hashanah fish holds even more importance than usual. Fish dishes are a quintessential part of Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as the New Year in the Jewish calendar. It is a two day festival that is typically celebrated with loved ones on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The next Rosh Hashanahs will occur on September 18-20th, 2020 and September 6-8th, 2021.
Having fish on the table during the celebration dinner is considered a good omen for many blessings in the new year. When the fish dishes are served, they are followed by a prayer that is roughly translated to “that we be fruitful and multiply like fish.” The fish can be prepared in many different ways, depending on which country you are from. Usually a white fish is chosen such as Centropristis striata (Sea Bass), Anoplopoma fimbria (Sablefish) or Hippoglossus stenolepis (Halibut). It can be served in the form of gefilte (a type of fish “meatloaf”), stewed in tomato sauce or pan-fried in saffron.
A fish head is also placed in the middle of the table as the fish head represents leadership. The fish head symbolizes becoming a leader since the “tail follows the head.” When this fish head is placed, it is accompanied with the blessing, “May we be heads, and not tails.” This is in the hopes that the new year will be full of strength and not of weakness. It also has the meaning that we should move forward and continue to make progress in the new year, rather than linger and be stuck in the past.
Even the words “Rosh Hashanah” translated from Hebrew means “head of the year” which is another reason for having the symbolic fish head on the table. Rosh Hashanah is a very important and delightful festival and having fish and a fish head is a way to have good fortune for the rest of the year.
A Jewish Community Member. Personal Interview. 12 May 2020.
Kuruvilla, Carol. “The Spiritual Meaning Of The Food On Your Rosh Hashanah Table.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/rosh-hashanah-table-spiritual-meaning_n_5871258?ri18n=true
Rotkovitz, Miri. “Serve Up A Sweet New Year: 10 Symbolic Foods for Rosh Hashanah.” The Spruce Eats, Dotdash, 3 Oct. 2019, www.thespruceeats.com/rosh-hashana-simanim-symbolic-foods-2122243.