With Rosh Hashanah coming many of us are stocking up on apples, figs, dates, and pomegranates and maybe some other deliciously sweet fruit. But do we know why on our tables whether the lead is taken by the apple or pomegranate or both? What it is the affair between them and our culture?
Since ancient times and in different cultures for example, Greek or Roman, the pomegranate was a symbol of fertility which makes a logical metaphor just by looking at the structure of this beautiful and delightful fruit – of course, I am talking here about the seeds as a representation of fecundity. Reaching out towards Far Eastern cultures, the pomegranate seeds in Feng Shui also illustrate fertility because of the numerous seeds.
The symbolism of pomegranate made it even to tarot card reading, a strong reference to fertility and female energy. This fruit has a long-standing universal history echoed in various cultures and practices. However, with the universal reference comes the distinction and this is a further interpretation when it comes to the seeds. In Judaism it is suggested that there are 613 seeds within a pomegranate – I personally never counted them, but certainly it looks like there are hundreds of seeds each time I open a pomegranate. This number represents Mitzvot – commandments of Torah.
Another aspect of the pomegranate in Judaism is the beauty it represents. In King Solomon’s Songs the beauty of a woman is compared to the pomegranate. This is a rather charming metaphor.
It is also a ‘’new fruit’’ for our New Year. It is also one of the fruits of Israel, a native one. In Deuteronomy 8:8 it is said; ’’a Land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate; a Land of oil-olives and date-honey….” There is no surprise that this luscious fruit made into the Middle Eastern cuisine, pomegranate molasses, gives a distinctive flavour to many Jewish dishes across different Jewish cultures, Sephardi, Bukhari, Persian or Mizrachi. When the Jews left the land of Israel they took the pomegranate seeds with them, there is a record of that within the Spanish community.
In my own home, the pomegranate is a frequent ingredient yet a star on the Rosh Hashanah table appearing in salad, rice dish and French fig tarte sprinkled with the pomegranate seeds and swirl of honey. This star has another main companion for full accomplishment, and that’s the fragrant fruit of apple.
The apple’s main reference in universal interpretation is the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, the splendidness of the apple lies in nice taste, round shape, and its scent. As they are not always sweet, we use honey as a sweetener. However, more importantly, the honey is used more as a link to the Holy Land, the land of milk and honey. The Torah is not telling us to dip the apple in the honey but refers to the paste made from dates (honey) and this in itself should remind us of the connection between us and Israel. The custom of dipping the apple in the honey arrived to us in medieval times amongst the Ashkenazi Jews. The apple represents the relationship between us and Hashem.
Referring to the Song of Songs; ‘’As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved Israel, the maidens of the world’’ In Jewish mysticism this fruit illustrates Shechinah (the feminine aspect of G-d). For this reason, some Jews will believe that eating apple with honey symbolises the kind judgment of Shechinah sweetly watching us.
Both fruits are evocative of positiveness, and it is natural for us to approach the New Year with hope and positive vibes. For me personally, both of them embody the richness of spiritual, religious, cultural and natural taste, hence making them the stars of the Rosh Hashanah table amongst other fruits such as figs and dates – both made into a paste, produce honey and this is a must have ingredient as much as the pomegranate and apple.
On that note, Shana Tova u’metuka.