Why do we keep saying the traditional Rosh Hashana simanim blessings?

(courtesy)
(courtesy)

Have you ever wanted new or different Rosh Hashana blessings to accompany the simanim (symbolic foods)? Does it bother you to have the head of a fish on your table? Then you are not alone.

I’ve written some new Rosh Hashana simanim blessings that I hope you’ll like. And yes, I know there are other versions other than the Ashkenazi version of the simanim (I read about them in this blog post by David Swidler https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/10-rosh-hashanah-simanim-youve-probably-never-encountered/). But I’m talking about blessings for the foods Ashkenazim traditionally eat or display, that are just more, well positive.

I get it–the blessings that accompany the simanim were written during a time of persecution. Had I lived during that time I also would have found those blessings meaningful. And yes, we still have antisemites, and enemies, and we don’t want them to succeed. We want them to fail. That being said, with the increasing popularity of the Rosh Hashana simanim (when I grew up, we just had apples and honey, folks), maybe it’s time to take a look at some of them again.

I refer in particular to the overwhelming emphasis on praying 1) that bad things happen to our enemies, 2) that God will not punish us and 3) prayers that use Hebrew or Yiddish that is sometimes obscure for anyone with only basic conversational Hebrew, or is a forced match.

Some examples (these explanations are copied from the beautiful and free NCSY simanim blessings card you can find online and download for free)- “May it be your will, God and God of our Forefathers….

Leeks: …שֶׁיִּכָּרְתוּ אוֹיְבֵינו that our enemies shall be destroyed. (The Hebrew word for leeks is “karsi” which resembles the word “lichros” which means “to destroy.”

Pumpkin or Gourd: … שֶׁתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְּזַר דִּינֵנו …that You will tear away all evil decrees before us. (The Hebrew word for gourd is “kara” which can also mean “tear” when spelled with an ayin).

Carrots: …שֶׁיִרְבּוּ זְכוּיוֹתֵינו …that our merits increase. (The Yiddish word for carrots is “mehren” which resembles the word “mehr” meaning “more.”)

Beets: ….שֶׁיִּסְתַּלְּקוּ אוֹיְבֵינו – that our enemies will be removed. (The Hebrew word for beets is “silka” which is similar to the word “lisalek” meaning “to remove.”

Dates: שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ וְאוֹיְבֵינוּ.​​​​​​​ …that our enemies be consumed. (The Hebrew word for date is
“tamar” which is similar to the word “yitamu” which means “be consumed.”

I like the apples and honey blessing, and the pomegranate blessing, because they are positive, and even the fish blessing, which is positive, although I don’t want a fish head on my table. But the others need a positive spin.

If you are happy with the traditional blessings, because, you know TRADITION! (imagine Tevye singing here), then fine- you do you. But if you want an alternative, maybe you’ll enjoy my new modern version (which by the way is only in English until I get a chance to translate it, and uses English rhymes and play on words).

You can view my modern version up close and download both the traditional and modern pdfs with full color accents I created here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/1030689629/rosh-hashanah-simanim-printable-rosh?ga_search_query=simanim&ref=shop_items_search_1&pro=1

I wish all of us a year free of enemies, anti-Semites, and plagues. And full of all the good things; health, growth, success, and doing many mitzvot.

About the Author
Leah Richman is a rabbi and mother of two daughters living the vegetarian Jewish life in Boca Raton, FL. She has worked in congregations and Jewish Federations, and currently works at Liumi West Retreat, teaches online, blogs at Like Water For Torah, and is available for personal spiritual direction.
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