Tag Archives: rosh hashana

Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Sedar

The informant is Rabbi, working at a temple based in Los Angeles. She explains her religious journey and how meeting her husband and learning his own practices made an impact both on her life and religious beliefs and traditions.

  • So my husband is Sephardic, and so we have this whole ritual around the New Year that has all of these symbolic foods, and is something that without the ceremony is kind of, our Jewish New Year wouldn’t really have the same feeling to it.
  • So, I grew up in a pretty reform family in Cincinnati Ohio, and we were observant but not really I wouldn’t say very ritually bound; we didn’t keep kosher, we didn’t observe a lot o the Jewish commandments, but one thing that was really important to my family was Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. So I was always really into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Purim and all of that stuff. And when I was a young adult living in Israel, and I started seeing the man who has become my husband, he comes from a Sephardic background. So something that was so interesting was that I had been celebrating holidays in a certain pretty much my, my whole life and never really considered that there were different way of embracing Judaism because in Cincinnati we were just really not so exposed to other types of Judaism. So when I met my husband, actually the first time that I spent time with his family was on the Jewish New Year, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and before we had our big New Years meal, there was a ceremony and symbolic foods that were set up all around the table and um I had never heard of it before, I had never experienced it before, so I was full of a lot of questions. Basically what I learned about the whole Sephardic tradition of having a Sedar for Rosh Hashanah is that they are very into the symbolic nature of food. So you have the saying ‘you are what you eat’ um and in the Jewish sense, the symbolic foods, you ingest the types of blessings and the types of direction you want your New Year to take. So some of the items that would be eaten traditionally would be carrots… like a, a carrot and the blessing over it would be that God should ordain for us a good judgment in the year to come, and you eat the carrot and the word is Gevurah or geburah (גבורה) which is the same word as judgment, so its like you’re ingesting a good judgment. There is the apples dipped in honey and thats so that you have a sweet and a happy New Year. You eat pomegranates and the blessing for that is that you should be as multitudinous in your acts of kindness and mitzvoth as many as there are seeds in the pomegranate. One of the weirdest blessings that kind of… that took me a while to wrap my head around literally is that there is a… a hope that we should be at the head of the year and not at the tail, so there is a goats head *laughs* that is a part of the Sedar, and in my husbands family they took that really really literally and at the time, I was a vegetarian *laughs again* so on the table was this like… you know this like overcooked goats head and they served the tongue and my hebrew was not very good at the time and my husband, well he wasn’t my husband at the time, said well you know its just a little muscle and you have to eat it so that the blessing is that we will be at the head of the year and not at the tail… and that was kind of my first experience with the Sephardic Sedar and I think that as I continued to grow in my own Jewish practice and really kind of learn more about the non Ashkenazic but Sephardic traditions I find them to be umm… much more ritualistic and much more superstitious and much more concerned with having your house in a certain order and having certain foods that show that your intentions for this Jewish rituals are really of a very evolved kind of commitment. And the Sedar around Rosh Hashanah, every time that we have it now, we  have different blessings that we’ve folded in and my boys, they certainly know all the traditional ones, but every once in awhile we’ll come up with some new blessings like uhh… last year my kids added celery with raisins so that everyone who ate it would have a ‘raise-in’ their salary and that was something that they thought was really cute, and it actually went over pretty well. But when put around the table with apples and honey, and pomegranates, and we don’t do a lambs head because that’s where I draw the line, we do a fish head, and I’m, I’m, okay with that, it’s a little bit of a you know a shift in the tradition, but knowing that his parents still have the goats head on the table, I’m good just knowing that someone out there has a goats head on their table and they are perhaps thinking about us. Its pretty umm, for me, especially as I grow older and as my kids grow older, its a really nice tradition, so I think that for them, knowing that we’re doing it, that their grandparents did it and are doing it, that their aunts and uncles are doing it, that so many other people in the world are putting this good energy into the world for a New Year thats full of blessings and full of all good things, makes them feel really connected and really proud of their Jewish practice.
  • Yeah and I started keeping kosher when I was in graduate school, actually when I was living in India umm and so for me it was kind of more my own personal and Jewish evolution. I think that when I knew that I was going to become a Rabbi, I kind of wanted to have more experience with Judaism but it was so meaningful for me that a lot of it stuck. So fortunately my family has been lovely and embracing and enthusiastic about the way we live our lives and they’re pretty committed Jews themselves so yeah it works out pretty nicely. 


Occasionally when people are married, they adopt their loved one’s religion, traditions, beliefs or customs. I found this piece particularly interesting because upon becoming closer to her significant other, the informant was able to learn and expand on her knowledge of her own religion. I also found it intriguing that they were able to take his customs and transform them within their family to create their own new traditions.


This is a tradition practiced by my informant every Jewish New Year, in Paolos Verdes.

“Instead of going to services, family will go to our local cliff spot and we’ll take a blanket and sit and mom or dad will bring an envelope carrying all of our previous years lettesr and we’ll open them and read all of them to ourselves and become familiar with what our previous years goals were, did we meet them, and we’ll talk to each other about that. And then we’ll get a piece of paper and a pen and we’ll spend some time writing out things that we wish had gone differently, how we would have changed them, and what we wish for the new year. And then we go around and share those if we want, and we seal it. And then we’ll take a couple rocks and think about all the things that we didn’t like about this past year, and following the Jewish tradition where you throw bread, we throw the rocks and “let go” of all the things we felt sad about, or guilty for, or disagreed with in the past year.”

This is a version of the Jewish tradition tashlikh, in which Jews cast bread into the sea to symbolically cast aside their sins from the previous year. It is inscribed in a passage in the book of Micah, 7:18-20, which states “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea”. The use of letters and sharing would ensure careful thought and consideration, both personally and among the entire family. The substitution of rocks for bread could be for the ready availability of rocks on a cliff face, but it also might be more healing to throw something heavy as symbolic of sin.