It seems that, similar to the New Age idea slogan “think positive, be positive”, the Jewish kitchen swapped out thinking for eating and created a particularly fun formula – eat a blessing, bring forth a blessing.
The connection between food and blessings or wishes on holidays is not specific to those celebrated during the month of Tishrei. Jewish communities around the world established their own culinary traditions, and specific foods associated with them, the preparation and eating of which were intended to confer a blessing on the diners, bring good luck to the household, to bestow prosperity, livelihood, good health, or fertility, and sometimes just to wish someone a safe journey.
Amongst the user’s of the FOODISH website, such foods began to accumulate: Ash Reshteh soup from Persian cuisine, for example, is prepared before one departs on a long journey and tradition invites neighbors to throw a noodle into the pot to confer a blessing of peace for Israel, for the safe return of the traveler, and other personal wishes for themselves.
Jews from Libya or Tunisia, and some of the Jews of Algeria, hold a “bsisa” ceremony on the first day of Nisan or when foundations are poured for a new house. The ceremony often involves wheat and its derivatives, sugar, spices, oil and also gold rings or keys, and is performed to bless the new home, for its well-being and protection.
The Jews of India have Malida – a mixture of toasted semolina or crisped rice and fruit in a beautiful arrangement, which they bless and eat on Tu B’Shvat and at every new beginning such as moving house, getting engaged, or starting a new job. For Jews who are descendants of families expelled from Spain during the Inquisition (mainly those who settled in Turkey) there is Ashure – a sweet and spicy wheat porridge, which is prepared as a symbol of strength and abundance when a baby’s first tooth arrives. Some prepare the porridge in large quantities and distribute it to neighbors and friends as a symbol of free love – something we could all use a little more of these days.
Food as a way to change the world
“The symbols of Rosh Hashanah appear for the first time at the beginning of the fourth century, in the Keritot treatise of the Babylonian Talmud: ‘Now that you have said that the sign is important – a person should be accustomed to eating on Rosh Hashanah kara (gourd) and rubia (black eyed pea pods), kreti (leek), silka (vegetable from the beet family) and tamari’ (translation from Aramaic).’ However, in the Talmud they were not accompanied by a blessing or specific prayer, and we were contented with eating them or even just placing them on the table. A few hundred years later, Rabbi Hai Gaon added a prayer to each food (for example, ‘kara – our judgement will be broken’) and in the 14th century, Rabbi David Abu Durham ruled that the prayer should begin ‘may it be before You [God]’,” explains Dr. Esther Shekalim, lecturer, researcher of Israeli communities, curator of Jewish art, and poet. Shekalim emphasizes that these symbols are just a part of the mindset that attributes the ability of food to carry a deeper meaning and perhaps even create something in the world. “In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the blessing customs of various Jewish communities, because websites like to write articles highlighting ‘the strangest holiday customs’. From time immemorial man has searched for meaning in the things that happen around him and a way to influence the environment and his own destiny. Among other things, we try to do this through food. It has been part of the holidays, and everyday life, for hundreds of years.”
We invite you to download the full booklet, adopt new customs for your family, and add your own customs to the website.