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Why Do We Eat a Fish Head on Rosh Hashanah?

Why Do We Eat a Fish Head on Rosh Hashanah?

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Question:

I read somewhere that there is a custom to eat the head of a fish on the night of Rosh Hashanah, to symbolize that in the coming year “we should be the head and not the tail.” What does this actually mean? I can’t make head or tail of it . . . (Sorry.)

Answer:

We face today a crisis of leadership. In almost every area of life—familial, communal, global and personal—there is a gaping void at the top. Rather than leading with vision and purpose, today’s leaders are often no more than followers.

We see governments and communal leaders who aren’t building policies based on deeply held values and time-tested truths, but rather shape their platforms by following popular opinion and adopting whatever pet issues are in fashion on the day.This is why we are so confused today. What should be the head is nothing more than a tail . . .

Many parents are not giving their children clear direction and guidance, but rather take their cues from the children themselves, and cave in to their every desire.

Individuals are often not living lives directed by core beliefs and lofty ideals, but rather follow their lower instincts, and then develop convoluted justifications for living a life of self-indulgence.

This is why we are so confused today. What should be the head is nothing more than a tail. Instead of ideals shaping reality, it’s the other way around—whatever my reality is, I will shape my ideals to fit it.

The reason for this crisis in the modern world is clear. So many of us have forgotten G‑d. We have lost our Head, our source of absolute truth. Once ultimate authority is weakened, all authority is weakened.

But we can turn this around. We can reconnect to our Head, the true Higher Authority. Only then can we have heads that are not tails.

Parents ought to have a clear picture of what they want their family to look like, based on eternal values that are as true today as they were for our grandparents. And then, with love and sensitivity, along with firmness and discipline, parents must guide their children to live up to that standard.

Leaders need to have a moral vision that is immune from the shortsighted influence of mob thinking, and with pragmatism and resolve inspire their constituents to share that vision.Once ultimate authority is weakened, all authority is weakened

As individuals, we must espouse ideals that transcend our own selfishness, a higher purpose that comes from a place beyond our own ego, so we can control our lower urges and live a life of meaning and soulful achievement.

So, as a new year dawns, we pray that we should be the head and not the tail. We need it for our world, our families and ourselves.

Find out why we:

Eat round Challah on Rosh Hashanah

Eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah

Dip an apple into honey

Eat interesting foods in general

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Anonymous September 21, 2017

Deuteronomy 28:13 Reply

Anonymous Ghana September 1, 2015

Down-to-earth and tuned to realities; an awe inspiring masterpiece Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel August 30, 2015

Absolutely wonderful article. Short, concise, clear - a beacon in the dark! Reply

sunil subba India August 28, 2015

A very deep article on making ourselves utilise not 100 percent but more than that.At times we are using only 10 percent of our capabilities to benefiet society and ourselves.The potential to be leaders is all in our selves.Its high time instead of clapping for the leaders we should be the leaders and not be the clapper.There is the belief here that eating fish heads makes one brainy. Reply

Leo August 28, 2015

We are what we eat. When each one of us demand better, in a non arrogant, respectful manner and turn from what isn't right then we can change. Encourage others to help change school boards and local governments. When perverted notions are not confronted they permeate society. Reply

scott allendale north August 27, 2015

Like everything!? eyeballs, teeth, scales, gills (are they there?)? Can I have just a sardine then please? Reply

John Kaplan, MD August 26, 2015

Thank you for your inspirational guidance. I agree that thoughtful perspective based on spiritual values is very much need in our world where most merely do and say what is popular or trendy. Reply

Anonymous August 26, 2015

Why fish And why of a fish and not any other animal.. Reply

Ralph Brooklyn August 26, 2015

Fish Head Soup Just collect many of your favorite fish heads from the fish store, add soup vegetables and make a Fish head soup! Yo can strain-out all of the bones and cartilage and it is delicious! Remember to add white wine to the mix! Reply

Gil Roslyn Hts August 26, 2015

Why we eat the head of a fish on Rosh Hashana? The explanation is as simple as the facial expression on your face. Jews as well as well as other peoples who lived in primitive times celebrated their holidays with their own cultures, and personal traits. Also interpretation, and explanations given by their chieftains, tribesmen elders. shamens, priests, rabbis, and others who were considered wise. Many holidays were celebratedwith either special meals, or abstention from meals, or fast days.The head of the year, and the head of an animal, is a simple analogy. The rabbinic explanation, which turned into a sermon, is an example of analysis into paralysis. We Jews are known as "children of the Book." Boy, can we spin a story. Reply

sandra bklyn August 26, 2015

love the article....on point Reply

Doug August 25, 2015

Is this a commandment from God, or another man-made commandment? Reply

Eliezer Nyc August 25, 2015

Fish heads are gross. Reply

Banta Titiana London August 25, 2015

Shana Tova,Chabad Organization!I like the article.Good explanation.Thank you. Reply

Jorge Nelson Robles Olarte Medellín-,Colombia August 25, 2015

Where, in the Scriptures, teach us that we must keep that custom to eat the head of a fish. If there is a Scriptural teaching about, I will keep it! Reply

Rolando VA August 25, 2015

Quite true. One such tail is "modernism" which to some have swept absolutes. Reply

Lewis Brackett August 25, 2015

Why Do We Eat a Fish Head on Rosh Hashanah? around here it would be because a seal bit off the rest of the fish :)
I guess that makes the seal a stand in for satan...

Lewis in San Diego California USA Reply

Ari Long Island August 25, 2015

It can be dangerous to eat the head of a fish. Tiny bones can stick in the throat and cause serious problems. Better to eat a fish that has already been fileted and de-boned. A thorn in the side is safer than a bone in the throat. Reply

Frank Joopiteer Phoenix, AZ August 25, 2015

I am sorry, but I did not find a clear answer to the exact question ...??? Reply

ED. FLORIDA August 25, 2015

Carelessness We shouldn't take the holidays for granted. Sure the gathering of relatives and friends are a gladsome thing but what about those hospitalized or just cannot get out of bed to be with someone? and we should also remember the 6 million that died during the Holocaust.
Right now Israeli troops will be guarding their state and watching for disasters from antisemites...so be joyful you are able to enjoy the holidays...lechaim to all. Reply

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