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Why Do We Eat Pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah?

Why Do We Eat Pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah?

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On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat foods with symbolic importance. According to some, these foods serve as cues to help us focus on the agenda of the day: prayer, repentance and resolution to do good.

According to others, the physical act of eating these foods helps to concretize and give physical form to the positive decrees we trust that G‑d has in store for us. Similarly, the prophets in the Bible would make a physical sign to concretize their prophecy, demonstrating that the transition from potential to actual is dependent on one’s physical actions. (For more on this, read Why All the Symbolic Rosh Hashanah Foods?)

For most of the foods, the symbolism lies in the name of the food.1 When it comes to pomegranates, however, the symbolism lies in the fruit itself. By eating the pomegranate, we express our wish for a year filled with as many merits as a pomegranate has seeds.2

Though some communities do not have the custom to eat many of the symbolic foods, they do eat the pomegranate (along with the apple dipped in honey and the head of a fish or ram).3 Perhaps this is due to the pomegranate’s deeper significance.

Full of Mitzvahs

On the verse “Your temple is like a split pomegranate from within your kerchief,”4 the Talmud notes that the Hebrew word for “your temples” can also mean “your empty ones.” The verse is teaching us that even the most “empty” among Israel are full of mitzvahs, like a pomegranate is full of seeds.5

Thus, eating the pomegranate symbolizes that although some of us may be lacking, nevertheless, we are all full of mitzvahs.6

Look Inside

The Talmud relates that the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir, who lived right after the destruction of the second Holy Temple, was a student of Elisha ben Avuyah, a great sage who became a heretic. Even after Elisha turned away from the ways of Torah, and was thereafter referred to in the Talmud by the name Acher(“Other”), Rabbi Meir continued to learn Torah from him.

The sages of the Talmud ask how Rabbi Meir was able to do so. Is there not a rule that one must only learn from a teacher with a stellar reputation? The sages answer that Rabbi Meir, who went on to become one of the greatest sages, was unique. When he learned from Acher, “he ate the fruit and threw away the peel,” as one would eat a pomegranate.7

In other words, Rabbi Meir was able to disregard and discard Acher’s openly sinful behavior like a peel, drawing out the valuable Torah insights that remained within.

This is the deeper reason for eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah. Through eating this symbolic fruit, we express our prayer to G‑d that when He judges us, He shouldn’t look at our outer “peels,” our external actions and appearances, which may at times not have been up to par.8 Instead, we pray that he only look at our inner intentions and our true desire to do good and be connected with Him.

Of course, we can and should also practice this in our own lives, always focusing on the best in others. May we merit a year of many blessings and mitzvahs—as many as the seeds of the pomegranate!

Find out why we:

Eat round Challah on Rosh Hashanah

Eat the head of a fish

Dip an apple into honey

Eat interesting foods in general

Footnotes
1.
E.g., beets are eaten since the Hebrew word for beets is silka, similar to the word for "remove,” expressing the hope that our enemies be removed.
2.
Many say a prayer expressing this wish before eating the pomegranate (see Rama in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, 583:1), but this is not the Chabad custom.
3.
See Sefer Minhagim Chabad.
5.
Talmud, Berachot 57a.
6.
Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Tzukerman in Birchat Chaim, vol. 1, p. 30.
7.
Talmud, Chagigah 15b.
8.
Birchat Chaim, vol. 1, p. 30.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Artwork by Yoram Raanan.
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