Candles

Shabbat and holiday dinners are ushered in with candle lighting (Photo: Mushka Lightstone).
Shabbat and holiday dinners are ushered in with candle lighting (Photo: Mushka Lightstone).

Girls and all women who are in the house (or if there isn't a woman in the house, the head of the household), light candles so that the festive table is bathed in their glow. See Procedure for Holiday Candle Lighting for detailed holiday candle-lighting information.

Kiddush

Holding the ceremonial cup of wine for Kiddush or Havdalah.
Holding the ceremonial cup of wine for Kiddush or Havdalah.

Before starting the Rosh Hashanah meal, we sanctify the holiday by reciting the kiddush over a cup of wine or grape juice. Click here for the Hebrew text of the kiddush.1

New Fruit

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, a "new fruit," i.e., a seasonal fruit which we have not yet tasted since its season began, should be present on the table when the holiday candles are kindled and during the kiddush. While reciting the Shehecheyanu blessing after candle-lighting and after the kiddush, one should have the new fruit in mind.2

This fruit is eaten following the kiddush, before washing for bread. Before partaking of the fruit we say the following blessing:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam bo-re pri ha-etz.

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Challah in Honey

Round challah is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat.
Round challah is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat.

Immediately following the kiddush (and on the second night, the eating of the new fruit), we perform the ritual washing for bread, after which we say the following blessing:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ad-onai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, a-sher ki-desh-an-u be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tziv-anu al ne-til-at ya-da-yim.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם

Blessed are you, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.

When everyone has returned to the table, we raise the two challah loaves and recite the Hamotzie blessing:

Ba-ruch atah A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu Melech Ha-Olam, hamotzie le-chem min ha-ar-etz.

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Blessed are You, L-rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Cut the challah, dip it in honey (some also dip it in salt), and have a bite. Pass around pieces and make sure everyone does the same.

Symbolic Foods

On Rosh Hashanah, we eat pomegranate to ask G-d that our merits multiply like the seeds of this delicious fruit.
On Rosh Hashanah, we eat pomegranate to ask G-d that our merits multiply like the seeds of this delicious fruit.

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after eating the challah with honey, it is customary to eat several foods which symbolize the type of year we wish to have:

We dip a piece of sweet apple into honey. Before eating it we say:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam bo-re pri ha-etz.

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Ye-hi ratzon she-ti-cha-desh alei-nu shanah tovah u-m'tu-kah.

יהי רצון שתחדש עלנו שנה טובה ומתוקה

May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.

A head of a fish, ram, or other kosher animal, is served. This symbolizes our desire to be at the "head of the class" this year.

A pomegranate is eaten, symbolizing our wish to have a year full of mitzvot and good deeds as a pomegranate is filled with luscious seeds.

Throughout the meal, it is customary to also eat foods whose names in the vernacular allude to blessing and prosperity. For example, many have the custom of eating a carrot dish called tzimmes, because in Yiddish the word for carrots, meren, means to multiply.

Rosh Hashanah Cuisine

On Rosh Hashanah it is customary not to eat foods which are sour or tart (the gefilte fish will have to do without the horseradish...). Instead, the focus is on sweet foods, symbolizing our desire to have a sweet year, blessings and abundance. It is also customary not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah, as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for nuts ("egoz") is the same as the Hebrew word for sin ("chet").

Click here for traditional Rosh Hashanah recipes.

Click here for Rosh Hashanah foods according to Sephardic custom.