Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Rosh Hashana and the science of edible semiology

The ceremonial meal eaten at Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) is laden with symbolism, Simone Diamant writes in The Jerusalem Post:

As Rosh Hashana approaches, its foods, its rituals are steeped in memories of a childhood from another century, another age in which every occasion was a pretext for games and wonderful food.

For my Sephardic grandmother in Cairo and the two-score relatives who gathered around her table every Rosh Hashana – the first of the Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur – that High Holy Day was a serious and solemn affair.

But while the grown-ups read the prayers and followed the rituals, we children – unwitting recipients of edible semiology (the science of symbols) – gleefully gorged on mounds of patties or cut-up frittatas that were green with Swiss chard and golden with leeks. They were delicious.

Because the Hebrew word for chard, selek, is contained in the verb lesalek (“to expel”) and the word for leek is related to karet (“to cut off or destroy”), they are eaten on Rosh Hashana to symbolize getting rid of bad things, from one’s own evil thoughts to any malice others might harbor toward you.

We children secretly wished for our enemies to be chopped up like these vegetables we wouldn’t touch the rest of the year. After all, it was sanctioned by the prayers! (”May it be your will, oh God, that our enemies be cut off.”) Biting into the chard and leek patties made us feel delightfully wicked and empowered, like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (“Off with their heads!”).

What we relished as an edible game was part of an age-old Jewish ritual handed down from generation to generation. Like most Jews from Cordoba, Spain, who had fled the Inquisition in the late 15th century, my family settled in the four corners of the Mediterranean: France, Greece, Palestine and Italy. Toward the end of the 19th century, they brought to Egypt their traditions and cuisines, but the 20th century proved turbulent, and the fruit of their multiplication was again scattered, this time to the four corners of the world.

Read article in full

Point of No Return wishes a Happy New Year 5771 to all readers!

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