Friday, September 22, 2006
The Jewish Ledger explores the peculiarly Sephardi tradition of the New Year seder. (With thanks: Albert)
"I've yet to have fewer than 20 people at my house for seder,” says Diana Gould, a Stamford-based realtor of Persian descent. Gould isn't referring to Passover, but to Rosh Hashanah. Persian Jews, like all Sephardim, mark the two nights of the holiday with large seders, surrounded by family and friends.
An ancient tradition mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, the seder gradually fell out of practice in many Ashkenazic communities, but has remained a Sephardic tradition. Participants recite prayers over several symbolic foods, thought to bring special blessings and protection in the new year. Each prayer begins with “Yehi ratzon,” “May it be Your will,” and relates either to the taste, name, shape, or characteristic of the food. Gould uses a cut-and-pasted booklet for the seder, with prayers in Hebrew, English, and Farsi.
She lists the ritual foods that adorn her seder table every Rosh Hashanah, blessed in this order:
Apple and honey; Chives (or leeks); Zucchini; Kidney beans or black-eyed peas; Beef tongue (traditionally, meat from a sheep’s head); Meringue; Beetroot; Dates; Pomegranate.
Symbolic foods may vary slightly from table to table, depending on the diaspora community Persian Jewish find themselves in. Gould’s meringue is actually her own invention, a modern stand-in for the traditional sheep’s lungs used at the seder of yore. The point, Gould says, is to have a food that represents airiness when the prayer is recited: “May it be Your will…that our sins be as light as lungs.”
While the symbolism of some of the foods may be obvious - apples and honey for a sweet year; pomegranate and beans for profusion - others are included because of word associations between their names in Hebrew or Aramaic, and their related prayers. For example, in Hebrew the date is called tamar. The blessing said over the date at the seder, using the word yitammoo, asks that evildoers be done away with. The root of yitammoo is tam, directly taken from tamar.
The blessings over chives and beets make the same request, also based on wordplay. Zucchini symbolizes a public recognition of good deeds and a “ripping up” of bad. (“Kra” in Hebrew means zucchini, but is also the root for “read” and “rip.”) Meat from the head of a cow or sheep represents intelligence or scholarly pursuits.
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Shana Tova 5767 to all readers ...