Symbolic Foods

Found In: Blessings for Food, Holidays, Shabbat

Tags: Sephardi

From the Itim Institute | Ritual Component

Jewish tradition customarily marks every lifecycle and calendar event with a meal of mitzvah. Special foods that symbolize the occasion and the hopes that are associated with it are eaten at most of these meals. Here are a few suggestions for foods or drinks that can be added to your menu and which can be accompanied by related verses or explanations:

Foods from the Seven Species

Jewish tradition tends to favor fruits of the seven species with which the Land of Israel was blessed: [wheat, barley,] grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, and dates. The following blessing is recited before eating these fruits:

ברוך אתה אדוני אלוהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ

Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha'olam boreh pri ha-etz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruits of the trees.

Foods that symbolize birth, fertility, and childhood

If you like, you can serve at the meal fish, baked goods shaped like fish, pomegranates, and foods shaped like stars – all of which symbolize fertility and abundance, in the spirit of the blessing given to Avraham: "I will exceedingly multiply your seed as the stars" (Genesis 22:17). One may similarly serve milk, dairy products, honey and almonds, which represent the childhood, development, and growth that you wish for your baby.

Foods that symbolize the lifecycle

Circular shaped foods such as bagels, chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life where birth and death each has its time and place, can also be eaten at the meal. These foods are also served at the Shalom Zachar reception that is celebrated in honor of the birth of a son, and at the Seudat Havraah meal served to mourners. They represent the baby's longing for the sheltered life it enjoyed inside the womb. An additional dimension to these foods is provided by the Talmudic tradition that the newborn child is overcome with sadness over the loss of knowledge and wisdom that according to Jewish lore, she was taught in-utero.