Pass the sheep’s head

Mark Mietkiewicz
Mark Mietkiewicz

The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

What, no sheep’s head on your Rosh Hashanah table? How about the head of a carp? Or some black-eyed peas or gourds or carrots? If you think that festive New Year’s foods begin and end with apples and honey, then you’re missing half the fun. Leave some room on your table for a Rosh Hashanah seder.

As opposed to that other one in the spring, this seder revolves around foods which are reminiscent of — or even puns about — good omens for the Jewish people.

For example, before we eat carrots at the Rosh Hashanah table, we traditionally ask “that our merits increase” because carrot in Yiddish is mehren which can also mean to increase (”

The Hebrew word for gourd, kara, sounds like the Hebrew words for both tearing and reading. As that vegetable is eaten, we recite this prayer: “May it be the will of our Heavenly Father that any bad decree be torn up and that our merits be read before You (”

More than just wordplay, Rabbi Yehudah Prero suggests these foods can actually trigger a deeper psychological reaction appropriate to this time of year.

By eating these foods, “a person realizes that now is the time he needs to be asking for these good things, because now is the time he is being judged. As soon as the person realizes that now is the time that he is being judged, he will realize that omens alone will not be enough for his salvation, and that repentance is needed (”

And what about that sheep’s head? Having a head on your table is a good simmon (sign) for the coming year as we pray to be “the head and not the tail.”

If that sounds somewhat cryptic, explains that we should “reconnect to our Head, the true Higher Authority” and reject a moral vision that is shortsighted and influenced by mob thinking (

Although some sites emphasize that the Rosh Hashanah seder is quite fluid, others present formalized rituals in English ( and in Hebrew (

To set the proper spiritual tone, the Jewish Agency’s seder suggests reciting certain verses many times such as: “Ki imecha mekor chayim, be’orecha nireh-or, And with You is the source of life, and in Your light shall we see light (”

Noam Zion of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute recommends using the seder to inspire discussions around the New Year’s table and ask questions like:

• Today is the birthday of the world. What aspect of the Creation most impresses you?

• Name one mitzvah (commandment) you are proud of having participated in over the past year.

• Today is the beginning of new possibilities. What impossible dream would you pursue if you had enough money to take off for a year from your present occupation (

Gilda Angel has taken these symbolic foods and performed some gastronomical magic. She crafted a menu from them ( Her Turkish-inspired Rosh Hashanah meal includes Keftes de Prasa (leek croquettes), Lubiya (black-eyed peas), Pollo con Susam (sesame-seed chicken), Borekas de Calabaza (pumpkin turnovers) and Tishpishti (honey-nut cake).

Apparently Ms. Angel didn’t deign to include all the traditional foods in her meal, so I’ve saved you the trouble and tracked down a classic recipe for Sheep’s Head Soup (

If the idea of a seder sounds great but you still can’t quite stomach having a sheep’s head staring at you, the rabbis understand. You are welcome to substitute the head of a fish. If that’s still a deal breaker, the folks at have come up with another alternative ( How about a head of a lettuce?

Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at

To read the complete September 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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