14 Sep HALACHICALLY SPEAKING: REFRAINING FROM NUTS AND OTHER FOODS DURING THE YOMIM NORAIM
We are all familiar with the simonim that are eaten on Rosh Hashanah. However, some foods are avoided from Rosh Hashanah until as late as Hoshanah Rabbah. What are these foods? Why do we refrain from them? Is cooking with these foods permitted? Does the custom really extend until Hashanah Rabbah? These questions as well as others will be addressed in this issue.
The Rama brings that some are careful not to eat “nuts” during Rosh Hashanah (see below if this applies to the days after Rosh Hashanah as well). This custom seems to be applicable for Ashkenazim.
A number of reasons are quoted for this custom. The first reason is quoted in the Rama: a nut (egoz) has the same numerical value as “cheit” (sin). (The numerical value of a nut in Hebrew equals seventeen, and cheit in Hebrew without the alef equals seventeen). In addition, just as the roots of a nut should not be covered during planting, so too we should not cover up our sins. The second reason brought in the Rama: a nut increases saliva, which will interfere with one’s concentration during davening. The Maharil adds that this applies before the tekios. The Chasam Sofer suggests an additional reason: A nut does not get dirty when it is rolled in dirt, as it is protected by the shell. So too, klal yisroel are among the non-Jews, but make sure that their insides (nishama) does not get dirty. Since nuts remind us of the galus, it is not proper to eat them during this time. The custom follows both reasons.
Differences Between the Reasons
There are some practical differences between the two basic reasons mentioned above.
1. According to the Maharil, the prohibition only applies before the tekios and not during the entire Rosh Hashanah. However, if nuts are avoided because of concentration during davening, it should apply all of the aseres yemei teshuva.
2. Some say that the Maharil’s logic applies to any food which increases salvia. According to the first reason, the restriction only applies to nuts.
3. According to the second reason, a child who does not daven would be permitted to eat these foods. If the reason is because of a bad siman (cheit), then it would apply to children as well.
According to the second reason, one should refrain from eating almonds. Peanuts are not included in this restriction.
Each to His Own
If one knows that these foods will not cause him to have additional salvia, then he may eat them according to the second reason.
Cooking with Nuts
One may cook with nuts if they are not recognizable in the dish and it will not add salvia. Some say that since it is mixed with other things it is not called a nut anymore. However, one should be stringent and not cook with anything that has the gematria of cheit. This does not apply to almonds, and one is permitted to cook with them.
One should avoid eating a cake which has recognizable nuts.
Some say that one should refrain from eating foods like borscht because of their vinegar content. Other examples include pickles and some strong mustard. Vinegar may be added to a vegetable salad if the vinegar gives a pleasant taste.
The custom of many is that this restriction requires refraining from lemons. A lemon may be added to tea if its taste is indiscernible. Due to its sour taste, grapefruit should be avoided unless one adds sugar to it.
Others say that one should refrain from chrein during these times. One should also refrain from bitter tasting foods. Spices and seasonings are permitted. There is a custom of a few not to eat sharp foods the entire aseres yemei teshuva.
Some avoid grapes during this time, while others limit the custom to black grapes. The custom is that grapes, especially green ones, are eaten during this time. Eating raisins are included in grapes but if the raisins are mixed into a dish it is permitted.
There are those who opine that one should not eat beans or other kitniyos during this time because they increase saliva. Chickpeas may be eaten since they do not increase salvia.
There are those who refrain from eating fish during this time, since the Hebrew word for fish (dag) is very similar to the Hebrew word for worry (da’aga). Others say that since fish are a remez to multiplying and being fruitful, it may be eaten during this time. Indeed, the custom of most people is not to be concerned with this.
Based on the opinion of the Maharil that the main point is not to disturb others from hearing the tekios, the restrictions end after the tekios are over. Some only refrain from these foods on the first night, while others apply it to both days and nights of Rosh Hashanah. Some extend the restriction until after Yom Kippur, and some are stringent until after Hoshanah Rabbah. Some say there is no reason to refrain until Hoshanah Rabbah, but since Hoshanah Rabbah is the end of the days of judgment we abstain from them until then.
L’maseh one who does not have the custom to refrain from these foods until after Hoshanah Rabbah does not have to accept this as his custom.
There is a custom which is found among all of klal yisroel that applies from Rosh Hashanah until after Hoshanah Rabbah, the custom of making of round challahs. What is the reason for this?
Some explain that just as a circle has no beginning or end, we too should have no end and a long life. Others say that we daven on Rosh Hashanah that the whole world should recognize Hashem’s kingdom. This is represented by the round challahs.
Some offer the following explanation: The word shana means both “repeat” and “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral.
The shape of the Rosh Hashanah challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
Some form the challahs in the shape of a crown as a remez to crown Hashem. Others have the custom of making challahs in the shape of a ladder. The reason is that we mention in Mussaf on the Yomim Noraim, “Who will become poor, and who will become rich.” The ladder represents this idea, as Hashem says that this one will go up and this one will go down.
All these issues are to avoid a remez to cheit (sin). One should remember that cheit also equals the numerical value of cheit, and one should be careful about sinning during these days.