On the second evening of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to eat a new fruit that hasn’t yet been eaten that season and say Shehecheyanu, the prayer of thanksgiving for things that are enjoyed for the first time.
It is said that in Europe, the fruit of choice was often grapes. In Israel today, it is often the pomegranate, which is eaten to remind us that God should multiply our credit of good deeds like the seeds of the fruit.
For many Jews, pomegranates are traditional Rosh Hashanah fare. Some believe this dull and leathery-skinned crimson fruit may be what the Bible refers to as the tapuach, or apple, of the Garden of Eden.
The word “pomegranate” means “grained apple.” In Hebrew, it is called rimon (also the word for a hand grenade). In fact, the English word “grenade” may have similar origins, as both the names of the town of Granada, Spain, and “garnet” stones come from the name and colour of the pomegranate. The juice of the pomegranate can also be made into a concentrated syrup known as grenadine.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, when it is customary to eat a new fruit, many Sephardic Jews choose pomegranates. They recite the prayer “ken yechi ratzon – may it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate rich and replete with seeds.”
A study at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa a few years ago showed the power of the fruit. The cholesterol oxidation process, which creates lesions that narrow arteries and result in heart disease, was slowed by as much as 40 per cent when subjects drank 50-85 ml of pomegranate juice a day for two weeks. The juice reduced the retention of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol that aggregates and forms lesions. When subjects stopped drinking the juice, the beneficial effects lasted about a month. Other studies have showed that pomegranates fight inflammation and cancer and slow cellular aging. The fruit is also a good source of potassium, low in calories and low in sodium.
Legend has it that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, for the 613 mitzvot we are supposed to observe. I was once directing a Zionist youth group and, as a project, the leader had the kids count the seeds in a pomegranate. When they reached 613, they stopped.