While this suggestion may seem a bit … unorthodox … some might find that it offers a charming departure for one of the Yom Tov meals.
Last year I invited about 15 friends over to our one-bedroom apartment for a delightful Rosh Hashana dinner. I whipped up four round challahs, a vat of vegetarian matzah ball soup, my mom’s famous cornflake kugel, some baked chicken and a batch of spiked apple cider.
It was a lot of work, but absolutely worth it. I’m always sad when I can’t be with my family in Chicago during the High Holidays, but being surrounded by friends to celebrate Rosh Hashana with food and drink was a warm, wonderful way to ring in the Jewish New Year.
But this year? Nah. I’m going with a pizza.
Of course we won’t be hosting another Rosh Hashanah for the very obvious reason of a global pandemic. I know we could still make a special meal for the two of us with all the standard trappings that I grew up eating at my mother’s holiday table, but when I think about the work that would require, and how exhausted I’ve been from merely existing in this current world, I just … kind of … don’t want to. I still I love the idea of eating symbolic foods on Rosh Hashana … which brings me to pizza, which I will henceforth argue is the perfect — and yes, symbolic — Rosh Hashana food.
There will be opportunities to serve other dishes during a two-day Yom Tov, but for at least one meal, why not pizza? It is, I will argue, a perfect Rosh Hashana food! Let’s dive in.
Traditionally on Rosh Hashana, instead of braiding challah into an oblong loaf, Jews bake it into a round shape to represent the circularity of the calendar and the never-ending cycle of life. You know what else is round? Yup, it’s pizza. Pizza might not be traditionally round for symbolic reasons, but it does allow for easy slicing and sharing, and sharing your food with others seems like a nice Jewish thing to do, no? And I’m not gonna lie: When I stare into a beautiful pizza pie, I see the entire universe staring back at me in all of its cheesy, saucy goodness.
It’s *possibly* a Jewish invention.
Most people assume pizza came from Italy, but the cheesy delicacy actually has quite a complicated and debated history, with some even believing that the ancient Jewish philosopher Maimonides first coined the word.
As Henry Abramson wrote in a column that appeared in The Jewish Star, Yehuda Romano, a 14th-century Hebrew scholar from Italy, “translated Maimonides’ use of the word ‘hararah’ (a type of flatbread) in the Mishneh Torah with four simple Hebrew letters: peh, yud, tzadi and heh, or ‘pizza,’ arguably the very first time the word was ever used in any language.”
In the “History of pizza” page on Wikipedia (a wonderful read if you’ve got the time), it’s noted that “Some commentators have suggested that the origins of modern pizza can be traced to pizzarelle, which were kosher for Passover cookies eaten by Roman Jews after returning from the synagogue on that holiday, though some also trace its origins to other Italian paschal breads.
“Abba Eban has suggested that modern pizza ‘was first made more than 2,000 years ago when Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to matzah’.”
Look, I don’t know if Jews really invented pizza, but the chance that our people have been eating it for thousands of years is reason enough for me to pre-order a pie ready to warm up on Rosh Hashana.
It goes well with honey.
Honey is a traditional Rosh Hashana food that represents the sweet New Year. Have you ever put honey on a pizza? What about hot honey? Just do it. Trust me. Moving on.
Its numerical value is pretty
OK, I can’t take credit for this one, and it’s a little out there, but bear with me:
My colleague Ben Sales pointed out that according to Gematria, the numerological system by which Hebrew letters correspond to numbers, the Hebrew numerical value of pizza (פיצה) is 185. This is also the numerical value of the phrase אני לדודי ודודי לי, which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” which comes from a verse in the Song of Songs. This is kind of a slogan for Elul. The idea is that this is a time period when we’re growing closer to G-d and vice versa. So let’s grow a little closer to pizza, too.
It’s just really good.
I don’t know what else there is to say besides pizza is a perfect food, and why wouldn’t you want to start your new year with something so amazingly delicious? It’s been a tough year and we need comfort foods more than ever.
If cooking up a storm on Rosh Hashana makes you happy, then of course, you should go forth and do so. If you can’t imagine the High Holidays without some tzimmes and brisket, by all means, have at it. You can even prepare the pizza yourself!