The Symbolism of Stuffed Cabbage


There is a custom to eat stuffed cabbage during the lesser-known festival days following Sukkot, although it’s not an established communal custom and it varies from family to family, writes Yehuda Shurpin on Some eat stuffed cabbage on Simchat Torah; others eat it on the day before, Hoshanah Rabbah.

For Hoshanah Rabbah
“On each day of the Sukkot festival, we recite special prayers known as Hoshanot, thus named since each stanza is accompanied by the word hoshanah (‘bring us salvation, please’),” writes Shurpin.

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah, “the Great Hoshanah,” thus named because a greater number of hoshanot prayers are recited on this day. The day’s hoshanot climax with the words kol mevasser, mevasser v’omer (“the voice of the herald [Elijah the Prophet] heralds and says”), expressing the hope and prayer that the herald of the final redemption will arrive.

Since, in German, cabbages are called kohl and water is vasser, there arose a custom to eat cabbages cooked in water (kohl mit vasser) on Hoshanah Rabbah to celebrate the kol mevasser.

For Simchat Torah
There are a number of reasons for eating stuffed cabbage on Simchat Torah, writes Shurpin, but the most common explanation is that “two rolls side by side resemble the closed Torah scrolls with which we dance on Simchat Torah.”

“I would suggest that it’s appropriate that the Torah is depicted rolled,” he continues. “After all, the Torahs are rolled tightly shut on this special day. The chassidic masters point out, albeit not in relation to the custom of eating cabbage, that the reason we don’t celebrate the completion of the Torah by studying its holy words, but instead by dancing with the rolled-up scrolls, is because the celebration encompasses every Jew, no matter his or her level of scholarship. The Torah is the heritage of every Jew, and every Jew is equally entitled to celebrate on this special day.”

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