Q. I looked up rosh in a Hebrew dictionary and found it meant gall, a bitter herb. I though Rosh HaShanah was supposed to be a sweet occasion. Have I got my Hebrew wrong?
There is also a rosh that occurs a number of times in the Bible and denotes a plant which produces a bitter, poisonous extract.
Many years ago, Louis I. Rabinowitz, former chief rabbi of South Africa, wrote a series entitled “Tora and Flora” for the “Jerusalem Post”, and he dealt with the identification of rosh in an article in 1971.
He quoted the view of the lexicographer Gesenius that the two types of rosh may be linked and that the rosh found in botany may be the poppy, the head of a plant, and its extract may be opium, but he himself thought this was far-fetched and preferred to understand rosh as colocynth, a climbing plant with a bitter fruit.
Whatever the exact meaning, the rosh we wish each other on Rosh HaShanah is good and sweet.