Rosh Hashana round challah: It has become the widespread custom in many communities to bake round challahs in honor of Rosh Hashanah. The round shape symbolizes the yearly cycle and the “wheel of time,” the ascents and descents that a person experiences during his life. It also symbolizes perfection and infinity, expressing our hope for a perfect year, free of troubles and tribulations, a year of unlimited blessings.
The traditionaly round challah of Rosh Hashanah is sometimes adorned with a “crown” made of a small braided ring of dough, commemorating the prayers of Rosh Hashanah proclaiming G-d King over the universe.
Eastern European Jews used to bake challah in the shape of a ladder to symbolize that on Rosh Hashanah G-d decides “Who will be humbled and who will be elevated,” as is stated in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah.
In some European communities, the custom was to bake round challah reminiscent of a bird peeking out of a nest (known as “foigel challah,” bird challah, in Yiddish). The reason for the custom: Just as G-d shows mercy to birds, so should He have mercy on us.
Lithuanian Jews had the custom to bake challah shaped like outstretched palms of the hand. The shape was meant to symbolize the hands of the kohens raised to bless the people during the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).
The Jews of North Africa used to bake challah in the shape of a fish or a “chamsah,” a five-fingered hand, symbolizing good luck.