A Fruitful Meal

The Reemergence Of the Tu B’Shvat Seder

By Dave Gordon

Published January 26, 2007, issue of January 26, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

If you thought Passover was the only holiday with a Seder, you’re in for a surprise. In the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria and other kabbalists in Tzfat created a Seder framework for Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees. This year, Tu B’Shvat falls on February 3, and the holiday’s Seder involves eating and blessing fruits, particularly those native to Israel, and holding discussions associated with the day’s meanings.

Anna Stevenson is the curriculum development director for Hazon, a New York-based group that coordinates produce-sharing with farms and fosters Jewish environmental activities. She has held Seders for the past two years, and is planning yet another one for the organization.

“There’s no Halacha about the holiday,” Stevenson said. “It can be at a home or a synagogue. It can be led by anyone. Depending on interpretation, the fruit can be dedicated toward Zionistic ends, personal growth or environmental ends.”

Four cups of wine are used at the Seder, the same as Passover. Participants begin with white wine, then red, then move on to a white and red combination, and then a drop of red in a glass of white. According to Stevenson, the ritual symbolizes the moving light and darkness of the seasons.

The fruits involved represent “realms of being,” Stevenson said. Fruits with a hard shell but a soft interior, like pistachios and coconuts, represent “parts of us that are hard on the outside, and how we have to get back to becoming open and vulnerable.” Fruits that are completely soft, like grapes, berries and raisins, and fruits with peels, like oranges, pomegranates and avocados, are also used.

The ideal Seder contains 30 kinds of fruit with various characteristics.

“The thread of the holiday is appreciating Mother Earth,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of Philadelphia’s Shalom Center and one of the editors of the book “Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology” (Jewish Publication Society, 1999).

Tu B’Shvat discussions began with talmudic sages Hillel and Shammai, and the holiday is mentioned in the Mishnah. The holiday’s religious origins lie in the biblical ban on harvesting a tree’s fruit until the tree reaches a sustainable age, as measured in the passage of years dated from a midwinter mark, the 15th of the month of Shvat — the trees’ new year. The Diaspora attempt to infuse the agricultural measure with spiritual meaning began with the kabbalists some 500 years ago, but today it is regaining prominence in Jewish communities.

“A combination of American interest in the environment, tree planting in Israel and Zionism made Tu B’Shvat more popular,” Waskow said.

Stevenson concurs: “It became the Jewish environmental holiday, coincident with the creation of Earth Day in the late 1960s.”

Since the days of Luria, Jews migrating eastward brought Seders with them to such places as India, Morocco, Iran and Iraq. Many Jews jettisoned the ritual when it became identified with Shabbatai Zvi, the infamous 17th-century failed messiah. But according to Waskow, as different Jewish communities mixed in modern Israel the Seder was rediscovered by communities in the West.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.