Skip To Content

The Original Tu B’Shvat Seder: ‘Pri Etz Hadar’

Some Jews will celebrate this Tu B’Shvat, by blessing and eating different kinds of fruits — paying attention to their different textures and tastes, by eating the Seven Species of grains and fruits of Israel or seven local foods and by reciting or singing a string of passages from Jewish and other texts as part of a seder.

In so doing, we turn the “outside” recurring patterns of nature into something we feel both subjectively and physically as new. But where did we get this idea to celebrate Tu B’Shvat with a seder and with the seven species? The Passover Haggadah is an influence, of course, and there are other precedents for the Jewish practice of reading and eating. But the particular form of most contemporary Tu B’Shvat seders, with their focus on blessing, eating, and talking about fruits and what they symbolize, is modeled after a mystical manual, ”Pri Etz Hadar,” [“The Fruit of the Goodly Tree”], first printed in Venice in 1728 as part of the “Hemdat Yamim”, which was heavily influenced by the kabbalists of Safed. Some Ashkenazic authorities condemned the text as Sabbatian propaganda. Until recently, it was circulated and published primarily by Sefardim.

It associates our winter seasonal longing for the return of the trees’ fruit with the Jewish national yearning for a Messiah to restore the days of the Garden of Eden. “Through the tikkun [reading] that is performed in this day with fruit, the Life of the Worlds, is aroused.”

“Pri Etz Hadar’s” idea that fruits with and without rinds or pits symbolize aspects of the world, and that mindfully eating them makes us partners with God in the renewal of the natural world, is arguably its most powerful and emotionally resonant contribution today. This is why, when we sit down to our Tu B’Shvat Seders, we take the time to bless and eat three different kinds of fruits:

• Fruit or nuts with a hard exterior & soft interior (like a banana)

• Fruit with a soft exterior & hard interior (like a peach)

• Fruit that is completely edible (like a strawberry)

Each of these different kinds of food represents and reminds us of different aspects of our existence. When we eat them with intention, they symbolically lead us towards making the world a better place. We make new associations organically with what’s happening in the social and natural worlds around us, if we call attention to it. Eating can be a Jewish experience when we look through Jewish sources, to see the whole other world around us.

Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus is a Professor of Religion at Wheaton College (MA), and a Reconstructionist Rabbi. He recently translated R. Bahya Ben Asher’s classic medieval mystical eating manual, “Shulhan Shel Arba” into English.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.