On the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, we celebrate Tu B’Shvat– the New Year of the trees and the fruits. Tu B’Shevat, which falls this year on Jan. 31 (evening of Jan. 30), is first mentioned in the Mishnah as one of the four New Years of the Jewish calendar: This means that Tu B’Shevat is technically the day when trees stop absorbing water from the ground, and instead draw nourishment from their sap. In Jewish law, this means that fruit which has blossomed prior to the 15th of Shevat may not be used as tithe for fruit which blossomed after that date.
Many celebrate Tu B’Shevat by eating dried fruits of trees that grow in Israel such as almonds, dates, figs, raisins and carob. Kabbalistic tradition even includes a Tu B’Shevat “seder,” in which the inner dimensions of fruits are expounded, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion.
In particular, one should include among the fruits one eats on this day the species of fruit which the land of Israel is praised for: grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates. If one eats a sufficient amount of fruits of these fruits, one recites the special after-blessing “Al Ha’aretz ve’al HaPeorot.”
One should make an effort to eat at least one fruit which one has not eaten that entire season, and would require the blessing of Shehecheyanu, which should be recited prior to reciting the blessing of the fruit of the tree (“Haetz”). If he has already partaken of other fruits (at that particular sitting) than he only needs to say the Shehecheyanu upon eating the new fruit.
Many also have a custom of eating carob on this day; and many eat the Etrog, either in the form of preserves, sugared slices, etc.
Tu B’Shevat has become a popular day for planting trees. On Tu B’Shevat of 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz went out with his students to plant trees in the agricultural colony of Zichron Yaakov. His idea was adopted by other schools, and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) designated it as national “tree-planting day.”
Blessing over the fruit of the tree:
Baruch atah A-donoy, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam borei pri ha-aitz.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.
Hosting a Tu B’Shevat Seder? First, you’ll need a Haggadah
If you’re planning to host a Tu B’Shevat seder the first thing you’ll need is, well, a Tu B’Shevat Haggadah. No problem. My Jewish Learning (myjewishlearning.com) has sample ceremony on their website – or, you can find a free Haggadah online that can, more often than not, comes be downloaded as a PDF. Here are a few to choose from – you might find more.
RitualWell – A variety of full Tu B’Shevat seder texts, along with individual Tu B’Shevat readings and suggested activities. Hosted by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, RitualWell is a clearinghouse for creative Jewish rituals and liturgy.
Hazon Family Seder for Tu B’Shevat – a haggadah from the popular Jewish environmental organization. You may also want to check out Hazon’s Tu B’Shevat Leaders Guide and/or Tu B’Shevat Haggadah: Seder and Sourcebook.
Long Island CSA Fair Trade Tu B’Shevat Seder – CSA stands for community-supported agriculture, programs in which members pay a farm at the beginning of the season to receive regular (usually weekly) shares of produce from that farm.
Jewish National Fund Tu B’Shevat Haggadah – JNF plants trees in Israel and invests in various infrastructure and environmental projects there.
COEJL Simple Tu B’Shevat Haggadah – The Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life (COEJL) is a Jewish environmental organization.
PJ Library Child-Friendly Tu B’Shevat Haggadah – From the Massachusetts-based Grinspoon Foundation organization that distributes free Jewish children’s books to more than 165,000 monthly.
Velveteen Rabbi Tu B’Shevat Haggadah for Adults – The Velveteen Rabbi is Rachel Barenblat, a Renewal rabbi.
Pri Etz Hadar, the Original Tu B’Shevat Haggadah – Hebrew text and English translation of the first-ever Tu B’Shevat Haggadah, first published in 1728. The text is available through the Open Siddur Project.
Enhancing the holiday!
By Marla Cohen
Hashkedia Porachat – the almond tree is blossoming. Say what? In snowy New England – no. But in Israel, it is the time of the year when the earth reawakens from winter and green shoots appear.
So here in the midst of a frozen winter our thoughts start to turn to spring and planting. It’s the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as “Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot” – the New Year of the Trees. One of four ‘New Years’ on the Hebrew calendar.
To celebrate, it is customary among some to conduct a seder, the custom of which is attributed to the Kabbalist of 16th century Tsfat. The rituals mimic the order of the Passover Hagaddah, with the drinking of four cups of wine and the eating of symbolic fruits, seeds and nuts.
How many of us remember as school children collecting money for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to plant trees in Israel because we couldn’t plant trees here. You can still fulfill that mitzvah today by purchasing a JNF tree online or visiting a Judaica store like ours where a JNF tree form can be filled out. Children can also “plant “ their own trees of parsley at home that will be ready to harvest come Passover.
In modern times, Tu B’Shvat has also come to be known as the eco-friendly “green” holiday. Being mindful of the earth and its bounties and not to waste are some of the modern teachings.
To celebrate the holiday, make sure you partake of the Shivat Haminim, the seven species of plants mentioned in the Bible: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. To enhance the holiday (a concept known in Hebrew as “hidur mitzvah”), you may choose to serve them on a beautifully decorated plate in the Armenian design from Jerusalem, and adorn your table with hand-painted wooden items from Yair Emanuel with motifs depicting the seven species.
Also on the table… cook up some tasty delights from the classic vegetarian cookbook, Olive Trees and Honey by the late Gil Marks, or Mayim’s Vegan Table, a new vegan cookbook from Mayim Bialik (of the hit TV show “Big Bang Theory”). A recipe for date bars from the cookbook Kosher Cookery by the late Frances AvRutick is perfect for the holiday and is included below.
Speaking of books… for children, there are several books that can help young ones understand the holiday: Thank You Trees, The Apple Tree’s Discovery and Netta and Her Plant (KarBen Publishing) all take a different spin on the holiday.
Marla Cohen is assistant manager of The Judaica Store, in Bishop’s Corner, West Hartford.