Tu B’Shvat, New Year for Trees, comes to cheer us at the deepest part of the winter. Just when the trees look at their least optimistic, the sap is starting to rise, to grow and produce new fruit, and that is what we celebrate on 15th Shvat, Tu B’Shvat. It is particularly the growth of the trees of Israel that we celebrate, looking forward to the spring.
Tu B’Shvat is one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar, but only Rosh Hashana and Tu S’Shvat are generally celebrated. We are compared to the trees, with strong roots to God and producing fruits which are Torah and Mitzvos.
Tu B’Shvat is a joyous day of looking forward to fruits and abundance from the trees and plants, and many people celebrate nowadays by seeking out at least 15 different tree fruits on which the bracha “Borei Pri HaEtz “ can be said. Many families enjoy finding as many different fruits as possible to make the occasion an exciting fruit party. These days with the abundance of different fruits brought from all over the world it is quite possible to find 50 or more different fruits and nuts to enjoy, even though many of them may be rather unfamiliar in appearance and taste. That 50 could stretch to many more, with some ingenuity, and certainly by including fruits on which we usually say the bracha “Borei Pri HaAdama” like banana and pineapple.
Many Chassidic Rebbes make a special table or tisch for their followers, with elaborate fruit arrangements set out for the crowds.
Some have the custom of saving their esrog, making it into a jam to eat on Tu B’Shvat, although recent worries about pesticide use may make this undesirable.
There is also a custom to eat the fruits of the shivas haMinim, the seven species of Eretz Yisrael, at the Tu B’Shvat table, olives, pomegranate, figs, dates and grapes (grape juice).
Fruit carving, fruit salads, platters and baskets all enhance the festivity at the table, and fruit activities and crafts are usually also planned in school. Mothers may have to use their own ingenuity this year, or help the children follow teacher worksheets.
In the Ashkenazi world there is usually no formal seder or service. but in the Sephardi community a seder is often followed. Rabbi Isaac Luria and his pupils, students of kabbalah, followed a seder known as Pri Etz Hadar, fruit of the beautiful tree, and the thoughts behind that concept. The different classes of fruits represent rising levels of spirituality in the kabbalistic tradition, consumed with red and white grape juice.
- Fruits with inedible skins but edible flesh
- Fruits with edible skins and flesh, and hard stones
- Fruits which can be completely eaten.
In Israel, and sometimes elsewhere, it is customary to plant new trees on Tu B’Shvat.
Tu B’Shvat is an optimistic moment in the winter, which we can enjoy with a lot or only a little preparation, relaxing and fun, and healthy too!