> The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom
The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom



When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the Lord. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit. - Leviticus 19:23-25

There are four new years... the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month. - Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1

Tu B'Shevat (or Tu Bishevat) is a minor Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year of the Trees. It is one of the four Rashei Shanah ("New Years") mentioned in the Mishnah. Tu B'Shevat marks Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot "the New Year of the Trees".

The name Tu B'Shevat comes from the date of the holiday, the 15th day of Shevat. Shevat is the name of a Hebrew calendar month and, read as "Tu," is how the number 15 is represented by Hebrew numerals using the Hebrew alphabet. It is sometimes referred to by its full name, Hamishah Asar BeShevat "The Fifteenth of Shevat". This date generally falls on the second full moon before Passover, or, in a leap year, the third full moon before Passover.


Tu B'Shevat was originally a day when the fruits that grew from that day on were counted for the following year regarding tithes. (This is according to the school of Hillel, while according to the school of Shammai that day is the first of Shevat (Mishnah, Tractate Rosh Hashana 1:1). It may be thought of as corresponding to one of the earliest times at which sap would rise in the trees in ancient Israel.

During the Middle Ages or possibly a little before that, this day started to be celebrated with a minor ceremony of eating fruits, since the Mishnah called it "Rosh Hashanah" ("New Year"), and that was later understood as being a time appropriate for celebration.

The Mishnah more specifically called Tu B'Shevat "the New Year for The Tree", 'Rosh HaShanah La'Ilan', hence, in the 1600s in the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a Tu B'Shevat seder, somewhat like the Passover seder, that celebrated the Tree of Life (the Kabbalistic map of the Sephirot).

The earliest published version of this seder is called the P'ri Eitz Hadar, which means "The Fruit of the Beautiful Tree". The seder evokes Kabbalistic themes of restoring cosmic blessing by strengthening and repairing the Tree of Life, generally using the framework of the Four Worlds of emanation that can be roughly mapped onto the physical metaphor of a tree, that is, roots, trunk, branches and leaves.

There is a Hasidic tradition for one to pray on Tu B'Shevat for a kosher Etrog (citron) to be used in the four species held during Hallel prayers on Sukkot. In conjunction with this practice, many Hassidic Jews eat etrog on this day.

The traditional Tu B'Shevat seder ended with a prayer which states in part, "May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life." While the Kabbalistic interpretation of this tree is quite specific, the image of the Tree of Life has proven quite amenable to new interpretation.

In modern times Tu B'Shevat has become popular with many Jews, and is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Jewish schools, synagogues, and communities. There are two general interpretations of the holiday which are echoed in most of these celebrations. The first is reclaiming of the land of Israel through tree-planting. This is the main activity in Israel, and in this aspect the holiday quite resembles Arbor Day as celebrated in other parts of the world. The second is the celebration of the earth, in essence a Jewish Earth Day, often accompanied by reflections on ecological or environmental issues.

The tradition of planting trees started in 1890 when the teacher and writer Zeev Yabetz went out with his students in a school in Zichron Yaakov for a festive planting. This imitative was adopted in 1908 by the Israeli Teachers trade union and later on by the Land Development Authority (Hakeren Hakayemet L'Israel, also called the Jewish National Fund).

The ecological interpretation of Tu B'Shevat can be dated to the 1970's, emerging to some degree out of the awareness that was engendered by a Jewish campaign of protest against U.S. use of Agent Orange called "Trees for Vietnam". One of the earlier Tu B'Shevat seders, created by Jonathan Wolf, incorporated information from groups like Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the JNF directly into the Kabbalistic framework.

The Tu B'shevat Seder

While the Tu B'Shevat seder started as a kabbalistic way to celebrate the holiday, many contemporary Tu B'Shevat seders (or "sedarim") are written every year reflecting issues and themes related to ecological or Zionist interpretations of the day. In the style of a Passover seder, some friends might invited to the house, where various symbolic fruits and other foods are eaten, along with wine or grape juice. Many seders follow the Kabbalistic framework of the Four Worlds as well, often giving them a contemporary spin in terms of (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual) meaning, or reinterpreting them culturally (social, cosmic, national, ecological). Seders might also concentrate on one aspect of one theme.

While some version of the Kabbalistic order is often followed in eating fruits and nuts on Tu B'shevat, it is generally customary to eat dried fruits and nuts even among those who are not following the Kabbalistic rite. Figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds are especially popular. Many people also incorporate into their seders the Seven Species associated with the Land of Israel in the Torah, which according to Deuteronomy 8:8 are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates (raisins, derived from grapes).

In Kabbalistic terms, the fruits that one eats, dried or fresh, can be divided up from lower or more manifest to higher or more spiritual, as follows:

Fruits and nuts with hard, inedible exteriors and soft edible insides, such as oranges, bananas, walnuts, and pistachios. Note that some count oranges and other citrus as wholly edible, in keeping with the interpretation of the etrog as being on the highest level.

Fruits and nuts with soft exteriors, but with a hard pit inside, such as dates, apricots, olives and persimmons. Fruit that is eaten whole, such as figs and berries.

Kabbalistic tradition teaches that eating fruits in this order creates a connection with the Tree of Life that God placed in the Garden of Eden as mentioned in the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve had been placed after their creation, which is also represented by the Sephirot. In effect one is travelling from the most external or manifest dimension of reality, symbolized by fruits with a shell, to the most inner dimension, symbolized not even by the completely edible fruits but rather by a fourth level that may be likened to smell. At the same time, one drinks various proportions of red and white grape juice or wine, from white to red with just a drop of white in it, also corresponding to these levels.

All contributions are accepted on the understanding that the authors are responsible for the opinions expressed which do not necessarily reflect the views of Ne've Shalom - the Hull Reform Synagogue.


Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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