Tu B'Shvat Seder. Illustration: Nadav Yahal.
Tu B'Shvat Seder. Illustration: Nadav Yahal.

Tu B’Shvat Seder

4 glasses of wine, 30(!) types of fruit and nuts and a lot of Kabbalistic symbolism - the story of Seder Tu B'shvat and its celebration

The date of Tu B’shvat as “Rosh Hashanah for Ilanot” already appears in the Mishnah. In the 16th century, Rabbi Luria (Yitzchak Luria, or Ha’ari) and his followers created the Tu B’shvat Seder. The holiday prior to this time was observed as it had the designation of a New Year, albeit of trees, but that was an important one: in Jewish agricultural tradition, it was forbidden to eat the fruit grown in the first three years after planting, and the fruit of the fourth year was brought to the temple as a tithe which was calculated according to whether the tree was planted before or after Tu B’Shvat. It gets slightly complicated after that, suffice it to say, that knowing the age of one’s trees was a fairly important matter.

To mark this most momentous of holidays, a feast of fruits and nuts grown in Israel was traditionally eaten: figs, dates, raisins, olives, almonds, and walnuts are particularly popular now, though fresh fruits were originally eaten, as well as other fruits of the seven species (grapes and pomegranates). Luria and the Kabbalists incorporated the eating of fruits and nuts in a certain order as well as excerpts from the Torah, the Talmud, and the mystical Zohar, all chosen to mark the four seasons and celebrate the Tree of Life. Focusing on themes of healing and strengthening the Tree of Life, Luria and his followers believed that in eating 30 specific fruits- which parallel the ten sefirot (channels through which God reveals his will)- and drinking four cups of wine in a certain order, all while reciting the appropriate blessings, would bring us closer to spiritual perfection. In an incredibly unusual move, Luria and his followers incorporated their reverence and respect for the environment into the seder since they believed that everything on earth was a reflection of the paradise of the heavens.

Only after holding the Tu B’Shvat Seder for 200 years did it spread, thanks to the publication of the book Hamada Yamim in 1731 which popularized the practice. In a short time, Tu B’Shvat Seders were held in many Jewish communities, from the Balkan countries, through Italy and North Africa, to the Jews of Iran and the Middle East. 

So what happens at a Tu B’Shvat Seder?

The seder begins with drinking the first cup of wine- white wine symbolizing winter- eaten with fruits and nuts with a harder, inedible exterior and an edible inside. Some believe the hard shell reminds us that things are not always what they appear and that sweetness can always lie within, others see it as representative of the protection which the earth provides.

The second glass of wine is “pink”, really just a glass of white wine with a few drops of red in it, which symbolizes the changing of seasons and the thaw of winter. This glass of wine comes before eating those fruits and nuts with soft exteriors, but with pits inside. This fruit represents the power of earth to sustain life, the spiritual strength which resides within us all but perhaps remains untapped.

Next, a glass of light red wine- half white, half red- is enjoyed, alongside fruit that is eaten whole. These fruits can remind us of the wholeness of the world and the circle of life or God’s omnipresence. 

Lastly a glass of fully red wine, or red with a few drops of white, drank alone. Some see this glass as symbolizing fire and the spark of God within us all, and yet others, who add a few drops of the white to their red wine, claim that this glass represents all the things invisible to us, but no less present, like breathing.

It is interesting to note that the seder fell out of fashion for quite a long time, and only recently has been revived and popularized in both religious and secular communities alike. The environmental element has also taken on greater significance in both celebrations and the Seder in recent years.

Since Tu Beshevat is not mentioned in the Torah, its halachic customs are not binding, and over the years new customs have been added to it: some hold a feast of “artists”, and the diners compete among themselves as to who can say “Amen” the most, Ladino speakers sing poems like KOPLAS DE LAS FRUTAS (praise for fruits), distribute Ashure to neighbors and bags of dried fruit to children, expats from India hold a Malida ceremony, and more.

*שמנו לב שחסרים כמה פרטים קטנים להשלמת הפרופיל שלך ב־FOODISH, אפשר להוסיף אותם בקלות בעמוד המשתמש שלך.