The Tu biSh’vat Seder

ORIGINS OF THE TU BISHVAT SEDER

During the 16th century, Safed (Tsfat in Hebrew) became the center of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Kabbalists developed new meanings and rituals for celebrating and rejoicing in the birthday of the trees. Families would gather round tables that were set with a white cloth, flowers and fruits as well as red and white wines. This feast was modelled, to a degree, on the Pesach Seder.

The ceremony for Tu Bishvat includes readings from the Torah, Talmud and the Zohar (a key kabbalistic text). These readings include special blessings to be said over fruits and flowering and fruit-bearing trees. After these blessings are said, four cups of wine shading from white to red are drunk, and at least three kinds of fruit consumed.

As the Tu biShvat seder is of kabbalistic origin, it tends to be observed predominantly by hassidic and other families with a particular interest in kabbalah.

PREPARATION FOR THE SEDER

The term ‘seder’ means ‘order’. It indicates that there is a ritual sequence that occurs during the meal.The order of events is written down in a special book called a Haggadah (which means ‘telling’).

The Haggadah leads one through the Seder. One is able to make modifications to the structure, as it is fairly general and flexible. During the Seder for Tu Bi’shvat, we drink four cups of wine and eat different types of fruit to represent the seasons. The wine and the fruit are eaten in a symbolic manner, progressing in either character or colour.

There is no need to clean one’s house for this Seder as the restrictions of Pesach do not apply, and there is no necessity to buy any special food products except for the fruits used at the Seder. The table is supposed to be festive in nature and the whole family should participate and have fun. The main foodstuffs necessary are:

  • Red and white wines
  • Fruits that have hard coverings
  • Fruits that have soft coverings with seeds in the centre
  • Fruits that are wholly edible

THE SEDER

The First cup of wine

White wine is used for the first cup as white is the colour of snow. This corresponds to the winter season when the land is barren and nature is resting.

The prayer for wine is recited:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-gafen.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the vine.”

We then start to eat some of our fruits. We first choose fruits that have a soft inside and a hard covering. Some examples include: nuts (with shells), pomegranates, and coconuts. We eat these fruits to remind ourselves that although the ground is hard from the winter, there is life underneath the ground that is waiting to be born again in the spring. Before eating the fruits, we say a blessing:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-etz.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the tree.”

The Second cup of wine

White and red are the colours of the second cup. It is actually a white wine that has some red mixed in with it. These colours depict the earth coming alive again with the start of spring. The winter snow is slowly melting away, and the ground from winter is changing into the colours of spring. Before we take a sip of the wine, we recite the blessing:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-gafen.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the vine.”

It is now time to eat some more fruits. The next type of fruit we eat has a hard inner core and a soft cover on the outside. Examples of these fruits include: olives, dates, peaches). These fruits are indicative of the changing season. From the cold winter, where we ate fruits with a hard covering, we now eat softer fruits to show that the land is changing; thawing out. We say a blessing over the fruits before we taste them:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-etz.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the tree.”

The Third cup of wine

Red and white are the colours of our third cup of wine. It is red wine that has some white wine mixed in with it. These colours serve as a reminder of the abundant fruits available during the summer time. The red wine is indicative of life; the richness and beauty of life during the summer. Before we drink our wine, we say the blessing:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-gafen.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the vine.”

Now it is time to eat some more fruit. This time, we eat fruits that are soft all round. These fruits are symbolic of an earth that is once again alive and flourishing. Examples of these fruits include raisins, grapes (seedless), or figs.

Before we can eat our fruit, we say the blessing:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-etz.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the tree.”

The Fourth cup of wine

Red is the colour of the fourth cup of wine. The seasons are changing and Autumn is coming in. The red is indicative of the leaves turning a reddish brown colour as they fall off the trees. The prayer for wine is recited before we drink:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-gafen.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the vine.”

It is now time to eat some more fruit. This time we enjoy the fruit- the essence of the entire fruit. We no longer worry about the appearance. We have already eaten fruits with a soft center and hard covering, a hard center and a soft covering and a wholly soft fruit. Before we eat, we say the blessing:

“Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-etz.”

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has created the fruit of the tree.”

Some people follow the Seder with a tree planting ceremony or a walk through a place of great natural beauty. In Australia, where Tu Bishvat usually falls in late summer, picnics and hikes through National parks are particularly popular.

LINKS

My Jewish Learning: A Tu biShvat Seder

Hillel: Tu b’Shevat (includes links to a downloadable Tu BiSh’vat Haggadah and a Leader’s Guide)

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