Global, Israel, Peoplehood, Religion, Torah

Happy Birthday Trees: Fruit and Nuts Get Center Stage

women touches pomegranate in a treeIt is almost Tu Bishvat, the Jewish birthday of trees. Fruit bearing trees, to be more specific. In modern times, this means we gather to enjoy a variety of fruit and nuts, front and center. No, I don’t mean the soggy fruit salad they served the at that wedding last month or those way-too-salty airplane peanuts. I’m talking about a decadent feast of exotic fruit, and crunch nuts straight from the shell. Did I mention there are also four cups of wine?

But first, a mini history lesson:

The name of the holiday, “Tu BiShvat” is literally the date on the calendar, the 15th of the month of Shevat. (It’s like saying “July 4th”). When we are low energy and longing for those bright summer days, most of us would prefer to curl up on the couch with takeout and disconnect. And yet, the Jewish calendar says to us: get out of your house, get together with friends, and eat some fruit! Literally!

This ancient holiday wasn’t originally designed to include actually eating anything. This makes sense because even in the middle east, most fruits do not ripen around this time of year. Rather, it was actually the annual tax day that helped farmers determine the fiscal year of their temple offerings. In the first three years of a tree’s life, any ripened fruit was donated to the priests in the Temple. If the tree had ripened fruit on or after Tu Bishvat in the 4th year, then the owner of the tree was finally able to consume it.

Imagine yourself counting the days for a perfect fig to ripen…and then harvesting it and eating it fresh… yuuuummmmmmmm…

Okay – back to modern times. Well, sort of. We have the late 16th century kabbalists (people who study and practice Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism) to thank for the custom of a ritual that elevates fruit and nuts as the exquisite nourishing foods they are. While studying some of the original laws about fruit trees in the land of Israel, they had an inspiration. Since their community of Tzfat (in northern Israel) no longer needed to tithe fruit trees to the priests in the Jerusalem temple, perhaps there was another way to honor fruit trees. Using the model of a Passover Seder as their guide, they designed a four-course meal of wine, fruit, and nuts. 

In the 21st century, hosting a gathering focused on fruit and nuts is a fabulous way to show off how delicious, filling, and decadent these foods can be. Bonus: it’s also gluten free! Here’s an overview of how it works: 

fruit nuts wine

  1.     First course: nuts with the shells (walnuts, almonds, pistachios), and fruits with peels (oranges, pomegranates, avocado, cacao), plus red wine or grape juice
  2.     Second course: Other fruits with inedible pits (e.g. peaches, plums, olives), plus red with a splash of white
  3.     Third course: Other fruits with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries), plus white wine with a splash of red.
  4.     Fourth course: Sweet-smelling plants (such as mint or lavender), plus white wine or grape juice.

Each course of wine, fruit, and nuts enables us to reach another level of spiritual perfection. Through discussion, meditation, readings, and reflections, the Tu Bishvat seder is an opportunity to connect to trees, the earth, and each other. This year it begins at sunset on February 5 and ends at nightfall on February 6.

Hosting a gathering for Tu Bishvat this year? Invite others in your area and let us know how it goes in the comments.

Tips for celebrating Tu Bishvat:



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