The Tu B’Shevat seder is a symbolic and spiritual ritual that has its roots in the mystical traditions of Kabbalistic Judaism, particularly in the city of Tzfatduring the 16th century. Tu B’Shevat itself is the Jewish New Year for Trees, celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat—usually in January (e.g. January 24, 2024)—and is associated with the tithing of fruits in ancient Israel. Over time, the Kabbalists, led by figures like Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal), developed the Tu B’Shevat seder as a way to imbue the celebration with deeper spiritual meaning, relating to the spiritual qualities of the fruits, and not simply the ramifications of the date within Jewish law on harvesting.
The Tu B’Shevat seder typically involves the consumption of various fruits and nuts, each symbolizing different aspects of spiritual and environmental significance. Common foods include those with inedible outer shells, such as almonds and pomegranates, as well as fruits with edible interiors, like figs. Dates and grapes are also typical favorites. The seder often includes cups of wine, mirroring the structure of the Passover seder, with each cup representing different levels of spiritual significance if you want to mirror with the full four. You may notice that most of those fruits above are part of the Seven Species; this is no accident as those are the highest spiritually.
Modern practices surrounding the Tu B’Shevat seder have expanded to incorporate ecological and environmental themes. Many participants focus on sustainability, emphasizing locally sourced and ethically produced foods. Additionally, there’s a growing emphasis on planting trees, both in Israel and globally, as a way to contribute to environmental conservation. This does not have to be done in a particular timeframe.
To conduct a Tu B’Shevat seder these days, participants gather around a table set with an array of fruits and nuts, often accompanied by readings and discussions that explore the spiritual and ecological themes associated with the holiday. Many people like to include various foods with different brachot, to have as many blessings as possible around the table. Some people may also like to read kaballistic Torah, such as the writings of the Ramchal.
Overall, the Tu B’Shevat seder has evolved from its mystical origins into a meaningful and inclusive celebration, reflecting both the rich history of Jewish tradition and a contemporary emphasis on environmental stewardship. It provides an opportunity for reflection, gratitude for nature’s bounty, and a commitment to fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and agriculture.