Temple Beth Or will be celebrating Tu Bishvat this year with a community dinner followed by a Seder and discussion about the mysticism surrounding this holiday—the Kabbalists infused beautiful mystical meaning into the Seder. Before we delve into the mysticism, however, it is helpful to have some background on the holiday itself.
The ORacle, January 2011 Issue
Tu Bishvat celebrates the New Year for trees—there are actually four New Years within our Jewish calendar. Exodus 12:2 and Deuteronomy 16:1 set Nisan as “the first of months”: “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” Nisan 1 is referred to as the ecclesiastical New Year.
The day most commonly referred to as the New Year, or Rosh Hashana, is the first of Tishrei, which actually begins in the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year. This is the civil New Year, and the date on which the year number advances. Josephus, a first-century Romano–Jewish historian, states that while “Moses…appointed Nisan…as the first month for the festivals…the commencement of the year for everything relating to divine worship, but for selling and buying and other ordinary affairs he preserved the ancient order [i.e. the year beginning with Tishrei]” (Antiquities 1.81). The ancient northern Kingdom of Israel counted years using the ecclesiastical New Year starting on 1 Nisan, while the southern Kingdom of Judah counted years using the civil New Year starting on 1 Tishrei. The practice of Judah is still followed.
The first of Elul is the New Year for the tithe of cattle, and the fifteenth of Shevat brings is to the New Year for trees and agricultural tithes.
How did the particular foods associated with the Tu Bishvat Seder arise? Deuteronomy 8:8 states that there are five fruits and two grains associated with the land of Israel: wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive trees, and honey (the honey referred to in this verse is date honey rather than bee honey). Almonds were also given a prominent place in Tu Bishvat meals because almond trees were believed to be the first to blossom in Israel.
Judaism views Tu Bishvat as having the same meaning for trees as Rosh Hashana has for humans—as a New Year and as a day of judgment. According to the tradition, on Tu Bishvat God decides how bountiful the fruits of the trees will be in the coming year.
I am looking forward to seeing all of you at our Temple Beth Or Seder. May our celebration of the coming of spring in Israel hasten the coming of spring in Seattle!