Noshin’: Tu B’Shevat for Mature Audiences

Noshin’ columnist Sara Rice is in Israel for the month of January. This week’s Noshin’ column is a guest post by Amy Gavel, Esq., Teen and Young Adult Activities Director/Chai School Director at Mount Zion Temple.

Some holidays, like wine, can improve with age.

Tu B’Shevat invites us as adults to pause and appreciate the wonder of our intricate and varied universe. There is certainly beauty in the ways children can see and experience the natural world, however there is richness and depth and joy in the ways we experience the world as adults as well.

At the heart of Tu B’shevat is the dual celebration of the earth in all its glory and complexity and of our ability to experience the world with every sense God gave us.

Although there is no mention of Tu B’Shevat in the Torah, in the 16th century, the kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and his disciples instituted a Tu Bishvat seder based on the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 1:1) in which the fruits and trees of the land of Israel were given symbolic meaning. Rabbi Luria taught that tikkun, repairing the world, would end the exile and that in this seder could bring human beings and the world closer to spiritual perfection.

Most Tu B’Shevat seders follow a similar pattern to Passover: an ordered meal with blessings, four questions, foods that grow from the ground or on trees and tell a story, and four cups of wine. In many, the four cups begin with a glass of white wine to which red is gradually added to that by the last cup one is drinking a glass of red wine often representing the fullness of late summer and the promise of a good harvest.

Tu B’Shevat invites us to choose how we will celebrate our natural world through food and symbols at our seders, and invites us to focus some attention on our care for the earth as Jewish people. A meal is not only about the food we eat, it is also about ambiance, beverages, and accompaniments!

Some Tu B’Shvat Seder Suggestions:

  1. Everything looks better by candlelight. There is no commandment to light festival candles for Tu B’Shevat. However, I have found nothing forbidding lighting candles either, as long as they are lit before the Shabbat candles. Most of the fruit bearing trees and a great many of the plants we eat could not be pollinated without the help of a very large workforce of bees. The name Devorah, one of our judges and prophets, means bee. She was also known as “Eishet lapidot” the woman of torches or ‘fiery woman’. Lit beeswax candles are a lovely addition to the seder.
  2. Rather than mixing wines, consider beginning with something light and white from a vineyard in Israel to symbolize the chill of a Minnesota winter. Your second glass could be sparkly and bubbly to represent the bubbles that flow under creeks and rivers when the water begins to melt. The third a rose wine, something soft and sweet and with the heady promise of spring. The forth glass a deep red, possibly a port, perhaps a dessert wine.
  3. Chocolate fondue! While we are celebrating the ways in which we can experience the natural world, as well as its inherent worth, what better way to get in the mood than by saying a bracha (blessing) for chocolate as we begin the meal, and then when we get to a bracha for a fruit or nut say it, taste it, and then continue through the seder enjoying more of that fruit or nut dipped in chocolate from a fondue pot sitting prominently on the seder table!
  4. Discussion about Judaism and environmental ethics.

Inspired to celebrate and want just a little more information? I recommend starting with the Jewish Outreach Institute’s article on “Tu B’shevat.”

Looking for a Tu B’Shevat Haggadah Online? I think the Jewish National Fund and Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life have good haggadot for Tu B’Shevat that are fairly easy to adapt with your own style and flare!

Want some feminist liturgical options? Check out the Tu B’shevat Seder Toolkit.

Want to focus on Israel? Look at the World Zionist Organization’s Tu B’Shvat Seder.
Order Tu B’Shevat Haggadot for your seder from the Jewish National Fund – $36 for 15 booklets.

Interested in some extra reading – in a real book? Check out:

Tu B’Shevat is the perfect opportunity for us to experiment with how we celebrate and to create what could become for someone else someday the way it has always been done. It is also an invitation to explore environmental ethics from Jewish perspectives.

I would love to hear about your plans for this year’s Tu B’Shevat, and the meaningful experiences you have had in the past. Chag Sameach!

(Photo: Dr. Michael Stern)