What we celebrate and why: Tu Bishvat

Tu Bishvat – the 15th day of the month of Shevet – is the New Year of Trees and is and has been celebrated in very different ways in the Jewish world. Everything revolves around trees and fruits. Jokingly, Tu BiSvat is distinguished from other festivals by the fact that food is eaten according to a different pattern than one might otherwise summarise:

“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”

Since Tu BiShvat is not a festival from the Torah or the immediate rabbinic tradition, there is great diversity in how it is observed. For example, the festival has been “rediscovered” as a moment in the Jewish year to focus on mindfulness towards nature and human interaction with it.

Thus, we eat fruits such as oranges, dates, and grapes and pay great attention to the characteristics of the fruit: Is the skin edible? Does the fruit have seeds? Is it native or imported? Does it remind us of Israel? How does it taste fresh, dried, or baked?

The special attention paid to the mindful consumption of fruit is reinforced by another ritual: the four glasses of wine drunk at the “Seder Tu biSvat”. A glass of white wine, a glass of white wine with a sip of red wine, a glass of red wine with a sip of white wine, and finally a glass of red wine take sensuality to another level.

That people are compared to trees is not only the case in the beginning of the Psalms:

“[he] shall be like a tree planted by channels of water; he shall give his fruit in his season, and his leaves shall not wither”

(Psalm 1, Buber-Rosenzweig).

A verse from the Torah in which humans are compared to a tree in the field (Devarim 20:19) was condensed, for example, by the Israeli poet Nathan Sach and set to music by the musician Shalom Hanoch:

“Like the tree, a person also reaches upward/ Like it, he is consumed by fire/ And I do not know where I was and where I will be/ Like the tree of the field”.
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