Celebrating Tu Bishvat
It’s cold, it’s snowing, the trees are bare… in many parts of the world, that is. But in Israel, the earliest flowers are starting to bloom and it’s time to celebrate a Jewish holiday called Tu Bishvat.
Historically, Tu Bishvat was the date that marked the beginning of the agricultural year in the ancient Jewish calendar. Throughout history, Tu Bishvat has taken on different meanings for the Jewish people as our connection to land and agriculture has shifted and changed.
Today, an important part of Jewish consciousness is rooted in environmentalism and ecological activism. Many people think about Tu Bishvat as an ancient Jewish Earth Day and spend the holiday learning about the Jewish tradition of environmental advocacy and volunteering for efforts connected to the land and sustainability.
Recently, Hillel staff from all over the world gathered together to prepare for Tu Bishvat with a seder (a meal with ritual traditions and symbolic foods that invite discussions of the holiday and its meanings).
Want to learn more or create your own Tu Bishvat seder? Keep reading about the key rituals below and use this guide.
Like many Jewish rituals, the Tu Bishvat seder begins with hand-washing. This ritual is not intended to sanitize our hands, but rather to mark a transition between non-sacred and sacred spaces.
Four Cups of Wine
Throughout the Tu Bishvat seder, we enjoy four cups of wine or grape juice (Sounds familiar?? The Kabbalistic rabbis who designed the Tu Bishvat seder modeled it after the Passover seder).
- The first cup is a full cup of white wine or grape juice to symbolize winter and the hidden spark of life that will blossom in the spring.
- The second cup is filled with mostly white wine or grape juice and a drop of red wine or grape juice. This symbolizes the passing of the seasons and the spiritual potential contained in the act of creation.
- The third cup is filled with half white wine or grape juice and half red wine or grape juice. This represents the earth as it comes out of winter, and spring flowers begin to appear. This color reminds us of the blessings that emerge as the stillness of winter life begins to fade.
- The fourth cup is filled entirely with red wine or grape juice, reminding us of the deep, rich beauty our world gives to us and the vibrant colors of spring and summer.
Another important part of the Tu Bishvat seder is eating different fruits with symbolic meanings that help connect us to the land and our obligation to protect and care for it.
- The first fruit is hard on the outside and soft on the inside, like walnuts, coconuts or almonds, and symbolizes the protection the Earth provides through shady trees and natural shelters. These fruits remind us to protect our own bodies and spirits, and to nourish our relationships by drawing boundaries around them.
- The second fruit is soft with a pit in the center (olives, dates, peaches, apricots, etc.) and symbolizes the life-sustaining power that comes from the earth. It reminds us of the spiritual and emotional strength that is within each of us.
- The third fruit is soft throughout and is completely edible, such as figs, grapes, and raisins. There is no shell to hide the sweetness, there is no pit hidden inside, and we easily enjoy the entire fruit. We work towards the day when the whole world will become like these fruits, filled with the sweetness of human kindness.
- The fourth fruit has a tough skin on the outside but sweet fruit within, such as mangos, bananas, or avocados, and symbolizes the mystery of the world and our emerging Jewish identities.
We conclude the Tu Bishvat seder with an appreciation for the diversity of produce and nourishment that comes to us from the earth. May we continue to care for the land and each other in thoughtful, dignified, and meaningful ways.
Hillel International is a proud founding partner of the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition. Along with twenty other Jewish organizations, we signed a founding statement and have spent months working to create organizational climate action plans. We are finalizing our climate action plan, which will be released publicly in a few weeks along with the climate action plans of the other founding partners of the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition.