Tu B'Shvat marks the middle of Israel's rainy season, when the fruit trees begin to awake from their winter dormancy. The name literally means "the 15 th (day) of (the Hebrew month) Shvat", and falls between mid-January and mid-February. In many regions of Israel, Tu B'Shvat is marked by white flowering almond trees, the first fruit trees to blossom in Israel.
Tu B'shvat was never a holiday in biblical times. It was the cut-off date for the annual taxation of fruit – the 10% tithe that was paid to Temple servants (the Cohens and Levites) and to the poor. It is a period when there were no fruit on trees that grew in Israel in ancient times and therefore a logical date to establish the start of a new "fiscal year for fruit." The agricultural significance of Tu B'Shvat was lost when the Romans conquered Israel, destroyed the Second Temple, and scattered the Jews to the far-flung lands of the Diaspora
With the establishment of the State of Israel, Tu B'Shvat was recreated as a tree-planting holiday. Today, many hold a Tu B'Shvat seder – similar to that of Passover, to mark an ecological connection and awareness of the cycle of nature in Israel.
The Tu B'Shvat Seder
The custom of a Tu B'Shvat seder was initiated by Kabbalists in the early 16th century in the city of Safed (Tzfat). Over the many generations of the Diaspora, Tu B'Shvat became the date on which dried fruit from the land of Israel were eaten as a reminder of the bounty of the land that was once ours.
The seder consists of anywhere from 4 to 49 different fruits from the Land of Israel as well as the drinking of four cups of wine. Unlike the four cups of wine drunk at the Passover seder, on Tu B'Shvat each cup consists of a different shade of wine from white to deep red, representing the changes in color of Israel's landscape over the year.
The Tu B'Shvat seder may also include four types of fruit:
Fruit with an inedible outer shell (for example almonds, walnuts, pomegranates)
Fruit with an inedible inner pit (dates, olives, cherries, plums)
Fruit with both inedible outer shell and inner pit (carobs, avocados)
Fruit with edible outer shell and inner pit (figs, strawberries, grapes)
At Neot Kedumim we offer guided Tu B'Shvat tours throughout January and February that include a joyous, fun-filled and educational Tu B'Shvat seder (advance reservations are required).
For more information on the history and agricultural connections of Tu B'Shvat, please see the book "Nature in Our Biblical Heritage" by the founder of Neot Kedumim, Nogah Hareuveni and the Haggadah for Tu B'Shvat (in Hebrew or English), written by the staff of Neot Kedumim and beautifully highlighted by color photographs.