Questions That Can Be Discussed at a Tu B’Shvat Seder and Suggested Responses

It is hoped that the questions below will be helpful to people leading Tu Bishvat seders as a way to increase audience participation. Suggested responses are given following the questions. Suggestions for additional questions & answers are welcome.

1. What is the origin of Tu Bishvat?
2. Where is Tu Bishvat mentioned in the Tanach?
3. Why are we considering trees, fruits, and nature in the middle of the winter?
4. Why was the 15th of Shvat singled out for special consideration?
5. What was the dispute between Hillel and Shammai about the date of Tu Bishvat?
6. What were the contributions of the kabbalists of S’fat to Tu Bishvat?
7. What are 4 tikkuns associated with Tu Bishvat?
8. Why are 4 cups of wine or grape juice drunk at the Tu Bishvat seder?
9. What is the significance of the changing colors of the successive cups of wine or grape juice?
10. What are the similarities and differences between the Tu Bishvat Seder and the Pesach Seder?
11. What is the significance of the brachot recited at the Tu Bishvat seder?
12. What are ten benefits that we get from trees?
13. What Jewish names are associated with trees?
14. How is Tu Bishvat celebrated in Israel today?
15. What is the purpose of reciting brachot (blessings)?
16. What readings are associated with trees in the Torah, prophets, Talmud, and other Jewish writings throughout history?
17. why is Tu Bishvat becoming more popular today?

18. How are people like “a tree in the field?”
19. What are the four kabbalistic worlds?
20. Which fruits are associated with these 4 kabbalistic worlds?
21. In what order should fruits be eaten?
22. What metaphors compare Jews to trees and fruits?
23. What are vegetarian connections to Tu Bishvat?
24. Why do some consider Tu Bishvat a Jewish Earth Day?
25. Why do some Jews Try to make Tu Bishvat into an “Environmental Shabbat” when the holiday occur on Shabbat?
26. What are some environmental threats facing Israel?
27. How serious are global warming and other current environmental threats?
28. How should individual Jews and synagogues respond to current environmental threats?
29. What important environmental law is related to trees in wartime?
30. How do modern environmental “plagues” compare to the Biblical 10 plagues?

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Responses to the Questions

1. What is the origin of Tu Bishvat?
Tu Bishvat is first mentioned in the Mishneh (Rosh Hashanah 1:1) as a cut- off date for the tithing of fruits for the Temple priests and for the poor.
2. Where is Tu Bishvat mentioned in the Tanach?
It is not mentioned there at all. It is first mentioned in the Mishneh as mentioned above.
3. Why are we considering trees, fruits, and nature in the middle of the winter?
The kabbalists of Sefat restored the holiday in the 16th century after it had lost its usefulness in 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed and they emphasized the eating of many fruits, especially those from the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy and other fruits mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures and/or common to Israel.
4. Why was the 15th of Shvat singled out for special consideration?
This is the date when in Israel generally the heavy rain has ended, the ground is starting to warm up, the sap is starting to flow in trees, and the almond trees are starting to bud.
5. What was the dispute between Hillel and Shammai re the date of Tu Bishvat?
Shammai, who lived in a different part of Israel, thought the New Year for trees should be on Rosh Chodesh Shvat. Hillel, whose view prevailed as usual, thought it should be on the 15th of Shvat.
6. What were the contributions of the kabbalists of S’fat to Tu Bishvat?
They restored the holiday after the Temple was destroyed and set up the Tu Bishvat seder.
7. What are 4 tikkuns associated with Tu Bishvat?
1) Biblical times: tikkun for poverty
2) Kabbalists: tikkun for eating the forbidden fruit
3) Israelis: tikkun for destruction of the land
4) Environmentalists: tikkun for environmental destruction ( a modern Earth Day)
8. Why are 4 cups of wine or grape juice drunk at the Tu Bishvat seder?
This is modelled after the Passover seder.
9. What is the significance of the changing colors of the successive cups of wine or grape juice?
They represent the changing seasons from winter to spring.
10. What are the similarities and differences between the Tu Bishvat seder and the Pesach seder?
Both have 4 cups of wine or grape juice, but on Tu Bishvat they are of different colours. Also, Passover focuses on the redemption of the Israelis from slavery while Tu Bishvat focuses on the eating of foods, blessings, and nature.
11. What is the significance of the brachot recited at the Tu Bishvat seder?
The kabbalists thought they are of great significance, showing our gratitude to God. They tried to have as many brachot as possible.
12. What are ten benefits that we get from trees?
1) shade
2) wood
3) birds habitat
4) beauty
5) prevents flooding
6) fruit
7) absorbs CO2
8) Shach covering for Sukkah roofs
9) prevents erosion
10) emits oxygen

13. What Jewish names are associated with trees?
Baum, Applebaum, Nissenboim, Titelbaum, Goldbaum, and others
14. How is Tu Bishvat celebrated in Israel today?
Planting of trees
15. What is the purpose of reciting brachot?
Making us aware of what we are about to do; express appreciation to Hashem.
16. What readings are associated with trees in the Torah, nevi’im, Talmud, and other Jewish writings throughout history?
1) bal tashchit;
2) first dietary regimen; (Genesis 1:29)
3) Elim – 12 streams and 70 palm trees

Many more

17. why is Tu Bishvat becoming more popular today?
The holiday involves Israel, nature, Hashem, fruits, brachot, the environment, and more. Many Jews concerned about the environment are making it a ‘Jewish Earth Day.’

18. How can a person be like “a tree in the field?”
Like trees, we can renew our lives, be done but then rise up again.
19. What are the four kabbalistic worlds?
Asiyah, Yetzirah, B’riah, and Atzilut
20. Which fruits are associated with these 4 kabbalistic worlds?
1) Asiyah:Fruits with an outer shell or skin
2) Yetzirah: Fruits with an inner pit
3) B’Riah: Fruits with neither an outer shell or pit
4) Atzilut: Fruits with just a smell, like a citron (esrog)
21. In what order should fruits be eaten?
If seven species, the one mentioned closest to ‘haaretz’
22. What metaphors compare Jews to trees and fruits?

There’re many. One example is:

Israel is like the date palm, of which none is wasted; its dates are for eating, its lulavim are for blessing; its fronds are for thatching; its fibers are for ropes; its webbing for sieves; its thick trunks for building – so it is with Israel, which contains no waste. (Genesis Rabbah 41)

23. What are vegetarian connections to Tu Bishvat?
All food associated with Tu Bishvat are vegetarian, actually vegan, and no harm is done to animals, or even to plants.
24. Why do some consider Tu Bishvat a Jewish Earth Day?
All vegan foods, and nature considered. Minimum harm to the environment
25. Why do some Jews Try to make Tu Bishvat into an “Environmental Shabbat” when the holiday occur on Shabbat?
Making connections between Tu Bishvat and Shabbat enhances the Holiday
26. What are some environmental threats facing Israel?
1) air pollution;
2) water pollution;
3) lack of open spaces
4) climate change;
27. How serious are global warming and other current environmental threats?
VERY serious, as indicated by leaders of the 195 nations that met at the Paris climate change conference in Paris in 2015, 97% of climate experts, and all the major science academies worldwide
28. How should individual Jews and synagogues respond to current environmental threats?
1)minimize energy use;
2)recycle
3) reduce meat consumption
4) relate Judaism’
5) share rides
6) efficient light bulbs
29. What important environmental law is related to trees in wartime?
Bal Tashchit – “thou shalt not destroy’: (Deuteronomy 20: 19-20)
30. How do modern environmental “plagues” compare to the Biblical 10 plagues?
1) even more plagues today,
2) today all areas of the world are subjected to the plagues, who;e Jews in Goshen were spared.
3) today all plagues at once, while the Biblical plagues occurred one after the other.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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