Tu B’shevat Seders and Reform Judaism

World temperatures are rising because of human activity, and climate change now threatens every aspect of human life. Left unchecked, humans and nature will experience catastrophic warming, with worsening droughts, rising sea levels and mass extinction of species. So prioritizing gardening over the Messiah coming may seem strange, but that is precisely what one Rabbi said would be very good for our planet.

The first century Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught: “If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone tells you that the Messiah is coming, stay and finish the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah.” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 31b)

Islam and Judaism totally agree about God’s trees. Prophet Muhammad said:”If the Hour (of judgement) is about to be established, and one of you was holding a palm shoot; let him take advantage of even the last second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Reported by Ahmad and Al-Bukhan on the authority of Anas in Al Adab Al-Mufrad, see also Sahih Al- Jami’ Al-Saghir, No.1424)

Tu B’shevat is the beginning of the new year for trees. On this day many rabbis, especially Reform Rabbis, observe the custom to eat fruits in honor of the new year for trees. This applies to women as well as men, a sure sign of Reform Judaism. The custom of eating fruit on Tu B’Shvat is not mentioned in early rabbinical writings so some say it is Reform Judaism to eat Sukkot etrog fruit or have a Passover like meal on Tu B’shevat.

Some Jews observe the custom of eating etrog jam on Tu B’shevat. Some Jews even say if a pregnant woman eats etrog jam she will have an easy labor. The Talmud Yerushalmi statement that one should eat new fruits once a year in order to make a shehechiyanu prayer, and it is done on Tu B’shevat because it is a new year for trees.

All trees make it possible for humans to build homes and breath oxygen. Fruit trees also feed us with very tasty food It is said that the the tree of life in the Garden of Eden has five hundred to a thousand kinds of fruit, each differing in taste. “The appearance of one fruit is not like the appearance of the other, and the fragrance of one fruit is not like the fragrance of the other. Clouds of glory hover above the trees of life, and from the four directions winds blow on it, so that its fragrance is wafted from one end of the world to another end..” (Yalkut Bereishit 2)

Reform Jews say that a Tu Bishvat Seder; a ritual celebrated by eating 15 kinds of nuts and fruits and drinking four different kinds of wine (some rabbis considered the grapevine a short tree because it can live for many decades) can be conducted on Tu Bishvat eve or day (February 6, 2023 this year), recounting the importance of trees and fruits from the land of Israel and the personal spiritual significance of Tu Bishvat.

The Torah prohibits the destruction of fruit trees, even in times of war (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Today in Israel, anyone who wants to destroy a tree must apply for a license, even if the tree is on his or her own property.

Planting a tree, a concrete, practical act has represented hope since ancient times. On Tu Bishvat in Israel, trees were planted for children born during the previous year: for a boy, a cedar, and for a girl, a cypress. Later, branches from the same cypress and cedar were used to make a marriage canopy for their wedding ceremony.

The tree planting was associated with two of the most important times in an individual’s life, birth and marriage, two occasions when we concentrate on the great possibilities for the future.

Planting was also considered a way to create a spiritual eternity. The Talmud relates, a man named Honi once encountered a man planting a carob tree. “How long will it take to bear fruit?” he inquired. “About 70 years,” the man replied. “So you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” The man explained, “I have always found ready-grown carob trees in the world. As my forefathers planted them for me, so I plant for my grandchildren.”

Proverbs 11:30 teaches us that doing good deeds for others and for God is the way to save our lives from a perverse and negative tongue filled with criticism of others and ourselves. “The fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”

Proverbs 3:18 tells us that by making a strong commitment to following God’s teachings we will live a life of goodness and love. “She (wisdom) is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her tight will be happy”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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