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Tu Bishvat

The fifteenth day of the month of Shvat-literally! The Hebrew letters tet and vav equal the number 15 and are not an actual word but the sound those two letters make when put together. Pronounced in Hebrew “Too bih-sh’vat” with the accent on “too”. Also called Rosh Hashanah La-ilanot (New Year of the Trees) and Chag Ha-ilanot (festival of the trees.)

The Talmud tells us that the fifteenth of Shvat was “the new year of/for the trees.” It was the date for deciding when the trees in Israel were mature enough so that their fruit could be harvested, and the annual tithe on fruit trees could be collected. The tithe was based on the age of a tree, as was the ability to eat of its fruit (no fruits are to be eaten in the first three years after a tree’s planting, from Leviticus 19:23-25); so Tu Bishvat became the marker of a tree’s “birthday.” By then the early winter rains were mostly over and the period of budding had begun. Today, the almond trees all over Israel start to flower just around Tu Bishvat.

The 15th of the Hebrew month Shvat, which usually falls around February. 

The Talmud, the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah 1:1 cites four dates as “new years”- the first of Nisan for kings, the first of Elul for tithing cattle, the first of Tishre for the world itself, and the first of Shvat for trees, though Hillel teaches it is the 15th, and it is his opinion we follow. 

No rituals except those dealing with the tithes were established for Tu Bishvat so in time “folk” traditions became its rituals. Beginning in the late 16th century the custom of eating fruits from the Land of Israel on Tu Bishvat arose. By the end of the 17th century a kabbalistic (mystical) tradition of preparing a Tu Bishvat Seder had become popular, and is being revived today. Verses about trees and the land are recited, songs of nature are sung, fruits are blessed and eaten, and four cups of wine are drunk: using white and red the colour is changed from white to light red, half and half, and finally all red to symbolize the changing of the seasons.  It has also become a tradition to plant trees in Israel at this time, in honour or in memory of loved ones. Tu Bishvat symbolizes our connection to the land and our stewardship of our own natural resources, and has become a time for Jewish ecological concerns to be shared and taught. The verse "Is the tree of the field a man that it should come under siege before you?" (Deuteronomy 20:19), forbidding the cutting down of fruit trees even in times of war, reminds us us that our lives are bound up with nature, and that we and nature are not as separate as our modern culture suggests. And of course the tree is central in Jewish thought- the Torah is our “Tree of Life.” Though Tu Bishvat arrives in the Diaspora during the winter we remember that spring—and thus renewal and rebirth— is on the way. 

We eat foods made from or directly of the seven species of Israel: olives, grapes, wheat, barley, figs, dates and pomegranates. Many people add carob (known as bokser) and almonds, which bloom in Israel just around Tu Bishvat; and eat a new fruit which they haven’t tasted yet that year, or ever!

There is no special greeting for Tu B’shvat.

A Tu Bishvat Recipe From Bonnie Stern

Most people don’t know that this popular dessert contains dates. And don’t bother telling them as many of these same people who love this dessert think they hate dates. Let them enjoy. Perfect for Tu BiShvat as dates are a traditional food for the holiday.  This is from Bonnie Stern’s Friday Night Dinners and she is happy to share the recipe with you.

3/4 lb pitted dates (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3  eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
butterscotch sauce:
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
To drizzle:
1/2 cup whipping cream (approx)
1. Butter a 9" square (or round) deep cake pan and line with parchment paper. (or bake individual ones in 12 muffin pans.)
2. Combine dates and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add baking soda and let rest 5 minutes. Puree. Cool.
3. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time. Whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Gently fold into batter alternately with dates. Transfer to prepared pan.
4. Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. (Muffin sized ones usually take about 30 minutes.) Cool 10 minutes.
5. Make sauce by combining sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer gently 5 minutes until slightly thickened.  Prick holes in cake and drizzle half the sauce over the top.
6. Cut cake into large squares and then in half into triangles (or wedges if pan is round or leave as muffins). Drizzle with remaining butterscotch sauce and unwhipped (or whipped) whipping cream.
makes 10 to 12 servings


Tue, February 27 2024 18 Adar I 5784