One year on tu b’shevat someone (a second career retiree) brought Rav Soloveitchik some bokser before shiur. After chuckling, Rav Soloveitchik told a story about how Rabbi DZ Hoffman would ask on his oral semikha exams – where is Tu bshevat in the shulkan arukh? (ANS-tahanun). Then someone (I don’t remember who) mentioned that Rav Kook on is exams would ask: what to do when you fnd a mistake in the Torah during Torah-reading?
Tu bshevat generated a piyyut for the amidah – found in the Cairo Genizah and is mentioned already by the Maharil in the 15th century. But by the end of the 17th century, in grand baroque age, the holiday generated a detailed seder of collecting 30 fruits. (There is a ton of painfully incorrect history about Tu bShevat on the web)
Twenty years ago, it was still hard to collect 30 fruits. But with the revolution in eating habits and the opening of new markets (Fairway, Whole Foods) one can now collect 30 fruits with ease. In 19th century Russia, even mid-summer one could with great difficulty only collect half the number.
It has made a come-back in certain circles. The seder will probably remain limited in its practitioners for a variety of reasons.
1] To collect 30 fruits based a set typology is a very tactile, crunchy, foody, techie activity. Most American Orthodox Jews don’t regularly shop for papaya, fresh lychees, gooseberries, dragon fruit, guavas, tamarind fruit, hickory nuts, and kumquats.
2] The seder assumes that one is comfortable with Zohar as one’s table talk. In America, this limits it to academics, Renewal Jews, Neo-Hasidim, and Moroccans.
3] The seder is a performance ritual. Most modern orthodox Jews have a difficult time with ritual. performance. Watch them struggle to get into hoshanot.
4] One has to have a visionary and narrative religion.
5] One has to have a meaningful understanding, beyond rationalism and irrationalism, of tikkunim, theurgy, magic, and religious cause and effect.
6] When you are told that Rav Kook avoided onions because they are all kelipot – it must resonate with you. .
Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)
For those emailing me requesting sources:
Here is the traditional Pri Etz Hadar in English. This is the entire Seder- go for this.
Hillel Collegiate shortened version
A nice article- with footnotes Tu Bishvat in Contemporary Rabbinical Literature
Excursus on Hemdat Yamim.The printed edition of the seder comes from the beautiful work Hemdat Yamim, which teaches the “customs of Safed” in a first person narrative, pretending to be a 16th century person from Safed. .According to current research, the work includes quotes of various Kabbalist customs from 1550 to 1715 from a variety of kabbalistic groups in Jerusalem, Safed, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Amsterdam. Much of this material was attributed to the Ari, since anything based on Safed must be Ari. In this 150 period, there are over 300 little minhag books of Safed custom. Hemdat Yamin has many of them and collates them for us. To do any serious work on these customs one has to really be prepared to look at a large number of these books.
Isaiah Tishby places the editor in the circle of Kabbalists from Smyrna, and Benayahu attributed it to one member of the group, Israel Yaakov Al Ghazi, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.
The book mixes customs based on Cordovero, Luria, Azikiri, ibn Makir, the Peri Hadash of Amsterdam, Nathan of Gaza and others. A recent article by Moshe Fogel in JSJT, shows that even if it has Sabbatian hymns written by Nathan of Gaza (such as the Atkinah Seudata for Yom Tov), it has no explicit Sabbatian theology or belief in Shabbati Zevi. And for those following Lithuanian tradition, both the Gra and Haayim of Volozhin accepted Hemdat Yamim.
(Think of using a potential Sabbatian custom as similar to the tune to Birkat Hamazon sung today in every Day School, which was commissioned by Mordechai Kaplan. It does not make those schools into Reconstructionist ideologically. It only shows that there are cultural overlaps and that one is part of a larger set of concerns called American Jewry. )
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved
I am giving half a dozen workshops on the Kabbalistic Tree Meditation this week based on Hemdat Yamim, R. Hayyim Vital and other sources. I prepared a kabbalistic Tu BeShevat Tree Meditation booklet. All interested in receiving the booklet (in Hebrew) please write to me. ,
This is amazing- thanks so much!
I wanted to thank you for your Tu b’Shvat post. I don’t know if it launched a thousand seders, but it was certainly the impetus for us to attend a seder this last week.
It was very moving, and actually seemed to me to fill a role in the Jewish calendar that generally feels empty. Not only is it in this period of time totally empty of Jewish holidays, but thematically it seems like an interesting counterpoint to most of our holidays. Days like Yom Kippur and Rosh haShana are technically speaking these very holy days where we are like angels — yet the days are spent recounting sins and talking about this mundane world. On Tu b’Shvat, however, the day is technically a very physical, earthy day, and the entire liturgy we read at the dinner table dealt with calculating different worlds (Atzilut, Briah…).
One quick thing I wanted to raise with you from your post. One reason you write that Tu B’svhat isn’t super popular among Jews is, “the seder is a performative ritual. Most modern orthodox Jews have a difficult time with ritual. performance.” It was of particular interest to me since one of the things that I see as important to my academic work is bridging Performance Studies + Jewish Studies, and specifically reading the latter by way of the former. My MA thesis is on the performance of the Kol Nidre service, in light of Deshen’s argument that it’s a liminal service that creates communitas, and in light of J.L. Austin’s writing on illocutionary statements, etc.
Many people clicked to download the Seder, so I assumed it launched a few [dozen?] others.
I am not sure Deshen would apply to contemporary Orthodoxy for many reasons: our familiarity with the service, our greater passivity when we have been trained to daven and say selichot leaving only a glorified maariv. I do not see the liminality in our current settings. And I know the literature that makes Kol Nidrei into an illocution, our educations makes it into a locution. We think of how much Torah we know about it. Much of the current Torah on teshuvah makes it into a domesticated locution or perlocution. You may need some anthropological observation in current congregations to see the lack of liminality and their discomfort with performance ritual.
Could you recommend any readings that discuss the performance aspect of ritual? I’ve also noticed trend in Modern Orthodoxy with regard to bowing on Yamim Noraim and possibly Shofar.
Ask Mordy, he just did an MA.
Try Catherine Bell, “Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions,” and “”Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice.” Good starting place.