Tu Bishvat is a funny old holiday. I have always been a bit cynical about it myself. After all, the Mishnah actually records four ‘new years’: in Nissan, Elul, Tishrei and Shvat. Our society marks its own multiple new years – for Taxes, schools, football seasons etc; whilst Rabbinic Judaism especially turned over new calendars to count the reign of Kings, the dating of documents, and the Tithing of animals (in Elul) and crops (in Shvat). So that’s what Tu Bishvat is: the Rabbinic agricultural tax year.
And yet. How deep are the transformations and rituals which have grown from such arid soil! Tu Bishvat has become a signal moment for Jews to rally around ecological causes – responding to God’s call to keep and protect the only world we get (l’Ovdah u’l’Shomrah). For early Zionists especially Tu Bishvat provided the ritual setting to celebrate Jews’ reconnection to the soil in developing Palestine. For the Kabbalists of Sfat, Tu Bishvat became a moment of unification, drawing the supernal life-force down through the four worlds, bythe tikkunim (repair) of divine sparks nestled in the growth of the Holy Land. It is to those Kabbalists that we owe the tradition of a Tu Bishvat Seder.
And so, despite myself, I move past cynicism into interest with what Tu Bishvat might mean for us and our community. I have enjoyed thinking through and putting together a new and stripped back Tu Bishvat Seder for us to enjoy together at the synagogue on Wednesday, 24th January, at 6.30pm. Please let me or the office know if you are interested in attending so we can get catering right – this will be about an hour and a half with a little bit of study, a bigger bit of discussion, and lot of fruit, snacks, wine and grape juice.