Known as Tu B' Shevat, this day marks the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
We praise the bounty of the Holy land by eating grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. We mark the 15th of Shevat by remembering that "man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19), and think about what we can learn from our botanical analogy.
In ancient times, the 15th of Shevat was simply a date on the calendar that helped Jewish farmers figure out when to bring their fourth-year harvest of fruit to the Temple as first-fruit offerings.
The Tu B'Shevat Seder
The 16th century Kabbalists of the city of Safed, in the Land of Israel, created a new ritual to celebrate Tu B' Shevat, called the Feast of Fruits. Similar to the Passover seder, participants would read selections from the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic literature, and would eat fruits and nuts traditionally associated with the land of Israel.
Almonds have a prominent place in the Tu B' Shevat seder, since the almond trees were believed to be the first of all trees in Israel to blossom. Carob, also known as bokser or St. John’s bread, became another popular fruit to eat on Tu B' Shevat, since it could survive the long trip from Israel to Jewish communities in Europe.
Participants in the seder would also drink four cups of wine: white wine (to symbolize winter), white with some red (the coming of spring); red with some white (early spring) and finally all red (spring and summer).
On this day it is customary to partake of the fruit with which the Holy Land is praised (Deuteronomy 8:8): olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates. If tasting any of these fruit for the first time this season, remember to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing. (A blessing recited on joyous occasions, thanking G‑d for "sustaining us and enabling us to reach this occasion.)
The 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar—celebrated this year on Monday, January 21, 2019—is the day that marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees.
What do we eat on Tu B'Shevat?
If you enjoy a Tu B'Shevat seder, you will eat at least 15 different types of fruits and vegetables. It is customary to include the seven species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
Talmud, Taanit 5b
A man was travelling through the desert, hungry, thirsty and tired, when he came upon a tree bearing luscious fruit and affording plenty of shade, underneath which ran a spring of water. He ate of the fruit, drank of the water and rested beneath the shade. When he was about to leave, he turned to the tree and said: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you? “Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit is already sweet. “Should I bless you that your shade be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs beneath you. “There is one thing with which I can bless you: May it be G‑d’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds should be like you . . .”