Four Types of Tu Bishvat
How the holiday developed.
In this article, the author argues that there are four distinct manifestations of the holiday of Tu Bishvat. While each developed in a particular time and place, the different versions are also a reaction to prior versions of the holiday. Elon views the development of the holiday through a number of lenses: Reconstructionist Judaism, the Jewish Renewal movement, and most significantly, Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism].
In using the term "tikkun" -- improvement and correction -- the author is firmly rooting himself in kabbalistic methodology to classify four different approaches to Tu Bishvat.
He views the historical changes in Tu Bishvat not as branches of the "tree" of Rabbinic, or traditional, Judaism, but as "new growths" emerging from the " trunk" of Rabbinic Judaism. In emphasizing change over continuity, the author recognizes the potential for further innovations in the future.
Reprinted with permission from Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).
One can speak in general of four revealed, historical manifestations of this day:
1. The Fifteenth of Shvat of the Sages (which we first read about in the Mishnah, which may be ascribed to the second century).
2. The Fifteenth of Shvat of the kabbalists (the students of Isaac Luria, known as the AR"I--end of the 16th century).
3. The Tu Bishvat of the Zionists (end of the 19th century).
4. The Tu Bishvat of the environmentalists (end of the 20th century).
The first three of these were born in the Land of Israel. The last incarnation was born in the United States.
Each of the four incarnations contains a fundamental innovation relative to the previous traditions. Each of these innovations emphasizes a different tikkun, a different repair/remedy/healing.
The Fifteenth of Shvat of the Sages
The emphasis of the Fifteenth of Shvat in the Mishnah (or the First of Shvat, according to the House of Shammai) is on social tikkun olam [repairing/perfecting the world]. There exists a fundamental injustice, which indeed has no complete solution ("the poor shall never cease out of the land"--Deuteronomy 15: 11), but allows for the possibility of much tikkun.
The sages of the Mishnah suggest effecting this tikkun through the imposition of taxes in the form of tithes, terumot [free-will offerings], corner gleanings, and the like. The Fifteenth of Shvat is one of the most important days for reminding society to take a frank reckoning of itself. On this day, all who have gardens are supposed to go down to their garden to count up all the fruits and profits that were gathered in the course of the year, and to reserve the required portion for the benefit of those who have neither garden nor fruit to eat from it.