Four Types of Tu Bishvat

How the holiday developed.

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The environmentalist Tu Bishvat, in my opinion, gives us a picture of a rooted Jewish paradigm in conflict with both Zionist Judaism and halakhic Judaism. The conflict with Zionism is expressed, to take one example, in the change of Tu Bishvat into a universal Earth Day, rather than a day only for the earth of the Land of Israel.

Similarly, the environmentalist Tu Bishvat is in direct confrontation with halakhic Judaism because the environmentalist Tu Bishvat understands the halakhic essence of the holiday to be mitzvot [commandments]that apply to the world as a whole and not only to the Land of Israel. The message of the environmentalist Tu Bishvat is that one must interpret the word "land" not just as the Land of Israel, but as Earth, as the world. This, of course, is in direct conflict with the traditional, halakhic viewpoint. For the groups behind the environmentalist Tu Bishvat, this conflict is part of the attempt to fashion an entire system of alternative halakhah, which is expressed, for example, by the ethical claims for all eco-kashrut that goes beyond food to other "fruit of the earth" that we consume, like coal and oil and paper.

We have before us, then, four different types of tikkun: social, theological, national-historical, and ecological. These four types of tikkun signify not only four different "Tu Bishvats," but also four different world views. Every one of these four viewpoints constitutes a revolutionary change relative to the views that preceded it. Within each of these revolutionary changes is a veiled or open rebellion. The change and the rebellion become expressed in a characteristic ritual, which is innovative in comparison with the previous incarnations of this day.

It is possible, therefore, to see in each of the four different Tu Bishvats a weaving of rebellion and continuity. I personally have a problem with that pair, "rebellion and continuity." It's too black-and-white and has the stale taste of Modernism. However, I am interested not in doing away with it, but rather in adding to it the pair "dismantling (peruk)-repairing (tikkun)."

Based on the above clarifications, I would like to make the following claims: (1) Each of the four Tu Bishvats described above is a tikkun (reconstruction) of one (or more) of the prior Tu Bishvats. (2) A necessary condition for each of those tikkunim is the dismantling (deconstruction) of the conceptual universe out of which one (or more) of the previous Tu Bishvats was built. In other words, we're not speaking of only remodeling the past, but of also dismantling the entire structure. Often the dismantling is liable (likely?) to end up destroying the ceremony or occasion; just as often it is likely to end up transforming and renewing it. In the case of Tu Bishvat, we are witness to a series of transformations that spreads out over nearly 2,000 years (or more).

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Ari Elon

Ari Elon has served as the director of the Rabbinic Texts Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is the author of From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven.