Tu Bishvat Practices
Complete with biblical and rabbinic readings, these kabbalists produced a Tu Bishvat Haggadah in 1753 called "Pri Etz Hadar" or "Fruit of the Goodly Tree."
When Zionist pioneers began returning to the land of Israel in the late 19th century, Tu Bishvat became an opportunity for these ardent agrarians to celebrate the bounty of a restored ecology in Israel. In ancient times, the land of Israel was once fertile and well forested. Over centuries of repeated conquest, destructions, and desertification, Israel was denuded of trees. The early Zionists seized upon Tu Bishvat as an opportunity to celebrate their tree-planting efforts to restore the ecology of ancient Israel and as a symbol of renewed growth and flowering of the Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland.
In modern times, Tu Bishvat continues to be an opportunity for planting trees--in Israel and elsewhere, wherever Jews live. Many American and European Jews observe Tu Bishvat by contributing money to the Jewish National Fund, an organization devoted to reforesting Israel (the purchase of trees in JNF forests is also customary to commemorate a celebration such as a Bar or Bat-Mitzvah). Many parents donate to the JNF every year on Tu Bishvat in honor of their children.
For environmentalists, Tu Bishvat is an ancient and authentic Jewish connection to contemporary ecological issues. The holiday is viewed as an appropriate occasion to educate Jews about their tradition's advocacy of responsible stewardship of God's creation, manifested in ecological activism. Tu Bishvat is an opportunity to raise awareness about and to care for the environment through the teaching of Jewish sources celebrating nature. It is also a day to focus on the environmental sensitivity of the Jewish tradition by planting trees wherever Jews may live.
The Tu Bishvat seder has increased in popularity in recent years. Celebrated as a congregational event, the modern Tu Bishvat seder is multi-purpose. While retaining some kabbalistic elements--and still very much a ritual that connects participant to the land of Israel--the seder today is often imbued with an ecological message as well. One new custom often found at such seders uses Tu Bishvat as a preparation for the Passover seder. In climates where tree planting is not feasible, participants will plant parsley seeds; the parsley will be used on the Passover seder plate.
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