Eating Fruit on Tu Bishvat

This tie to the land of Israel has been carried out in many ways.

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The wealthy of villages of some countries, like Morocco, hosted lavish feasts for all the residents at which as many as 100 different kinds of fruit, nuts, and vegetables were eaten, or they would invite all the townspeople into their homes and fill their hats with fruit. In Morocco, this home feast was often preceded by a banquet in the synagogue after Ma'ariv [the evening service]. During the day on the 15th, the children would visit relatives to fill their sacks with gifts of fruit.

The Ashkenazim [European Jews], much less colorful by comparison, recognized the day primarily by eating fruits that gave them a connection with Israel (perhaps from an ornamental dish, such as the 19th-century Austrian hand-painted ceramic Tu Bishvat plate now in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). The wealthy would eat dates, raisins, figs, and occasionally, a costly orange--a splurge even for them. Others would have bokser (Yiddish for "carob"), which grew in great abundance and was therefore less expensive. (When fresh, it is chewy and tastes faintly like the date. After it's been off the tree for awhile--which is how the Diaspora Jews eat it--it loses much of its appeal.)

After their Hebrew lessons in the heder [religious school], the children would give up bags of fruit brought from home, the contents of which would all be mixed and re-divided, so that rich and poor alike would share the same sweets. American Hebrew schools distributed bags of the same types of fruits to their students, an observance that continues today.

According to the tradition of the Hasidim, God decides the fate of trees and their fruits on Tu Bishvat. Therefore, they pray that God will grant a beautiful etrog [citron fruit]for the next Sukkot, and following the fall festival, they make preserves of the citrus fruit to eat on Tu Bishvat.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.