Bar-Ilan University

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Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Parashat Beshalach

Tu Bishvat in Contemporary Rabbinical Literature

Aharon Arend

On which holiday does a Jew rejoice? Certainly on Tu Bishvat , when there is no fasting, no penitential prayers, and no obligation to eat matza, or bitter herbs, donuts, or hamentaschen, for all these are foods which some enjoy and for others the commandment to eat them is a burden. What do we eat on this day? The fruits with which Eretz Yisrael was blessed, such as dates, carobs, almonds and the like, as much as appetite and capacity allows. Even though this menu is only a popular custom of the last several centuries,[1] the People of Israel are careful to observe it as diligently as if it were a basic principle of the Torah.

Much has been written about the development of this holiday and its customs both before the renewal of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael and since that time, and there is no need to duplicate what has already been said.[2] Rather we will present a brief survey of contemporary Rabbinical literature and its contribution to the character of Tu Bishvat today.

One of the Sages of Jerusalem, Rabbi Mordechai Hacohen, composed a short prayer shortly after the establishment of the state, combining Biblical and Midrashic elements. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel later determined that "The Planters' Prayer for Tu Bishvat" should be recited each year on that day. Its contents include the idea of the war against the wilderness (by planting trees where nothing grew before), the blessing for the trees in bloom, our connection to the Land of Israel and the hope that God will bless the fruits of the Land. The following is a selection of passages from the prayer:[3]

"How numerous are Your works, Oh, Lord, all of them did You create wisely ... May it be Your will to begin this year of planting for us successfully ... and on the day we remember the seedlings may You remember with goodwill and blessing all of Your people, the House of Israel, and may the hands of all our brothers who grace the earth of our Land be blessed ... Blessed is the Creator of good things and good trees from which men benefit".

In Beersheba the citizens used to gather at a place called "Eshel Avraham" (The Tamarisk Tree of Abraham) where the Rabbi would read this prayer to them from a parchment .[4] Pinchas Peli, the son of Rabbi Mordechai Hacohen, wrote of this prayer[5] that it is "too long, and if it is to survive for a long time, no doubt it will be shortened, though the main themes within it should remain". Unfortunately, the custom of saying this unique prayer, either wholly or in part, was not preserved.

An unknown :Kabbalist of Safed in the seventeenth century called one of the chapters of his book Hemdat Yamim the name "Pri Etz Hadar" ("The Fruit of a Noble Tree") and devoted it to the "Seder of Tu Bishvat". The chapter was later re-published many times as a separate work. The author collected Biblical passages and selections from the Mishnah and the Zohar which deal with trees and their growth. The purpose was to have these sections read aloud while eating the appropriate Tu Bishvat fruits. Many communities in the Orient accepted the custom of this "seder".

In recent years a number of new "sedarim" (or "Tikkunim") have been published. They contain for the most part collections of Biblical passages and Rabbinical exegesis on the subjects of the Seven Species with which the land of Israel was blessed and fruit-bearing trees in general. Their purpose is presented to us in the introduction to a contemporary edition of the pamphlet Pri Etz Hadar,[6] which contains one such collection, as well as the "tikkun" from the book Hemdat Yamim:

In our times most of the community is unfamiliar with the books of mysticism and the Zohar and therefore do not recite the order (seder) of study for this night which adds Torah to the holiness of eating the fruits. Therefore we have gathered and selected Midrashim ... for the benefit of your people, the House of Israel ,so that they may read them and include these words of Torah at their tables when they observe the Seder of Tu Bishvat.

At the end of this pamphlet there appears a section entitled "Directions for Planting Fruit Trees", since Tu Bishvat was perceived as a celebration of tree planting since the end of the previous century.[7] Because of the expression "Seder Tu Bishvat" there have appeared a number of works which suggested the recital of texts along the lines of the format of the "seder" of Passover night. Thus we have the following version of a "Ma Nishtana" (the Four Questions) for Tu Bishvat composed by Nogah Hareuveni of Neot Kedumim (1979):

"Why is the seder of the night of Tu Bishvat different from the seder of the night of Passover ?

Because at the Passover seder we eat Matzot (unleavened bread), on this night: only fruit.

At the Passover seder we drink wine of any color, on this night: white and red wine.

At the Passover seder we tell of the exodus from Egypt, on this night: we speak of the fruits of the trees".

In his "Seder Chamisha Asar Beshvat" (Seder of the Fifteenth Day of Shvat), Rabbi Y. Ariel, of Yeshivat Yamit (Neve Dekalim, 1988) gave symbols to the seder of Tu Bishvat along the lines of Kadesh U-rehatz of Passover:

"Reading, washing, blessing, eating,

The olive , the date and the vine

One should eat and drink the wine;

Pour the wine well, eat a nut from its shell;

With pomegranates and figs from their trees to eat

Our seven kinds of fruit are complete;

End with an apple and new wine to give praise;

In song and prayer each voice to raise

And blessing upon G-d we call

Who is the Creator of us all". .

A few halachic problems have arisen in recent years concerning Tu Bishvat. One such example is the question put to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Responsa Yehaveh Da'at 1:81): Do Ashkenazim need to observe the customary fast day for the bride and groom on the day of their wedding when it falls on Tu Bishvat? His answer was based on the words of Rabenu Gershom Meor Hagolah. Since it is prohibited to fast on a holiday (yom tov), therefore they are forbidden to fast on Tu Bishvat. He was also asked if Tu Bishvat occurs on Shabbat, does eating fruit between the Kiddush and the main meal require a final blessing (Bracha Achrona) before the meal, or the blessing of the food (Birkat Hamazon) after the meal suffice for the fruits as well? He responded that since in the laws of blessings one should be lenient when in doubt, one need not recite a special final blessing for the fruit before the meal. It would be preferable for this reason to eat the fruits at the end of the meal, especially since one must eat the Shabbat meal with a hearty appetite (1:82).

Somewhat surprising are the remarks of Rabbi S. Debiltsky, one of the great halachic decision-makers of B'nei Brak in his, "Haskama" (letter of approval) to the book Leket Inyanei Tu Beshvat [8] (A Collection of Tu Beshvat Topics) :

Those books of customs which present a 'seder' of eating the fruits of trees (Pri Haetz) include several things which are considered to be fruits of the earth (Pri Ha'adamah) and their blessing is therefore different. Since one of the reasons for eating fruit on this day is to show that this is the beginning of the New Year for the trees for the purpose of tithes (Trumot and Ma'asrot) ... therefore it would be better to be sure not to eat "fruits of the earth" during the "seder" of eating fruit so as not to make the mistake of thinking that this day is significant for those fruits, as well. In practice, without taking a vow, I take special care to do this and not to bring any "pri ha'adamah" to eat at that time. Also, one should take care to drink coffee, tea or cocoa - or to eat chocolate - on that day, since regarding all of them there exists an opinion to recite the blessing of pri ha'etz since they are trees in every way and were planted for that purpose only; however the custom to recite the blessing shehakol for these things prevails.

We are a generation of collectors and gatherers. There is almost no commandment which has not merited a bdedto a comprehensive summary of its laws and customs as they developed over the course of many generations and in various geographical locations. Tu Bishvat is no exception. In recent years we have been blessed with a number of collected works of Halacha, custom, exegesis, poetry and story. The most important of these is Tehilla Ledavid by D.A. Mandelbaum (Jerusalem 193). Second to it is the book Sde Ya'ar by A. Raz (Jerusalem 1991). These books deal not only with Tu Bishvat itself, but with the laws regarding trees and fruit, such as tithes, and the blessings of enjoyment (Birkot Hanehenin). Mandelbaum (p. 45) relates that in 1991, at the height of the Gulf War, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneeurson, instructed his followers to eat carobs on Tu Beshvat[9] because they were the food eaten by Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa who was schooled in the bringing about of miracles, and we should then expect that God would perform wonders and miracles for us as well. Mandelbaum added: "Parenthetically anyone who examines the details of that war can see clearly that all the serious damage which occurred in the Holy Land took place before Tu Beshvat, and after Tu Bishvat there were already no serious damages".

Authors belonging to the Mussar (morality) movement make extensive use of this holiday finding in it a wealth of educational meaning. Rabbi M. Avidan in his book Mireshit Hashana Ve'ad Acharit Hashana[10] writes that Tu Bishvat is a suitable time for man to observe and consider the wonders of nature and, thereby, arrive at the recognition of: "How numerous are Your works, Oh Lord, all of them You did create wisely"! He also comments upon the educational value which derives from the commandment to separate tithes (Hafrashat Trumot Uma'asrot) which is related to Tu Bishvat and the importance of planting trees in the Land of Israel.

A further example is provided by Rabbi Shick, a Braslaver Chassid who has published dozens of unique pamphlets on various subjects which often contain very original ideas. One of these is called Kuntres Tu Bishvat (Jerusalem, 1990) and is devoted entirely to drawing moral lessons out of a comparison between man and the trees. The following selection quotes one of those comparisons:

Just as each and every tree ... receives its nourishment and life from its roots, and cannot be nourished or sustained by any other tree ... so you must teach yourselves to know that each man is a world unto himself and each one receives his sustenance from Him, the Blessed One, in the utmost privacy ... and then each person will be most happy in his life since he will not envy anyone else and will not pay attention to the failures or successes of others.

Israel imports a large quantity of fruit from abroad: paradoxically, those who wish to celebrate Tu Bishvat by enjoying the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are often eating fruits grown elsewhere. The comment has been made that in the light of the emphasis placed on eating the fruits of Eretz Israel : "there is no meaning whatsoever in eating dried fruits on Tu Bishvat which have been imported from Greece, Turkey or Spain":[11] On the subject of the kinds of fruits to be eaten, Rabbi S. Aviner (Am K'lavi, A:211) wrote that one should try to obtain varieties of fruit which one does not normally have the opportunity to eat during the year.

Two factors contribute to the character of Jewish holidays: the creative people - rabbis, commentators, authors, composers and artists; and those who publicize their creations - parents, teachers and the various communications media. Hopefully, this summary will help to publicize the contemporary Torah literature dealing with the subject of Tu Beshvat that does exist and thereby contribute to the way we celebrate the New Year of the Trees.

Notes

[1] It is generally believed that Rabbi Issachar ben Sussan of Safed in his book Ibbur Shanim (Venice, 1579, 22:B) was the first to mention the Ashkenazic custom on Tu Bishvat "to eat a lot of fruits in honor of the name of the day." In the Sefer Haminhagim of Maharil, an Ashkenazic scholar of the early 15th century, he wrote (Spitzer Edition p. 312): "Shvat is a king, on its fifteenth day is the New Year of the trees... on the fifteenth one does not say penitential prayers. (In several places it is further recorded: A festive meal is held then.)". This addition is found in a manuscript from circa 1540, thus we have mention of a "meal" (of fruit ?) from an even earlier source.

[2]See Y. Tabori, "A Bibliography of Articles Concerning Prayer and Holidays," Kiryat Sefer, appendix to volume 64 (1992-1993), pp. 257-258. See also Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, Hamoadim B'halacha, Tel Aviv, 1957, pp. 182-187; Y. Rothschild , "Tu Bishvat in the Religious School," in Sde Chemed, (Shvat, 1958), pp. 2-6; A. Ben Ezra, Minhagei Chaggim, Jerusalem - Tel Aviv, 1963, pp. 142-154; Y. Rozensohn , Chodesh Vateva - Ma'agal Hashana Bemekorot Yisrael, Jerusalem, 1992, pp. 112-113.

[3]From: Seder Tu Bishvat (author's' name unknown), Jerusalem, 1957, pp. 20-21.

[4]Ibid. p. 19.

[5] P. Peli, "New Israeli Prayers," Machanaim 40 (1960), p.141.

[6] Editor - Rabbi S. Ben Eliyahu, Jerusalem, 1944. See the pamphlet Pri Ha'etz within the book Sde Ya'ar; and also Tehilla Ledavid, pp. 346-351.

[7] See Y. Roth - Rotem, "Tu Bishvat From the Day of Determining the Tithes of Fruit Trees to 'The Holiday of Tree Planting', Mechkarei Chag 1 (1988), pp. 57-60. Coincidentally, the Education Department of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Leyisrael) also published a pamphlet entitled: The Planter's Holiday - Planting Ceremonies for Young People (A. Mann and S. Yahav, Editors, Jerusalem, 1990) which includes selected readings, especially from Israeli poets of recent generations, which refer to trees, planting and seedlings. The purpose of the pamphlet is to guide Israeli schoolchildren during planting ceremonies. It even includes directions on "How to Plant" with accompanying illustrations.

[8] A .L. Kurzweil, Leket Inyanei ? Tu Beshvat Behalacha Uba'agaddah, Bnei Brak, 1990.

[9] On the significance of the carob on Tu Bishvat see: Yom Tov Levinski, "Charuvim Shel Tu Beshvat," Machanaim 42 (1960), p. 64.

[10] Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 67-75.

[11] See: D. Herman, Col Chag Umoed, Ramat Gan, 1995, p. 184.

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