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Reprinted with permission from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook (Jason Aronson).
Since leaving Palestine, Jews throughout the world have maintained connections with the Land of Israel on Tu Bishvat by eating fruits produced there.
For the kabbalists [mystics], this symbolic gesture has tremendous spiritual ramifications. According to their explanation, every piece of fruit–which can be considered the parent generation–holds the seed of the next generation, in other words, the potential for new life. If, when we eat the fruit, which releases the seed, we do so in a holy way–with proper blessing and gratitude–then we are helping God to renew nature, and the flow of life continues.
Today, with Israel’s agricultural richness and exports, we have many choices for Tu Bishvat feasting, in addition to the dried figs, dates, raisins, and carob of previous generations. Oranges, avocados, bananas, pomegranates, olives, and almonds are wonderful staples for Tu Bishvat meals, either in their natural forms or as recipe ingredients.
Creativity in connection with Tu Bishvat did not stop with the kabbalists’ seder [a ritual modeled on that of Passover]. Colorful practices for eating, distributing, collecting, and even trying to influence fate with fruit developed, largely in Sephardic[Mediterranean Jewish] communities.
Hoping to affect nature, the Kurdistani Jews placed sweet fruits like raisins in rings around trees, then prayed for an abundant fruit season. Some barren women, similarly believing in the power of sympathetic magic, would plant raisins and candy near trees or embrace trees at night, praying for fertility and many children.
Young girls eligible for marriage were “wedded” to trees in a mock wedding ceremony [a custom based on pagan roots]. If, shortly after, buds were found on the tree to which one girl was “married,” she knew her turn would soon arrive. (In Salonica, it was believed that the trees themselves embrace on Tu Bishvat, and anyone seeing them do so would have his/her wish fulfilled.)
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