Kabbalistic Tu Bishvat Seder

For Jewish mystics, nature is a sacred text.

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The kabbalistic seder text known as Peri Eitz Hadar was originally popular in Sephardic (Spanish and Mediterranean) communities and unknown in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) world. According to the author, this is due to the fact that in the Ashkenazic community, the eminent halakhic authority Jacob Emden (1697-1776) attributed Peri Eitz Hadar to Nathan of Gaza, a theologist who considered himself a prophet of Shabbetai Tzvi, the 17th-century pseudo-Messiah. Jewish authorities reviled Shabbetai Tzvi as a heretic because of his conversion to Islam. This material, therefore, was condemned by Emden as a heretical Sabbatean text.

While Emden was eager to discover Sabbatean influences in many works, modern scholarship does support his contention regarding Hemdat Yamim, the Sabbatean anthology that contains Peri Eitz Hadar. Nevertheless, this seder is a pure kabbalistic text of the Lurianic school, despite its inclusion in the controversial anthology Hemdat Yamim.

The author goes on to state that in modern times, with the mutual influence of Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities--especially in Israel--many kabbalistic works, including Peri Eitz Hadar, have increased in popularity in Ashkenazic communities as well.

This article is excerpted from a longer, footnoted work, and is the first of a three-part article. It is reprinted with permission of the author from Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).

The notion of a Tu Bishvat seder, that is, a ritual involving the eating of specific fruit, drinking wine, and studying or reciting specific selections from the sacred literature of Judaism, does not seem to have been known before the late 17th century. Until the 16th century, most kabbalists [mystics] were more concerned with providing mystical bases that would strengthen the motivation for observing the laws and traditions of classical Judaism than with creating new rituals. At that point, the kabbalists of Tzfat [the city of Safed] did create some new rituals, most notably the Kabbalat Shabbat service.

The kabbalistic Tu Bishvat seder seems to have been created sometime later, in the wake of kabbalistic creativity in 16th-century Tzfat.

Peri Eitz Hadar: A Book for Insiders

The text of the seder, which has come to be known as Peri Eitz Hadar, is essentially the same as the section on Tu Bishvat which appears in the Sabbatean-influenced anthology of kabbalistic customs, Hemdat Yamim (Izmir, 1731-1732).

Formally, Peri Eitz Hadar contains four basic sections. After an introduction that explains the basis for the Tu Bishvat seder, there is a prayer to be said before the actual seder begins. This is followed by a description of the order of the fruit to be eaten and the way wine should be blended in each of the four cups. However, the bulk of the seder consists of selections from the Bible, early rabbinic texts, and the Zoharic [kabbalistic] literature. In fact, the greatest portion of this material is taken from the Zohar [a mystical commentary on the Torah that is the major text of Jewish mysticism].

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Rabbi Miles Krassen

Rabbi Miles Krassen, PhD., is a teacher, author, scholar in the fields of comparative mysticism and the World's Wisdom Traditions, and musician. He serves as Rabbi of Rain of Blessings, a non-profit organization for disseminating mystical Jewish teachings based on the spiritual insights of early Hasidism and Kabbalah.