Tu BiShvat is a minor festival whose provenance dates only to the time of the Second Temple. However, the kabbalists who clustered around the great fifteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria of Safed placed great weight on the holiday, creating new festivities, gatherings at which hymns were sung, fruit (particularly carob) was eaten, and four cups of wine were taken (as in the Passover seder). Many Sephardic communities still engage in these Tu BiShvat rites.
With the advent of the environmental movement and the focus of modern Israelis on the greening of their nation, Tu BiShvat has taken on more importance in the last fifty years. In Israel, schoolchildren will go out to plant new trees on this day. Diaspora Jews will try to partake of as many as possible of the seven fruits and grains cited in Deuteronomy 8:8 as native to the Holy Land: "wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive trees, and (date) honey." Many ecology-minded Jews have created new Tu BiShvat seders and have followed in the footsteps of Luria and his fellow mystics in extolling this holiday's importance.
George Robinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (revised edition, Atria Books, 2016) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film critic for The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. He is adjunct assistant professor of media studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and has been critic-in-residence at several Jewish film festivals around the country. Robinson was a contributor to the recent edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Mr. Robinson lives in New York City with his wife Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times and an author in her own right.