Monday, February 05, 2007

Tu BiSh-what? Seder?

The more I look into it, the more I think: Tu Bish'vat seders are silly.

Josh Waxman on Parshablog has a post about his problems with the Tu Bishvat seder as currently practiced, particularly among the Moderns. He held that it was Lurianic, and practiced among Sephardim, but the connection of its source with Sabbateanism made a black mark against it.

The problems run deeper than he initially says, though. The fundamental text for the Tu BiShevat Seder is from the Hemdat Yamim, which, as Waxman brings from MyJewishLearning.com, is widely considered to be of Sabbatean origin. Given that much of Jewish culture since 1667 has worked to stamp out Sabbateanism, this doesn't sound good for us.

The Tu BiShevat Haggadah has been separately published as "Peri Etz Hadar." It begins with a long harangue on the benefits of making blessings before eating, because not doing so, is like stealing from God, rather than asking His permission to use His food. Then we have some explanation of a list of thirty (30) fruits, organised as sets of ten sefirot (channels of Divine emanation, loosely) with the three (of four) lower spiritual worlds. We then get a series of scriptural, Midrashic and kabbalistic readings, then a series of Kabbalistic readings associated with some of the 30 fruits, and 4 cups of wine of different colors are drunk during the proceedings. All told, the whole ritual should take several hours to complete.

Even according to Peri Etz Hadar, which I have (it's a nice little book you can pick up in Judaica shops; it's also a few pages of squinchy Rashi print in the Hemdat Yamim which can be found on www.seforimonline.org), it's not Lurianic. The author states right out that the Rav ZLH"H (by which I assume he means the AriZal) never did this ritual, but that he does it and encourages his friends to do so as well. So while the text may be "Lurianic", it's not found in The Writings of the Arizal. Pseudepigraphy is hardly unknown in Kabbalah (viz. the Zohar itself, which is at least in part from the 13th century).

As far as I can tell, then, it originates with (Sabbatean) Hemdat Yamim; it's a made-up service unconnected to the AriZal; and really, folks, Tu Bishvat is the April 15th of the trees.

If it's all about created ritual, and we Ashkenazim don't speak in Kabbalistic idiom since the early 19th century, the Zoharic readings from the Peri Etz Hadar will mean nothing to us. The symbolism remains empty. So why bother? If you're Sephardic, or Chassidic, and still think in Kabbalistic idiom, say the whole service, let it mean something. As for us, if we do bother, why not just use the made-up Reform Gates of Fruit service (or whatever it's called) - it has just as much "legitimacy" as Pri Etz Hadar.

6 comments:

micha said...

Do any of chazal or does any rishon treat Tu beShevat as anything more than an important date for assessing one's terumos umaaseros on fruit?

-mi

Milhouse said...

Tu Bishvat is the April 15th of the trees.

Correction: it's the January 1st of tree fruit, if you're on a 1-Jan to 31-Dec tax calendar, as most USAns are. April 15th is Erev Pesach, or possibly the 6th day of Pesach (it's a machloket), in the 4th and 7th years of the shmita cycle.

thanbo said...

Yup, you're right. Fiscal year, not tax due date.

Ari Kinsberg said...

the only tu bishvat seder i ever went to was in bnei akiva in israel. but i don't remember what seder they used (if it was the "traditional" one or a modern rz text).

Manna Eater said...

If it's all about created ritual, and we Ashkenazim don't speak in Kabbalistic idiom since the early 19th century, the Zoharic readings from the Peri Etz Hadar will mean nothing to us.

Do you reject Tikkun Leil Shavu`ot by the same logic?

Gevurah said...

Tu Bishevat is big by all groups of chassidim and expounded upon in their writings/drushes but as far as I know they may eat the fruits and maybe 30 fruits according to Hayim Vital but none say the seder...

I have Tikkun Shevi Shel Pesach that I bought from a Vishnitzer so I think they say that...