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A new haggadah for Tu BiShvat

Tu BiShvat, the Jewish "new year of the trees," falls this coming Sunday. The holiday has its roots in a passage in the Talmud, tractate Rosh Hashanah, about how there are four different iterations of new year's each year:

There are four New Years. On the 1st of Nisan is the New Year for kings and festivals; on the 1st of Elul is the New Year for the tithe of cattle; . . . on the 1st of Tishrei is the New Year for years, for Sabbatical years, Jubilee years, for planting and for vegetables; on the 1st of Shevat is the New Year for trees, according to the view of the School of Shammai, but the School of Hillel says, on the 15th of Shevat. (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:1)

Mainstream Jewish tradition follows Hillel in most things, so we mark the new year of trees at the full moon in the middle of the month. Out of the notion that trees have their own new year (originally used to mark the age of trees, to determine when one should begin tithing fruits to God and when one could eat of the fruits oneself) came an elaborate set of holiday traditions, up to and including a mystical journey through the four worlds. I love this about Jewish tradition -- we're forever expanding small texts in new ways.

(For more on the history of the holiday and its observance, check out some of my previous posts on this one: New Year of the Trees, posted in 2004, or Happy Shvat!, posted in 2005.)

I'll be celebrating at my synagogue, where we'll begin the day with a trio of environmentalism workshops for kids of various ages, and then proceed to a Tu BiShvat seder and potluck lunch. (If you live locally, you're invited; it's open to all, kids' program at 10am and seder at 11:30.) The custom of the TuBiShvat seder comes from the medieval kabbalists of Tzfat, who connected each of the four worlds with a season and symbolized each with a different combination of juices and fruits. Of course, our haggadah diverges a little bit from theirs. Call it a modern variation, based in tradition but not bound to it. I think our changes and additions are good ones. I hope you'll agree.

2006 Tu BiShvat Haggadah (.pdf)

Enjoy the haggadah. Feel free to use it, or to modify it, or to be inspired by it to create a haggadah of your own. (And if you do use it, let me know what you think, and how it works out for you -- I'm always happy to get feedback.) May Tu BiShvat be joyful for you and yours!

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