Celebrate Tu B’Shevat with an Israeli salad


Fruits for a Tu B'Shevat Seder; photo by Meg Stewart

Fruits for a Tu B’Shevat Seder; photo by Meg Stewart

Thursday on the Hebrew calendar is Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. It’s generally known as “the new year of trees.” As you can read elsewhere in Read the Spirit, it’s a celebration of all things botanical in connection with the land of Israel.

It’s a minor holiday–not a holy day when work is prohibited and special prayers are recited. When I went to Hebrew school as a child, the only thing I can remember about Tu B’Shevat is being given a piece of “bokser”–a dried carob pod–to celebrate the day. The “bokser” (also known as St. John’s bread) was disgusting; it had the texture of shoe leather and tasted like old sweat socks. None of the kids would eat it.

A seder to celebrate

Photo courtesy Food Alliance for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Food Alliance for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

These days, the holiday is being celebrated more and more often with a special Tu B’Shevat seder. Everyone thinks of Passover when they hear the word “seder,” but all that term really means is: a meal incorporating a certain order of foods and wine (the word “seder” means “order”).

At a Tu B’Shevat seder, like at a Passover seder, celebrants drink four cups of wine, but they start with a cup of all white wine (or grape juice), then add a little red to the cup, then a little more so it’s half and half, and finally drink a cup of all red.

The four cups symbolize the four seasons and also four mystical dimensions: emanation, formation and birth, creation and fire (the “divine spark” within every human being).

The foods include the “seven species” mentioned in the Bible. Deuteronomy 8:7-8 says, “For the Lord your God is bringing you to a rich land, a land of streams, of springs and underground waters gushing out in hill and valley, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, fig-trees, and pomegranates, a land of olives, oil and honey.” (Note: That’s the New English Bible translation. You may count eight things there. The translation in Jewish tradition is “olive oil” not “olives”-comma-“oil.”)

Fruits with mystical meanings

In addition, celebrants eat fruits of different types: those with a hard inedible shell, such as nuts; those with a pit in the center, such as dates, apricots or peaches; those that are completely edible, such as berries and grapes; and those that have a tough skin on the outside but are sweet and soft inside, such as bananas, mangoes or pineapple. Like the cups of wine, each has a symbolic or mystical meaning.

Here is a script and explanation for a Tu B’Shevat seder.  The Tu B’Shevat seder has its roots in Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Jewish study that developed in S’fat, in northern Israel in the medieval period. Here is a script for a more Kabbalistic version of a Tu B’Shevat seder.

Since the 1970s, some modern Jews have given an ecological twist to the Tu B’Shevat seder, using it as a form to advance the idea of sustainable agriculture.  “Trees are so important in Jewish thought that the Torah itself is called ‘a tree of life.’ Perhaps this Torah wisdom can help us think more wisely about using these resources carefully and living in a more sustainable way,” write Dr. Akiva Wolff and Rabbi Yonatan Neri in their article “Trees, Torah, and Caring for the Earth” as part of Jewcology’s “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment.”

In honor of Tu B’Shevat, I offer a recipe for a delicious spinach salad that uses dates, almonds, wheat (in the form of pita) and olives (in the form of oil), all of which are used to celebrate the holiday. It’s from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Jerusalem Spinach Salad

Yield: Serves 4

Jerusalem Spinach Salad


  • 1 Tbs. white vinegar
  • ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ lb. pitted dates
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 small pitas (or one large one) roughly torn into 1½-inch pieces
  • ½ cup unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp. sumac (available in Middle Eastern groceries or gourmet spice shops)
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes
  • 5 oz. (half a standard-sized package) baby spinach
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • Salt


  1. Put the vinegar, onions and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Allow to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain out any residual vinegar and discard.
  2. Heat the 3 Tbs. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the pita and almonds and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown.
  3. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, chili flakes and ¼ tsp. salt. Set aside to cool.
  4. Just before serving, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.

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