Why we should put Hummus on the (Tu Bishvat) Seder Plate

By Emily Jaeger

All right, let’s unpack that title. First of all tu bishvat is the Jewish Arbor Day, or the New Year for Trees, mentioned in Jewish sources as early as 200CE. Inspired by the Passover Seder, the Kabbalists, Rabbis and mystics of the 16th century, designed a tu bishvat seder, an “ordered” meal with four cups of wine and tastes of the seven species: dates, figs, pomegranates, grapes, barely, wheat, and olives, in order to celebrate Israel’s agricultural produce and its spiritual symbolism. Today, for some, tu bishvat is an opportunity to approach environmentalism from a Jewish perspective.

All right, let’s get back to the hummus. A Spanish-and-Guaraní-language course on agro-forestry in Paraguay was the last place in the world I expected to hear about my favorite Jewish/Middle Eastern snack. But there was Agricultural Engineer, Fernando Gonzalez, saying “hummus” again. It was time to tune in. Turns out, my hungry brain was just mishearing the word humus, a term which refers to the thinnest top-layer of soil.

soil layers

Although the humus layer represents only about 3%-6% of healthy soil, without it, the soil is easily susceptible to erosion from harsh weather and nutrient leeching. Once the soil looses its nutrients plant yields and quality suffers.

soil without humus

photo cred: http://www.westernagnaturals.com/how-it-works/

Evaporation= of moisture from soil

Lockup=lower levels of soil harden so roots cannot penetrate

Leaching= of essential nutrients for plant growth

So where does this magical humus come from? From the stars of tu bishvat, of course. I had learned growing up that trees provide us with shade, oxygen, food, and shelter. However, what I didn’t know was that leaves, when left on the ground to decompose, create one of the most important, nutrition-rich layers of soil.

I’d like to argue for the presence of hummus (of the chickpea variety) as a perfect tu bishvat snack or seder component for two reasons:

1) To celebrate how trees provide for us on a daily basis. Not only do they supply the building materials for our homes, but also by way of humus, trees nourish the plants and literally create the food on our tables.

2) To remind us to be more like the trees. Trees improve the soil just by being themselves. However, from the start humans are also seen as responsible for environmental stewardship, as seen in Genesis 2:15 when God places Adam in the Garden of Eden in order to work the earth but also to protect it.

gen 2.15

 God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and protect it.


While tu bishvat falls in the middle of icy winter in the United States, it is the perfect time to begin planning our gardens, yards, and urban farms for the next season. The perfect time for thinking about how we can work with trees to fulfill our role as stewards of the earth. In terms of humus—we can promote the creation of humus and healthier soil by allowing fallen leaves to lie on the ground and decompose, or if this is not possible, to use fallen leaves in our garden beds. We can landscape our yards and beds to include more trees, and prepare to plant them in the spring. Finally, we can investigate and invest in compost piles and worm (casting) bins to work with the trees in returning compost and organic material to the soil.


Happy New Year Trees!

All right, please pass the pita chips.


Emily Jaeger is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and backyard organic farmer who dreams in four languages. After serving for two years as an agricultural extensionist in rural Paraguay, she is currently studying in the MFA program at UMASS Boston. She is co-editor and co-founder of the Window Cat Press, a zine for young, emerging artists, and PresenTense Fellow. For more information, please a visit her website.