Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat is a Jewish holiday celebrating trees, similar to Arbor Day. The holiday is also called the “New Year for Trees.” The exact date of celebration varies, but it falls on day 15 of the Jewish month of Shevat, falling sometime in January or February. It is celebrated by Jewish communities all over the world, including Israel and by communities in the United States, starting at sunset the night before the official day of celebration.

The holiday does not just celebrate trees, but plants in general, specifically the fruits. Many groups celebrate by eating one of the seven fruits or crops that the Torah distinguishes, including pomegranates, olives, grapes, dates, wheat, dates, barley. These are commonly eaten with nuts and wine.

History

The holiday was first celebrated sometime during the Middle Ages, in which a symbolic meal was held to commemorate the “New Year” of agriculture. Under Jewish law, fruit was not considered kosher if it ripens within the plant’s first three years. The fourth year, the fruit would be acceptable to eat, but would be given as a tithe during this year. This new “year” for kosher purposes started after the 15th day of Shevat. Although now, this tithe is paid with money, many Jewish communities still celebrate with the holiday’s traditions and it is considered one of the four Jewish New Years.

The holiday saw a revival in the 1930’s upon the return of Jewish colonists to Palestine, which was commemorated by planting a tree for every newborn child.

Contemporary Tu B’Shevat Celebration

Today, many Jewish communities celebrate the holiday with a feast of the significant fruits, environmental awareness and volunteer work, and tree planting. Contemporary celebrations often include candy and pickles in the feast, and feature a specific order of eating certain fruits and nuts along with a designated amount of wine in order to bring blessings. Another tradition is to try a new fruit. While it is not a federal holiday, many Jewish communities may close their offices.

Most communities focus on ecological efforts:

  • In 1890, a rabbi named Ze’ev Yavetz planted trees with students in Israel, a tradition that would come to symbolize and encourage the reclaiming of the land by the Jews and its afforestation.
  • During the 20th century, many eucalyptus trees were planted in the Hula valley in order to fight malaria.
  • Every year, large-scale tree planting events continue this tradition, typically put together by environmental organizations.

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