Tu Be’shevat: The Birthday of Trees January 25th
This Friday is what we call in Judaism, Tu Be’shvat (TOO bish-VAHT) which is the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat. The holiday, also known as the New Year for Trees, is sometimes referred to as the ‘Jewish Arbor Day.’ The word “Tu” is not really a word; it is actually a and means 15 in
Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for G-d, and after that, you can eat the fruit.
When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit. -Leviticus 19:23-25
Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B’Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B’Shevat.
While there is no specific mention of this in the Torah as a holiday, Jewish scholars and sages such as Rabbi Hillel have made judgements and reflections as to the customs and specific interpretations of Tu Be’Shevat.
One of the customs associated with this holiday is to eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim) described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. The Shivat Haminim are: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8). You can make a good vegetarian pilaf from the shivat haminim: a bed of cooked bulgar wheat or wheat berries and barley, topped with figs, dates, raisins (or grapes), and pomegranate seeds, served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (grapes) and pomegranate juice.
During the 16th century Kabbalists developed seder rituals that were similar in concept to that of the Passover Seder. It would discuss the religious significance of the shivat haminim. In our time other organizations have taken the meaning of this holiday into other perspectives to do projects such as planting trees in Israel each year. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) began in 1901 and has been for 109 years at the fore front of environmental innovation in Israel.
While this holiday is sometimes overlooked it is one of importance I feel as it represents not merely the significance of tree but the importance of planting the seeds of a new generation. As the Talmud says brilliantly, “I did not find the world desolate when I entered it. As my father planted for me, so will I plant for my children and my children’s children.”