Tu Bishvat is a holiday observed by the Jews which is held during Shevat (a Jewish month) on the fifteenth day. It is sometimes referred to as the New Year for Trees and in Israel it is considered a day of environmental awareness, where trees will be planted as a form of celebration.
Origin and Significance of Tu Bishvat
There are four New Year’s which occur within the Jewish calendar, with Tu Bishvat being one of them. Shevat 15th was chosen for this holiday as it calculates the start of the agricultural cycle which is useful for biblical tithes. Fruit which is ripened on a tree which is three years old before Tu Bishvat is referred to as “oriah” and must not be eaten. Fruit which becomes ripe on Tu Bishvat or after the holiday occurs can be consumed from trees three years of age.
Maaser Sheni is a tithe that was consumed (eaten) within Jerusalem while Maaser Ani was the tithe provided to the poor. The tithe was determined by whether fruit ripened on Tu Bishvat or after it. Neta Reva’i is a reference to the commandment from Leviticus to bring fruit crops of the fourth year into Jerusalem in the form of a tithe.
Kabbalistic and Israeli Customs
During the Medieval times, Tu Bishvat was observed through a meal of fruit in maintaining the description of the event as one of the New Years. The Kabbalists believe that the consumption of certain fruits and wine in a certain order while reciting specific blessings would allow humans and the world to better perfect them spiritually. Within Israel the Tu Bishvat Seder is observed by numerous Jews both religious and those that are secular. Specific haggadot have been written for it. The most common meal which is consumed during Tu Bishvat is almonds and fruit which are dried.
Another practice which has become quite popular in Israel during Tu Bishvat is the planting of trees. In addition to the religious significance of this action, it also serves a number of environmental benefits. Israel is situated in the Middle East which is an arid region where deforestation has been a problem over the millennia. During the start of the 20th century the Jewish National Fund encouraged eucalyptus trees to be planted in the area to reduce the occurrence of Malaria. The organization still exists today and hosts events for tree planting each Tu Bishvat. Millions of Israelis have taken part in these events.
Tu Bishvat is considered the Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day by outsiders, but within Judaism it is closely associated with the revival and preservation of nature as provided by God. A number of prominent institutions within Israel have selected this holiday to inaugurate them, such as the construction of the Hebrew University, which occurred during Tu Bishvat in 1918. Tu Bishvat is a fascinating holiday due to the fact that it falls within the tenets of Judaism while also upholding a philosophy which non-Jews can relate to, which is caring for and preserving the environment through trees, which symbolize life.