Tu BiSh'vat is celebrated on the fifteenth (tu) of Sh’vat. Often referred to as “Jewish Arbor Day”, the holiday actually had more practical beginnings, representing the end of the fiscal year for fruit-bearing trees. Fruit appearing prior to that date was taxed for the previous year and fruit appearing after that point fell into the following year’s coffers. This demarcation was also important as 10% of each year’s produce was traditionally set aside for the support of the poor.
Celebrations of the holiday have changed through the years. Sixteenth and 17th century Kabbalists created a Tu BiSh'vat seder celebrating the reawakening of the trees, the coming Spring and of life itself. These seders incorporated wine, nuts and fruits to honor the blossoming of new life.
In contemporary times, many still celebrate the holiday with a seder as well as by planting trees in Israel to demonstrate our commitment both to Israel and to our promise to protect the Earth and preserve it for future generations.
One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road
and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him,
“How long will it take this tree to bear fruit?
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
He asked, “Are you quite sure you will live another seventy years to eat its fruit?”
The man replied, “I myself found fully grown carob trees in the world;
as my forbearers planted for me, so am I planting for my children.”
Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit
Things you can do to celebrate Tu BiSh'vat:
- Plant or sponsor tree-planting in Israel.
- Find a location in your area that would benefit from volunteers willing to give attention to planting flowers and/or greenery. Check with local senior centers, hospitals or a Habitat for America project.
- Hold a Tu B’Shevat seder. Seder Tu B’Shevat by Adam Fisher (CCAR Press, 1989) is a valuable resource on how to plan and run a Tu B’Shevat seder.
Hold a Sisterhood cook-off featuring the seven foods of Israel mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and the honey of dates. You could also include almonds and carob fruit, as well as some of the other produce that has come to be associated with Israel since biblical times, such as oranges, pomelos, persimmons, avocados, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
- Offer a text study session on Judaism and the environment. (See the More Jewish Holidays Study guide).
- Initiate an environmental project, such as starting a recycling program at your synagogue.
- Organize a food drive so that all can enjoy the gifts of the natural world.