This Thursday we are celebrating the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees. This holiday has transformed itself over Jewish history. It has its roots in the Bible and the Mishna, was spiritually enhanced by the Kabbalists of the 16th century, modernized by the Zionists who settled the land of Israel in the last century, and adopted by the environmentalists of today as being a Jewish “Earth day”.
“The Bible expresses a great reverence for fruit trees as symbols of God’s bounty and beneficence. Special laws were formulated to protect fruit trees in times of war and ensure that the produce of trees would not be picked until the trees were mature enough and tithes were given from them. In order to calculate the age of trees, both for determining when they could be harvested and when they were to be tithed for the Temple, the Talmudic Rabbis established the 15th day (Tu) of the month of Shvat as the official “birthday” of trees.” (myjewishlearning.com)
Today we celebrate this holiday in a number of ways. First, we try to eat from all of the seven species that the Torah mentions as being the main produce of the Land of Israel.
The seven species are:
• Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
• Barley (se’orah in Hebrew)
• Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine
• Figs (te’enah in Hebrew)
• Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
• Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil form
• Dates (tamar or d’vash in Hebrew)
A second tradition that is based in Israel is the planting of trees, where all are encouraged to actually go to a park or forest and plant trees with their own hands. A third tradition that has become more popular of late is the Tu Bishvat seder. This is a ceremony of readings about the holiday, which is combined with eating the seven species and drinking wine/juice which flows from a white to a red colour. This symbolizes the transition between the winter and the beginning of spring.
Here at Akiva, we listened to representatives from the Jewish National Fund speak about our connections to the Land of Israel and the importance of establishing new green spaces and forests. All Akiva families will be receiving an envelope this week with a request to donate toward the planting of new trees in Israel through JNF, and I would encourage you to participate in this project as a way of fostering our own connections with the land and people of Israel.
PS: Be sure to check out Akiva’s special Tu B’Shvat recipe for this week.