Tu B’Shevat:  Friday,
January 29, 2010

Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat, sometimes called Jewish Arbor Day, is a minor holiday, but one that is filled with festivity and meaning.  The name of the holiday comes from the day on which it occurs on the Hebrew calendar, the 15th of Shevat.  The Hebrew letters that spell the number fifteen can be pronounced as “Tu.”

Just as Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, Tu B’Shevat is like a birthday for trees.  In texts dating from the first centuries of the Common Era, we learn that Tu B’Shevat was the day that separated one agricultural year from the next. Today we celebrate Tu B’Shevat to thank God for the gifts of creation, especially foods that grow on trees and the beauties of nature we enjoy. The holiday also reminds us of our responsibility to care for the earth that God created in order to preserve it for future generations.

One of the ways Tu B’Shevat is celebrated is with a special ritual called a seder, which means “order.”  The Tu B’hevat seder was developed in the 16th century by Jewish mystics called “Kabbalists,” who used the Passover seder as their model.

At the Tu B’Shevat seder, along with the appropriate prayers, the Kabbalists would consume various types of food and drink, each of which would be given a symbolic meaning.  Tu B’Shevat seders are still held today.  Modern Tu B’Shevat seders are celebrated by eating special foods, with appropriate prayers, Biblical readings, stories, poetry, songs, and discussions about nature and the environment. These celebrations have in fact become quite popular, especially in synagogues, religious schools, community centers, and homes for the aged.

In Israel, Tu B’Shevat signals the coming of spring, as flowers begin to appear and the earth reawakens.  Throughout Israel’s modern history, school children have celebrated the holiday with ceremonies for the planting of trees.  Tu B’Shevat is also a day of national pride, when Israelis recall how the early pioneers worked the land and made the desert bloom.

Blessings for Tu B’Shevat

Family Activities for Celebrating Tu B’Shevat

  • Attend a Tu B’Shevat seder in your community.  Check listings in your local Jewish newspaper, or contact synagogues, community centers, youth groups, and schools.

  • See “Create Your Own Tu B’Shevat Seder” above and ask family members and friends to join in the preparation and in the fun.

  • In a small pot, plant your own parsley.  If you plant on Tu B’Shevat, your parsley will be ready in time for your Passover seder.

  • Arrange to plant a tree in Israel by contacting the Jewish National Fund at (800) 542-8733.  The JNF (Keren Kayemet in Hebrew) has played a significant role in the reforestation of Israel since the founding of the modern state.  Planting a tree is a way of adding life to Israel and honor someone special in your life.  The cost for each tree is $10.00.

  • Contact an organization that is concerned with public parks, gardens, or the environment to find you how you can become involved.

  • Make a donation to an organization that feeds those who are hungry.

  • Research the seven species of foods that are named in Deuteronomy 8:7–8.  Why are these species given special mention in the Bible?

Add these books to your shelf . . .

Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology
by Ari Elon, Naomi Hyman, and Arthur Waskow (Eds.)
Jewish Publication Society, 1999
For information and purchase options click here.

Seder Tu Bishevat: The Festival of Trees
by Adam Fisher
Central Conference of American Rabbis, New York, 1989
For information and purchase options click here.

Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year
Peter S. Knobel (ed.)
New York, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1983.
For information and purchase options click here.

Let the Earth Teach You Torah
by Ellen Bernstein and Dan Fink
Shomrei Adamah, Philadelphia, 1992
(out of print, but may be available in Jewish book stores.)
For further information click here.

To Till and to Tend: A Guide to Jewish Environmental Study and Action
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
443 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016
(available through the publisher: 212-684-6950)