The Holiday: Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for trees.
One of four “New Years” mentioned in the Mishnah, Tu B’Shvat enables Jews around the world to reflect on nature’s many blessings, and to contemplate our role in shaping our physical environment. The holiday marks the beginning of the season in which trees emerge from their winter slumber and start a new cycle of fruit bearing.
Tu B’Shvat falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which explains its date-specific name: in Hebrew, letters of the alphabet are also assigned numeric values; together, the letters tet and vav spell Tu and equal 15. On Tu B’Shvat, we celebrate nature’s abundance – and the bounty of the Holy Land – by eating fruits and nuts grown in Israel, such as almonds, grapes, figs, dates, olives and pomegranates. Many people observe Tu B’Shvat by planting trees and advancing environmental causes in Israel and around the world.
In contemporary Jewish law, Tu B’Shvat is used as the cut-off date for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing tree. The Torah establishes the commandment known as Orlah, which forbids the consumption of a tree’s fruits during its first three years; the point at which budding fruit is deemed to belong to the next year’s cycle is the 15th of Shevat. Historically, Tu B’Shvat has been the date for determining the beginning of the agricultural cycle for purposes of biblical tithes involving trees and fruit.
For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
How does our natural environment affect our wellbeing? How can our actions aimed at nurturing a sustainable environment directly impact not only our physical, but also our emotional and social, health?
Why do you think God forbids us to eat the first three years’ worth of fruit from a newly planted tree? In what ways does this force us to formulate long-range plans vis-à-vis meeting our nutritional needs? Why is our investment in the Earth’s future critical to ensuring improved quality of life for all people across the planet?
Activities for Advocates:
In celebration of Tu B’Shvat, organize a community gardening project, soliciting volunteers – and funds – to plant in lower-income neighborhoods. Develop a strategic plan, focusing on food-producing plants that will yield long-term benefits for the community.
Host a series of workshops in your synagogue or community geared toward educating people about their role in building a sustainable future for poor families around the globe. With noted experts and other panelists or guest speakers, explore the links between economic prosperity and environmental health.