Tu B’Shevat: Happy Birthday To The Trees

In Judaism, you might know of Rosh Hashanah to be the beginning of the Jewish new year, but did you know Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the trees? According to Biblical law, there is a seven-year agricultural cycle that renews itself during this time of the year. During the time of the Temple, those who owned the fields were required to donate a percentage of their produce to the Kohanim (priests) and Levi’im (Levites), or to the poor between years one and six. The seventh year is considered a Sabbatical year where the fields are left alone and anyone can take the produce. While today there is no Temple and the donations no longer exist to the extent they once did, the Sabbatical seventh year is still taken very seriously.

Almond trees in bloom outside Jerusalem

Today, Tu B’Shevat is considered to be an ecological awareness day, similar to the United States Arbor Day. Two main activities that occur on this new year are the planting of trees in Israel, which dates back to the early 1900s, and a Tu B’Shevat Seder, which is an ancient tradition. Unlike the Passover Seder, this meal is much shorter and involves eating fruits and nuts. In some Hassidic sects, the etrog (the citron bought on Sukkot) is eaten over this holiday, as it is preserved in someway right after Sukkot. Most people try to eat the Seven Species associated with Israel; wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olive, and dates, as well as raisins, carobs and almonds.

According to Kabbalah, each fruit or nut can be eaten dry or fresh, but are divided up in different spiritual groups, from low to high manifestation. The lowest level is fruit and nuts with hard or inedible exteriors such as oranges and pistachios. The next level are soft fruit and nuts with a pit like dates and apricots, and the highest level is made up of fruits that are eaten whole, such as figs and berries.

Tu B’Shevat is a wonderful holiday to celebrate the birthday of the trees, add to Israel’s rapidly growing forest, and eat yummy fruits and nuts that have grown in this country for thousands, of years. Gather your friends and family together to have a nice healthy snack and enjoy celebrating in one of Israel’s favorite holidays. Here in Israel, people take a moment of their day to appreciate the nature around them, something that should be done every day. Happy Tu B’Shevat!