It’s the 15th of Shvat – Tu B’Shvat – today, the Jewish “birthday of the trees”. The halachic (legal) importance of the day was to know from which date to start counting in order to calculate when to give tithes, for example – different tithes are given in different days in a 7 year cycle, ending with the Shmita (fallow) year. Tu B’Shvat is used as the date for calculating the age of trees, especially fruit trees, and other plants in order to know when it is permissible to eat of their fruits, and for tithing purposes.
In Jewish tradition the day is a minor holiday, with no special rules and regulations and was almost unmarked in olden times since the Jewish people were expelled from the land of Israel into the Diaspora, around the year 70 CE. However, with the growth of Zionism and the re-establishment of a Jewish settlement in Israel, first under the Ottomans, and later under the British Mandate, the early Jewish pioneers decided to adopt Tu B’Shvat as a symbol of the renewal of the physical (as well as spiritual) reconnection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Equally as important, the day symbolized the creation of the “New Jew”, one who worked the land, farmed and produced his own crops and fruits.
One of the customs of Tu Bishvat, even in olden times in the Diaspora, is to eat either the 7 species of produce native to Israel, or to eat 15 different kinds of fruit to represent the 15th day of Shvat. The “shivat haminim” are listed in the Torah, Deuteronomy 8 v. 7-8:
כי ה’ אלוקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר. ארץ חיטה ושעורה וגפן ותאנה ורימון ארץ זית שמן ודבש.
For the L-rd your –d is bringing you to a good land, a land of rivers of water, fountains and deep wells coming out of the valley and mountain. A land of wheat and barley, and the vine and fig and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and honey (dates).
Around this verse another tradition has been reintroduced: the Tu Bishvat Seder. This tradition started with the growth and development of Kabala and is slowly gaining popularity though this has still not been widely accepted into the mainstream yet.
Indeed, last night in our shul we celebrated a Seder of sorts, with the Rabbi explaining the history and meaning of each of the Shivat Haminim before tucking in to delicious fruits and drinks.
Tu B’Shvat commemorates another important date – it is the birthday of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. The first elections to the Knesset were held on Tu B’shvat.
In Israel today, Tu B’Shvat is marked by ceremonies of tree-planting and other “green”-related events. Israel Hayom reports on this year’s events:
…the focus of the holiday to be, once again, the planting of trees throughout Israel. This year, however, the day also marks the Jewish National Fund’s 110th birthday.
According to estimates, more than 1.1 million trees and plants will be planted across the country on Tu B’Shevat, and the first-ever virtual “social forest” will also be launched this year, according to JNF Chairman Efi Stenzler. The plan is to have Internet users “plant” virtual trees, and for each one a real tree will be planted by JNF personnel in Israeli forests.
The JNF called on the Israeli public to join them in planting trees on Wednesday and provided a local phone number (1-800-350-550) for Israelis to reserve a tree-planting spot.
One of the more touching items:
The police celebrated Tu B’Shevat a day early, on Tuesday, with senior officers – led by Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Yohanan Danino – planting bulbs of protected flowers in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. The bulbs were donated by the fledgling police national training center, which is under construction on a mountain just west of Beit Shemesh.
During preparation of the construction site, workers discovered many protected flowers in the area, and police officers, in coordination with the Nature and Parks Authority, decided to save the bulbs and transplant them elsewhere.
Happy Birthday Trees!