Tu B'Shevat is the Jewish Earth Day, the Birthday of Trees.
We give thanks for trees and eat fruit native to Israel
in appreciation for the harvest.
History of Tu B'Shevat
Tu B'Shevat is the date used to calculate
the age of trees for tithing/taxing. Fruit from trees
may not be eaten during the first three years of its life;
the fourth year's fruit is said to be for Gd, and after that, anyone
can eat its fruit. The fifteenth of the Hebrew month Shevat
was the cutoff date for determining when the fruit of
the tree was to be tithed. If the tree was planted prior
to Tu B'Shevat, it would be considered to have aged one
year. If it was planted afterward, it would become one year old at the following year's Tu B'Shevat. Thus, Tu (for tet-vav,
the alpha-numeric for the number 15) denotes that the holiday is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat. This year, Tu B'Shevat will be observed starting at sundown on January 19th, 2011. Over time, Tu B'Shevat became the festival of the trees, or literally the "new year" of the trees. The date is said to have been chosen because the light of the fifteenth is bathed in the light of the full moon rather than the new moon at the beginning of the month. Most of the rain has fallen in Israel by the month of Shevat and the trees begin to drink from it. As a result, their sap begins to flow.
In the 1600s, the kabbalists (mystics) of Safed in Israel initiated a Tu B'Shevat seder (special meal like on Passover), which is sometimes called chemdat hayamim ("meals made from the fruits of the season"). The kabbalists began the tradition of using four cups of wine (white wine, white mixed with a little red, red mixed with a little white, and all red wine) to reflect the changes of the seasons. Since there is no fixed liturgy for this seder, only a mixture of accumulated community customs, Tu B'Shevat is a good opportunity to be creative. During the Passover seder we remember how we were all once slaves in Egypt and how Gd redeemed the ancient Israelites. During the Tu B'Shevat seder participants think about how dependant humanity is on the earth and its produce for sustenance. During this seder we eat many types of fruit and nuts. Some seders focus on the environment, some on appreciating the earth's bounty, and some on the Jewish mystical tradition relative to the earth. Here are links to a variety of Tu B'Shevat seder resources that you might enjoy. Look through them for ideas to make a seder that is meaningful for your family and friends.
This seder has an environmental focus:
"JNF Environmental Haggadah"
This seder offers feminist liturgical options:
"Tu B'Shevat Seder Toolkit version 1.2"
This seder places an emphasis on Israel:
"Tu B'Shevat Seder"
Activities for Tu B'Shevat
are no specific rituals that one is obligated to perform on Tu B'Shevat. Whatever the focus of our observance, we realize that as the earth becomes increasingly polluted, it is up to us to redeem it. According to Jewish tradition, the land is Gd's and is not our's to do with as we wish. We must be responsible how we use the land and treat the flora and fauna that are on it. People may choose to have a Tu B'Shevat seder to commemorate the day or may decide to plant a tree. Being conscious of the environment's role in our lives and the necessity of preserving biodiversity is a good way to start. A person may renew his/her commitment to recycling, stop driving an SUV for that day, stop using environmentally harmful products for a month, or participate in ecological restoration projects. Many people send money to the Jewish National Fund in order to plant trees in Israel as a way of observing Tu B'Shevat. Others spend the day outdoors, enjoying the beauty nature has to offer us. Be ecologically sensitive. Be innovative.
Keep the spirit of Tu b'Shevat througout the year
at the amount of energy you use and the environmental impact you have. Do you drive when you might be able to walk or use public transportation? Could you switch to energy efficient light bulbs? Is your house insulated well, so that you do not lose excess heat or air conditioning? Make one change to decrease your impact on the environment in honor of Tu B'Shevat.
When you purchase a major appliance, purchase one that is more energy efficient than the others (and save money on your energy bills at the same time). Take a look at this
Be conscious of the environment in all decisions that you make.
website for help:
Tu B'Shevat Book List:
Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shevat Anthology by Arthur Ocean Waskow, Naomi M. Hyman, and Ari Elon (Jewish Publication Society, 1999).
A Seder for Tu B'Shevat: The Festival of Trees by Harlene Winnick Appelman and Jane Shapiro, illustrated by Chari McLean (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1984).
It's Tu B'Shevat by Edie Stoltz Zolkower and illustrated by Richard Johnson (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2005).
Grandpa and Me on Tu B'Shevat by Marji E. Gold-Vukson and illustrated by Leslie Evans (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2004).
Sammy Spider's First Tu B'Shevat by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2000).