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Tu BiSh’vat

Answer By: 
George Robinson
pomegranate tree

Tu BiSh'vat is a minor festival whose provenance dates only to the time of the Second Temple. However, the kabbalists who clustered around the great fifteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria of Safed placed great weight on the holiday, creating new festivities, gatherings at which hymns were sung, fruit (particularly carob) was eaten, and four cups of wine were taken (as in the Passover seder). Many Sephardic communities still engage in these Tu BiSh'vat rites.

With the advent of the environmental movement and the focus of modern Israelis on the greening of their nation, Tu BiSh'vat has taken on more importance in the last fifty years. In Israel, schoolchildren will go out to plant new trees on this day. Diaspora Jews will try to partake of as many as possible of the seven fruits and grains cited in Deuteronomy 8:8 as native to the Holy Land: "wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive trees, and (date) honey." Many ecology-minded Jews have created new Tu BiSh'vat seders and have followed in the footsteps of Luria and his fellow mystics in extolling this holiday's importance.

George Robinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (revised edition, Atria Books, 2016) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film critic for The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. He is adjunct assistant professor of media studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and has been critic-in-residence at several Jewish film festivals around the country. Robinson was a contributor to the recent edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Mr. Robinson lives in New York City with his wife Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times and an author in her own right.

Answer By: 
George Robinson
forest of  trees

This year, Tu BiSh'vat begins at sundown on February 10th.

Tu BiSh'vat, called the "New Year of the Trees," falls at a seemingly incongruous time of year. The fifteenth day of Sh'vat is mid-winter for North American Jews and the last thing on their minds is, well, "Jewish Arbor Day." However, if you think in terms of Eretz Yisrael, the timing of the holiday makes more sense. The climate in Israel is milder, essentially a Mediterranean climate, and by mid-February, the almond trees are beginning to bloom. It is still the rainy season, so the process of redemption begins at the turning point towards hope.

In fact, the date of the holiday actually correlates to the cutoff point for assessing the tithe levied on fruit grown in the orchards as practiced in ancient Israel (sort of a farmer's equivalent of an American's April 15). Any fruit grown before Tu BiSh'vat would have counted towards the previous year's totals, any fruit grown after towards the coming year's. Tu BiSh'vat's date also links it to two more prominent agrarian festivals of the Jewish year, Sukkot and Passover, both of which begin on the fifteenth of the month.

George Robinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (revised edition, Atria Books, 2016) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film critic for The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. He is adjunct assistant professor of media studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and has been critic-in-residence at several Jewish film festivals around the country. Robinson was a contributor to the recent edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Mr. Robinson lives in New York City with his wife Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times and an author in her own right.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Tu BiSh’vat is the “New Year of the Trees.” It is a wonderful holiday to celebrate at home. Treat your home to a new plant or two. Children enjoy planting seeds and watching new plants grow. At bedtime, read a book about trees with your children. Start a window-sill herb garden or counter-top composter. Let Tu BiSh’vat be the impetus to reduce, reuse, recycle. A Tu BiSh’vat Seder is a traditional, fun and easy way to celebrate the holiday. Going to a seder? Bring a delicious dish incorporating the traditional foods of Tu BiSh’vat.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

Tu BiSh'vat (Hebrew for the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Sh'vat) is the new year of the trees. This year, Tu BiSh'vat begins at sundown on Friday, February 10th. The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century kabbalists (mystics) created this ritual, modeled after the Passover seder. They would gather for a multi-course meal with fruits that are associated with the Land of Israel. Commonly included foods include fruit from three different classifications: fruit with shells (oranges), fruits with pits (dates), and fruit that are entirely edible (raisins). Learn now to celebrate Tu BiSh'vat and hold a seder of your own.

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