Tu B’Shevat; The New Year for Trees

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar – celebrated this year on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 – is the day that marks the beginning of a “New Year for Trees.” This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. We mark the day of Tu B’Shevat by eating fruit, particularly from the kinds that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. On this day we remember that “Man is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19) and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue. One of the ways Tu B’Shevat is celebrated today is with a special seder. Developed in the 16th century by Kabbalists, or mystics, they used the Passover seder as their model. At the Tu B’Shevat seder, along with the appropriate prayers, the Kabbalists would consume various types of food and drink, each of which would be given a symbolic meaning. Tu B’Shevat seders are still held today and have become quite popular, especially in synagogues, religious schools, community centers and retirement homes. In Israel, Tu B’Shevat signals the coming of spring, as flowers begin to appear and the earth reawakens. Throughout Israel’s modern history, school children have celebrated the holiday with ceremonies for the planting of trees. Tu B’Shevat is also a day of national pride, when Israelis recall how the early pioneers worked the land and made the desert bloom.