20 September 2015 - 7 Tishri 5776 - ז' תשרי ה' אלפים תשע"ו
New Year of the Trees Print E-mail

Tu Bishvat falls on the 15th of the month of Shevat. Although a minor festival, it has a great importance and relevance to modern day Jews. It is reminder to us of the importance of trees.

There has been a recent increased awareness in the secular world of the need to preserve and protect nature. This is something deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. With each prayer over the seven species we are reminded that we come from a tradition that respects the earth and has been commanded to care for it.

There is a wealth of Judaic scholarship devoted to the relationship between man and earth and the responsibility of Jews to take action to protect nature. This responsibility, on Tu Bishvat, is historically linked to the Land of Israel but is now recognised as a global responsibility.

For obvious reason, Tu Bishvat has recently been somewhat reclaimed and elevated in importance in the hearts of Jews worldwide. There are increased efforts to re-explore this festival.

Modern day observance of Tu Bishvat most commonly is marked by communal efforts to plant trees in Israel. Jewish children throughout the world enthusiastically collect money to support the project.

For smaller children, many of them also plant their own potted plants, a tiny gesture but one that emphasises many of the themes of the holiday on a level accessible to them. For older Diaspora children, it is also the perfect introduction to the study of the Land of Israel. It is a time to reconnect with Israel and remember our united responsibility for our homeland.  

It is also a custom to eat different varieties of fruits on the holiday and to recite the appropriate blessings. Commonly, fruits from the Land of Israel are consumed. Highlighted are the seven species, as outlined in Deuteronomy.

A land with flowing streams and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountains. It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates- a land of oil-[olives] and honey- [dates].

Tu Bishvat Seders have also become more commonly practiced by Jews across the religious spectrum. The Tu Bishvat Seder has its roots in Kabbalism. Wine and the fruits are enjoyed and blessings are recited. Traditionally, as in the Pesach Seder, four cups of wine are consumed. These four cups however, take on symbolic importance unique to the celebration of Tu Bishvat. The cups of wine are red, rose, pink and white. For the kabbalists, each of these components served as powerful symbolic acts.

Unique and modern interpretations have been added to the Seder, allowing it to become a ‘new’ ritual accessible to even the most secular Jews. Each community has personalised this event to emphasise their own character.

For all Jews, it is a time to reconnect with nature and the Land of Israel. It is a time to reflect on our relationship with and responsibility to the earth. It is a time to remember the importance of trees and a chance to experience the blessings over the fruit in a profound way with a new awareness.

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