By Shoresh volunteer: Michael Mikhailovsky
The holiday of Tu Bi Shevat is also called the New Year for Trees or the Birthday of the
Trees. It celebrates trees in anticipation of springtime. In the winter, some trees lose their
leaves, and enter a dormant period. The strong trunk and underground roots protect the life of
the tree. In springtime, the trees wake up. Tu Bi Shevat celebrates this waking.
In Judaism, fruit trees symbolize life and human beings. Trees are so important in
Judaism, that Jewish law forbids cutting down fruit trees in times of war. Wars were a common
part of life in the ancient world. There have been other Jewish laws about trees. If two people
wanted to buy the same parcel of land and one wanted to plant trees on the land, then the
buyer who wanted to plant trees would have taken precedence over the other one. Trees were
always welcomed in law even when crops were not.
This respect for trees may have originated because Jews lived in places with a hot
climate where trees provided much-needed shade. In nature trees provide food, shelter, a
place to rest and a place to play, protection from predators and protection from the elements.
Trees provide oxygen and fresh air while minimizing the harmful effects of excessive carbon
dioxide which contributes to climate change. Trees limit desertification. The land of Israel was
green with trees in Biblical times, but after the Jews were exiled from Israel almost 2000 years
ago the Romans proceeded to scorch the land and burn down the trees, and the desert crept
into the land. Planting trees was always associated with Tu Bi Shevat. In rebuilding the land of
Israel in the 20 th and 21 st centuries, the need for trees in a rocky and arid land has been very
important. Donations made to the Jewish National Fund for Tu Bi Shevat help to plant new
trees and also provide food, shelter and water in Israel.
Trees also symbolize the continuation of blessings from G-d, and since there are trees
that live longer than people, humans have a responsibility in planting and caring for trees, so
that they will grow for many years—longer than human beings—ensuring food for the future.
Historical Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai even taught that if the Messiah comes while a young tree is
being planted, a person must finish planting the tree before greeting him. The handles of Torah
scrolls are made out of wood because the Torah is compared to a tree – the handles are called
aitz chayim meaning “Tree of Life”, because the Torah is the Tree of Life to those who grasp it.
The holiday of Tu Bi Shevat looks forward to spring and is celebrated on the 15 th (Tu) of
the Hebrew month of Shevat. Before the month of Shevat, for three months there is heavy rain
in Israel. In Shevat, the rains stop, the sun returns; the sap rises in the trees. This is celebrated
on Tu Bi Shevat. The word “Tu” in “Tu Bi Shevat” is made up of the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav
(here the letter Vav functions as the vowel “oo”), and these letters have a numerical value in
the Hebrew calendar which together make up the number 15 (Tet= 9, Vav= 6, when added
together they form 15), which is the date of this holiday.
Some Jews celebrate Tu Bi Shevat with a meal of fruits grown on fruit trees, including
fruits praised in the Torah: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates, raisins and carob. Planting
trees has always been a special part of Tu Bi Shevat.
Join us in this modern day tradition by adopting a tree at our Forest for the Future at Bela Farm!
There are readings on environmental themes. The emphasis however must be on a life-time
commitment to the environment which includes preserving trees that are such a beautiful,
special and important part of nature and our world.
Happy Tu Bi Shevat!