What is Tu Bishvat - Jewish New Year and How to Celebrate
Jewish New Year

What is Tu Bishvat and when it occurs?

The Jewish holiday known as Tu BiShvat (also known as Ti BiShavat, Tu B'shevat, Tu B'Shevat, or Tu Bishvat) celebrates trees. In fact, "Tu Bishvat" means "15th of Shvat" in Hebrew, which is the day it falls on in the Jewish calendar's Shvat month. This calendar is lunisolar, which means that while the years are based on solar years, the months are based on the moon cycle. Because the months are determined by the lunar cycle, Jewish festivals are kept at roughly the same time of year, although the actual date changes every year.

In Judaism, a tree's age has a significant impact on whether or not its fruit can be consumed. The first three years of a tree's fruit cannot be consumed, and the fourth year's fruit is reserved for God. You can consume fruit from trees once the four years have passed. Every tree ages a year on Tu Bishvat, which determines whether it is safe to eat from.

There is no mention of this minor Jewish holiday in the Torah. According to scholars, this event has its origins in Israel as a springtime agricultural feast. However, many Jews were banished and the agricultural celebration was discontinued after the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. (Common Era, which refers to the same time period as A.D.). Over time, certain Jews felt a need to tie themselves symbolically to their country, and Tu Bishvat was a way to do so.

The Tu BiShvat Seder was a new ritual they introduced. Similar to the Seder at Passover, this Seder is a formal supper. In the Seder, food from the holy land and the Bible are consumed. People partake in fruit and the seven spices of Israel as part of this. The fruit is often grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, or dates, as they are described in the Torah as sustenance from the Holy Land. Some families would provide a 15-course feast, with a different food from the region included in each course.

How To Celebrate Tu Bishvat?

Tu Bishvat has evolved into a more joyous holiday over time, even though its early years may have been more about pragmatic than celebration. For instance, in the 1500s, Kabbalists started hosting a Tu Bishvat seder that was based on the Passover feast. According to Yitzhak Buxbaum's "A Person Is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat," this seder often included Israeli native tree fruits as well as talks on "philosophical and Kabbalistic notions related with the day."

The "seven species" of Israeli crops specified in Deuteronomy 8:8 - wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates — are frequently the center of Tu Bishvat seders, which are now widespread (honey). Some Jewish environmental organizations have used Tu Bishvat to promote locally sourced, sustainable foods thanks to this custom. U.S.-based Hazon, for one, gives ideas on sustainable seders and on identifying local seven-species possibilities. Hazon advises raisins, dried figs and dates, honey, jelly, and even wine — ideally all local and organic — if fresh fruit from the seven species is not readily accessible.

What is Tu Bishvat - Jewish New Year and How to Celebrate
Tu B'Shevat seder (Photo: My Jewish Learning)

And since Tu Bishvat is all about trees, planting more of them might be the most important way to celebrate. On Tu Bishvat, many families plant new trees on their property or participate in volunteer efforts on public land. Local tree-planting or large afforestation programs are sponsored by a variety of organizations in Israel and internationally. Some people simply take a walk in the woods to observe the occasion.

David Krantz, president and chairman of the Green Zionist Alliance, a Jewish environmental organization, argues that Tu Bishvat serves as a nice reminder of our relationship to the Earth. "We often overlook the symbiotic relationship we have with trees. Both people and trees rely on one another. We damage ourselves when we destroy trees."

In that vein, others regard Tu Bishvat as a time to not only plant new trees but also to safeguard those that have already been planted. Because of this, two New York summer camp directors participated in a protracted "tree-sitting" effort to prevent the cutting down of 200-year-old California redwoods in order to prepare for Tu Bishvat in 2012. It was described in a press release by Yoni and Vivian Stadlin, the owners of Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, New York, as "living in the lungs of the Earth" to spend a week among redwoods.

On a smaller scale, many people imitate this pattern by utilizing Tu Bishvat to start other environmental initiatives like composting or home gardening. Krantz advises that however you choose to observe this historic event, it should be more than a single day of fun.

The celebration of Tu Bishvat, according to him, "serves in part as a message reminding us to stop and think about how we breathe, stop and think about our relationships to trees, and stop and think about our connection to the ecosystem as a whole." "Even though Tu Bishvat is a wonderful and enjoyable holiday, it's crucial that we continue to think about the environment after Tu Bishvat. They should be allowed to uphold our commitment all year round."

Different Ways to Celebrate Tu Bishvat

Try a new fruit, late bloomers. One step at a time.

Test your nature knowledge. Then do it without Googling.

Have a Tu B’shevat Seder. An ancient Kabbalistic custom called for a Seder similar to the Passover meal to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, incorporating figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, wheat, and barley—or some combination of all of them (think pilaf!)—and red and white wine. This tradition has been embraced by the Jewish student group Hillel, which offers free, downloadable materials to help you with your own DIY Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Resources for sustainable Seders abound, with most suggesting Seder hosts offer local foods and organic wine and, of course, recycle afterward. You should probably also go green—as in, paperless—with the invites.

Take a walk, and really pay attention to your surroundings. It might help to be listening to this Vox Tablet podcast about Jewish environmental activism.

Fig out. Take advantage of the nutritional benefits of the fig, Tu B’shevat’s mascot and a high-fiber source of detoxifying vitamins. Keep it healthy with these flaxseed, fig, and walnut crackers or indulge with this pecan macaroon and fig tart. Fig juice—blended, not juiced—can be tricky to make, since it’s not a particularly juicy fruit. Premade is always an option; this variety touts potassium, calcium, and iron.

Or sit back and make Ruth Reichl happy by ordering a jar of Fig and Olive Spread from online gourmanderie Gilt Taste. (These vegan, kosher, gluten-free coconut macaroons won’t arrive until after the holiday, but they’re probably still worth it.)

Make like a tree and compost. It’s not hard! Even urban dwellers can do it, with these new freezer bins. And you never know what might happen in your own backyard.

Go classic. Plant a tree in someone’s honor or in memory of a loved one, or gift a tree to be planted. Trees are, after all, the gift that keeps on giving.

Walk through Tal Schochat’s paradisiacal forest. The Israeli photographer shoots single trees against black backdrops, to stunning effect. Or what The New Yorker called “a set designer’s version of Eden—extravagantly bountiful but oddly unnatural.”

Read The Pagan Rabbi, Cynthia Ozick’s 1971 book of short stories, including the title story, in which a rabbi gets a little too intimate with nature.

See the film Tree of Life. Or don’t. For what it’s worth, Brad Pitt probably loves nature, suggested in tabletmag.


What is Tu Bishvat - Jewish New Year and How to Celebrate
Photo: My Jewish Learning

That spiritual need was partially met by Tu BiShvat. Jews would consume a variety of fruits and nuts from Israel around this time every year. The custom, which was essentially a physical connection to the land, persisted for many years.

The kabbalists (mystics) of Israel in the 16th and 17th centuries developed on those traditions, producing a Tu BiShvat ceremony that is somewhat like to the Passover seder. They would meet in their houses on the eve of Tu Bishvat for a 15-part banquet, with each dish featuring a food related to the region. In between lessons, they would read from a collection of tree-related passages from the Bible, the Talmud, and the mystical Zoharm called P'ri Eitz Hadar (The Fruit of the Goodly Tree), which demonstrates reformjudaism.

Today, Tu BiShvat is more of an environmental holiday: a day to commemorate the Jewish obligation to protect the environment and a festival for planting trees for both Israeli Jews and Jews worldwide. The Jewish National Fund, or JNF (often also known by its Hebrew name, Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, or KKL), is credited with much of the credit for the tremendous joy and spirit of the holiday as a direct result of the significant work of JNF. The JNF reintroduced the holiday of Tu BiShvat to be about tree-planting, which became connected with the Zionist spirit. Historically, JNF emphasized the importance of planting trees in Israel as part of cultivating the land.

Seders for Tu BiShvat are not exclusively for mystics! Celebrate Israel's beautiful fruits and nuts by hosting a seder. These foods are used in numerous dishes. Jewish Introduction for Families: There are several recipes in Tina Wasserman's Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations with Children that families can use to enjoy cooking together.

While the food is cooking, keep busy by making a Tu BiShvat Handprint Tree or one of these other fun family activities.

Incorporate social and environmental justice into your celebration by taking a hike, committing to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” or any of the other suggestions in our Tu BiShvat Social Action Holiday Guide

Plant a tree, either in Israel or where you live.

What to Eat on Tu B'Shevat?

Vegetarian Supper to Celebrate Tu B'Shevat: Tu B'Shevat is frequently observed in families with a vegetarian meal. Voilà chevalNeitherstiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiintastiinta Many homes utilize this day as an opportunity to test a type of vegetable that they might not normally eat.

Fruits, nuts, cereals, and vegetables are typical Tu B'Shevat fare. Almond-rich meals are frequently served around the holidays in California because this is the time of year when the almond trees blossom there. At least 15 different kinds of fruits and vegetables will be consumed by those who participate in a Tu B'Shevat seder. The seven species named in the Torah—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates—are also typically included.

Here is a meatless Tu B’Shevat menu that you can enjoy with your family:

To Start:

Stuffed Figs with Goat Cheese

Green Salad with Fruit

Main Dish:

Butternut Squash Soup with Chickpeas

Pumpkin Sage 'Alfredo' Sauce with Kale Pesto

For Dessert:

Seven Species Muffins

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