By Hannah Austin, Communications and Outreach Intern

EGC wishes a happy holiday to all those observing Tu B’Shevat this year! Tu B’Shevat is a Jewish holiday celebrating the birthday of all fruit trees. It also marks the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This year, Tu B’Shevat began on Wednesday January 27th at sundown and will end Thursday the 28th at sundown. The holiday of Tu B’Shevat represents the stage in the yearly agricultural cycle when planting trees can begin, and serves as a reminder that the natural world contains the capacity for renewal. It has become known as the holiday for Jewish environmentalism.

Historical Significance

In ancient times, Tu B’Shevat was a date on the calendar that helped Jewish farmers know when they should bring their fruit from recently planted trees to the Temple as offerings. In the 16th century, the Kabbalists- followers of the ancient Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah-created a ritual to celebrate Tu B’Shevat called the “Feast of Fruits”. At this feast, people would read selections from the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic literature, and would eat fruits and nuts traditionally associated with the land of Israel such as almonds and carob (a tree or shrub with edible pods in the legume family). Participants in the kabbalistic seder would also drink four cups of wine: white wine (representing winter), white with some red (to signify the coming of spring), red with some white (an early spring), and red (for spring and summer).

Tu B’Shevat and Environmentalism

Some Zionists- people who believe in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel- used Tu B’Shevat as an opportunity to commemorate the tree-planting movement to restore the ecology of Israel and as a symbol of renewed growth of Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland. Today, Tu B’Shevat has increased in popularity and is used as both a celebration that connects participants to the land of Israel as well as an opportunity to educate and promote positive ecological messages. Many American and European Jews observe Tu B’Shevat by contributing money to the Jewish National Fund, an organization devoted to reforesting Israel. For environmentalists, Tu B’Shevat is an ancient Jewish connection to current environmental issues. The holiday is seen as an occasion to educate Jews about advocacy and responsible stewardship of God’s creation, and further encouraging ecological activism. This holiday aims to raise awareness about and to encourage care for the environment through the teaching of Jewish sources celebrating nature. 

Sources: 

Planting Seeds of Change: Tu Bishvat and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (2019, January 8). USCJ. Retrieved 1-27-2021 from: https://uscj.org/blog/planting-seeds-of-change-tu-bishvat-and-martin-luther-king-jr-day 

Tu Bishvat 2021. (2021). My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 1-27-2021 from: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tu-bishvat-2021/ 


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