This year, Tu Be’Shevat, “Rosh HaShanah La’Illanot”, (Hebrew literally: “New Year of the Trees”), is observed from sunset on Tuesday night 3rd February 2015, until sunset on Wednesday 4th February 2015.
Tu Be’Shevat is a minor Jewish holiday, first mentioned in the Hebrew Mishnah – Tractate Rosh HaShannah (New Year Tractate). The Mishnah was first edited into written form in 220 C.E. and is based upon the Oral Tradition of interpreting the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) dating back to between 536 B.C.E and 70 C.E. Tu Be’Shevat is one of the four new year dates in the Hebrew calendar. Despite its status as a minor holiday, in order to emphasize its importance the Second Temple Sage, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai said:
“If you are engaged in planting and you are told that the Messiah has come, first finish planting and only then go greet the Messiah.” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan Bet:31)
Throughout Modern-Day Israel it is the date used for calculating the beginning of the new agricultural planting cycle for the purpose of observing Biblical tithes. It is also celebrated as Israeli Arbor Day and all green and ecological organizations further environmental awareness programs. Throughout the Land (Israel) trees are planted in celebration.
The custom of planting trees on Tu Be’Shevat dates back to 1890 when Rabbi Ze’ev Yavet and his students planted trees in Zichron Ya’akov, an agricultural community south of Haifa. The custom of tree planting on Tu Be’Shevat was adopted by the Jewish Teachers Union in 1908 and later by Keren HaKayemet L’Israel (The Jewish National Fund). It was Keren HaKayemet L’Israel which turned the holiday into the day dedicated to reforestation. Planting ceremonies are held on Kibbutzim, and in national forests and parks. It is on Tu Be’Shevat that we remember that “man is the tree of the field” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 20:19), because it includes the concept of renewal of nature as well as placing an emphasis upon the relationship of man to nature. Several major institutions have chosen it as their inauguration day, cornerstone-laying ceremonies for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1918), The Technion University in Haifa (1925) and the Israeli Knesset (1949) all took place on Tu Be’Shevat.
Most families celebrate Tu Be’Shevat by planting trees and celebrating a Tu BeShevat Seder. During the Seder blessings are recited upon 10 different fruits of the Land. The celebration of a Tu BeShevat Seder is another custom related to the holiday and is generally followed by a festive dinner.
The almond tree is amongst the earliest blooming trees in the Land of Israel, it was long ago chosen as one of the symbols of the holiday. On Tu Be’Shevat many go out into the fields or in their backyards to enjoy looking at the blooming almond trees. Its delicate white blossoms gleaming in the late morning sun reminding each of us of the simple purity of nature’s renewal.
The photograph of the dried fruits is from Wikipedia – Wikimedia Commons
The photographs of the blooming almond trees are by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are owned by IsraeLightly