Tu Bishvat: Is the Jewish New Year of the Trees Green?

almond blossoms israel tu be shevatSpring has sprung in Israel, marked by almond blossoms and Tu Bishvat

The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat begins as the sun sets on the 7th of February 2012.  This holiday has its origins in some ecologically-focused passages in the Talmud.  Deuteronomy 14:22-29 requires that one tenth of all that a field produces in a year should be set aside as a tithe and that every third year’s tithe should be stored in towns so that widows, foreigners and Levites (who have no land allotment) would have food.

Leviticus 19:23-25 warns that when a tree is planted, its fruit should not be consumed during the first three years and that the fourth year’s fruit belongs to God.  Only after the fifth year is the fruit to be consumed.

Tu Bishvat, also known as “New Year of the Trees”, was the day used to calculate the age of a tree.  A count of fruit and blossoms on this day was used to calculate these tithes (taxes) for the following year.

Tu Bishvat was also a time for planting and preparing for the spring season.  Some people prepare a traditional Tu Bishvat seder (meal) consisting of fruit, nuts and a symbolic combination of red and white wine.  Because there is no solid Talmudic basis for this seder, anyone can create their own green Tu Bishvat seder.

Tu Bishvat remains focused on the environment.  Children plant trees in a celebration reminiscent of arbor day and make nature-themed crafts.  Adults pledge to cut greenhouse gases or try to win an environmental Nobel prize.  Some of these activities have been criticized as being little more than greenwashing.  In this part of the world, even the simple act of planting a tree can have a complicated political dimension.

Image via virovets


About Brian Nitz

Brian remembers when a single tear dredged up a nation's guilt. The tear belonged to an Italian-American actor known as Iron-Eyes Cody, the guilt was displaced from centuries of Native American mistreatment and redirected into a new environmental awareness. A 10-year-old Brian wondered, 'What are they... No, what are we doing to this country?' From a family of engineers, farmers and tinkerers Brian's father was a physics teacher. He remembers the day his father drove up to watch a coal power plant's new scrubbers turn smoke from dirty grey-back to steamy white. Surely technology would solve every problem. But then he noticed that breathing was difficult when the wind blew a certain way. While sailing, he often saw a yellow-brown line on the horizon. The stars were beginning to disappear. Gas mileage peaked when Reagan was still president. Solar panels installed in the 1970s were torn from roofs as they were no longer cost-effective to maintain. Racism, public policy and low oil prices transformed suburban life and cities began to sprawl out and absorb farmland. Brian only began to understand the root causes of "doughnut cities" when he moved to Ireland in 2001 and watched history repeat itself. Brian doesn't think environmentalism is 'rocket science', but understanding how to apply it within a society requires wisdom and education. In his travels through Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, Brian has learned that great ideas come from everywhere and that sharing mistakes is just as important as sharing ideas.

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