THURSDAY, JANUARY 20: It’s still winter in America and across the Northern Hemisphere, but on a Jewish Arbor Day the doors swing open to the natural world. Tu B’Shvat is the first day of the New Year for Trees. (Judaism 101 has more.) In places where the ground isn’t frozen, it’s customary for Jews to plant a tree today—and this tradition has done wonders for the Holy Land (keep reading to find out why). The purpose of Tu B’Shvat is to calculate the age of a tree for tithing and for eating.
Jews have long followed a passage from Leviticus that forbids the eating of a tree’s fruit for the first three years of its life, and so by following this easy-to-remember holiday, Jews can keep the biblical instructions. (Read more, plus lots of related articles, at Chabad.org.)
What do Jews do on this day dedicated to trees and fruit? Plant trees, and then eat plenty of fruit, of course! Customarily, devotees either eat a new fruit today or eat one of the Seven Species abundant in the land of Israel, according to the Bible. (Wikipedia has details.) Since the Seven Species consists primarily of grains and sweet fruits, today’s meal is usually a sweet one. (Hillel.org has instructions for a Tu B’shvat Seder.) For Jews who can’t plant trees today, the tradition of collecting money to plant trees in Israel is popular.
In the global green movement, Tu B’shvat has been attracting major media attention. Jews around the world remember, today, that “man is a tree of the field”—and non-Jews can take part in Tu B’shvat by reflecting on our connection with nature. (Green Prophet has an environmental perspective on Tu B’shvat.) A dedicated tradition of tree planting can make a major difference. Israel was one of the few countries in the world to have more trees on its land at the end of the last century than it had at the beginning.