Tu BiShvat is celebrated on the 15th (tu) of Sh’vat (typically in January or February) and is frequently referred to as “Jewish Arbor Day” or “Jewish Earth Day.” Originally, the holiday was believed to represent the end of the fiscal year for fruit-bearing trees. Much like the end of the modern fiscal year, it was also an important time to set aside earnings to support the poor.
The celebration of Tu BiShvat has changed through the years. Kabbalists in the 16th and 17th centuries created a Tu BiShvat Seder honoring the reawakening of the trees, the coming spring, and joy of life itself. These Seders incorporated wine, nuts, and fruits to celebrate the blossoming of new life.
Because Tu BiShvat is about celebrating life and the blossoming of nature, some women see it as an opportunity to celebrate fertility or the lives of family members recently lost. In 1924, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS, now WRJ) accepted a resolution that “the Festival of Trees which comes in the Spring of the year be celebrated [along with Hanukkah and Purim] in the religious school and wherever else it may be feasible,” so that Jewish families would be discouraged from observing Christmas in their homes.
Today many celebrate the holiday with a Seder and/or by planting trees in Israel to demonstrate commitment to Israel and to preserving the Earth for future generations.
For additional ideas and history, visit ReformJudaism.org. For ideas that integrate social action into your holidays, visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC).
One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road
and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him,
“How long will it take this tree to bear fruit?
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
He asked, “Are you quite sure you will live another seventy years to eat its fruit?”
The man replied, “I myself found fully grown carob trees in the world;
as my forbearers planted for me, so am I planting for my children.”
—Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit
Tu BiShvat Programming Ideas
- Decorate reusable grocery bags with religious school children that they can take home for their families to use, as Emanuel Congregation WRJ from Chicago, IL, did in their Or Ami Bronze Award-winning program.
- Hold a Tu BiShvat Seder: great services have been written by Temple B’nai Shalom Sisterhood of Fairfax Station, VA; Temple Isaiah Sisterhood of Lexington, MA; and the RAC/NFTY.
- Plant or sponsor tree planting in Israel or at home.
- Plan a group planting service trip. Locate an area in need of volunteers to plant flowers and/or greenery, such as your synagogue, local senior centers, hospitals, or a Habitat for Humanity project.
- Host a sisterhood cook-off featuring the seven foods of Israel mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. You could also include almonds and carob fruit or other produce that have come to be associated with Israel since biblical times: oranges, pomelos, persimmons, avocados, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
- Start a conversation at your synagogue about how you can actively reduce your energy consumption: encourage members to turn off lights in unused rooms; switch to using LED or CFL light bulbs instead of incandescent or fluorescent bulbs; and remind everyone to unplug unused chargers, appliances, and other technology. For more ideas, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency website or the Environment Canada website.
- Organize a food drive so that all can enjoy the gifts of the natural world.
- Read about the emergence of ecofeminism and discuss the relationship between women and the environment with your sisterhood.
Does your sisterhood or community have a special seder or programming for Tu BiShvat? Share it with the WRJ community!