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 BiSh’vat 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.
Celebration of Tu BiSh’vat has changed through the years. Kabbalists in the 16th and 17th centuries created a Tu BiSh’vat 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 BiSh’vat 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.
Does your sisterhood or community have a special seder or programming for Tu BiSh'vat? Share it with the WRJ community!