Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tu Bishvat - February 8th

(Almond Trees, Israel)

This year February 8, 2012 marks the celebration of Tu Bishvat or "New Years for Trees" in Judaism. Its original role was to calculate the age of fruit trees, but today it has a broader ecological tone, similar to earth day. Many celebrate this holiday by planting trees.
Tu Bishvat always occurs on the 15th day of Shvat, a 30-day Jewish month that generally lasts from mid-January to mid-February. "Tu Bishvat" literally means "15th of Shvat" in Hebrew. Since Jewish and secular calendars don't match exactly, Tu Bishvat jumps around, it falls on Feb. 8 in 2012, but it will be Jan. 26 in 2013, Jan. 16 in 2014 and Feb. 4 in 2015.
The original purpose of Tu Bishvat was to calculate the age of fruit trees, which helped Jews in ancient Israel comply with this biblical edict from Leviticus 19:23-25:
"And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as forbidden; three years shall it be as forbidden unto you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto the Lord. But in the fifth year may ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you more richly the increase thereof: I am the Lord your God."
The fruit was off-limits for the first four years, and this practice helped standardize tree planting.

Tu Bishvat Seders are now common, often focusing on the "seven species" of Israeli crops listed in Deuteronomy 8:8 — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey). This tradition has helped some Jewish environmental groups use Tu Bishvat to promote sustainable, locally grown food. Tree sitting is also a common practice along with composting or home gardening.

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