Prof. Steven PlautSteven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa and is author of "The Scout" (available from Gefen Publishing House). More of his writings can be seen on the New Plaut Blog, as well as in numerous electronic and print newspapers.
It is waved about by the Tikkun Olam Pagans as a political banner to demand that all Jews support the Green political agenda. The wacko pagan "Eco-Judaism" movement, including its Tikkun dervishes, has made it their holiest of all holidays, a day to hug bushes and worship tree spirits and nature. And Jewish assimilationist liberals in the United States use it as theological ammunition to disarm anyone criticizing environmentalist fanatics.
Tu B'Shvat is not a holiday of ecology, and has nothing to do with environmentalism. It also is not a day on which Jews celebrate pristine forests, national parks and wilderness areas. It is, if anything, the very opposite. It is the celebration of agri-business and the exploitation of nature for human consumption.
Tu B'Shvat is nominally the "New Year of the Trees" (called this in the Talmud), but I doubt if one in 100 liberal, politically active Jews can correctly explain in what sense it is, or what this means; and I doubt that any follower of Arthur Waskow or reader of Tikkun magazine on the planet could explain these things correctly.
Tu B'Shvat is decidedly not the time when Jews celebrate the blossoming of trees. It is the middle of winter, when, even in Israel, almost no trees are blossoming. (The almond tree is an exception.) The custom of going out and planting trees on Tu B'shvat is a modern deconstruction of the meaning of the day and is, in fact, rather silly. Tu B'Shvat is the worst part of the year in which to try to plant trees and get them to grow. I have no doubt that 80% of the famous saplings planted on Tu B'Shvat by Israeli school children never really take root and grow.
If anything, Tu B'Shvat is the "New Year of Trees" precisely because it is when trees are not blossoming and when it is the very worst time to be planting saplings. Tu B'Shvat is the time when the agricultural year for produce begins, for religious counting purposes.
For example, religious laws having to do with farm produce, such as the sabbatical of the land every seventh year, or the tithes on annual produce donated to the Levites or the Temple, or the counting of growth years to determine when fruit becomes edible, all require a chronological basis for counting. The logical time to start counting is exactly when nothing in nature is happening or growing, in exactly the same way that the time to start counting a New Moon (for the New Month) is when it is not there at all. It makes the division into annual cycles easier and more logical for counting and taxation purposes.
Tu B'Shvat is a happy time simply because farmers are about to begin a new agri-cycle. This is so in exactly the same sense as the "New Year for Farm Animals", also discussed in the Talmud although completely forgotten by almost all Jews, which starts on the first day of Elul in late summer.
Tu B'Shvat is a fiscal-tax New Year, more like April 15 in the US (the day you pay your taxes) than a Save the Earth and the Whales Day. Not only is it not a harvest day, it is a day when most trees are bare, and where dry fruits are eaten because there are so few fresh fruits in season, even in Israel. (Never mind that in Israel these days, almost all the dry Tu B'Shvat fruits come from Turkey.)
Because it is a day in which the annual business cycle in agri-business begins, there is not the slightest smidgen of an environmentalist political agenda in the real meaning of the day. Because it is a celebration of farming, it certainly cannot be used as religious artillery ammunition by those who demand that pristine rain forests and wilderness areas be preserved and their conversion into farms be prevented. In fact, Tu B'Shvat is really no holiday at all in any sense, and does not have any liturgy or prayers of its own, other than the routine blessings over foods one says every day. People who want to preserve national parks and natural areas are free to lobby for these, but they will find no theological support for their position in the real Tu B'Shvat.
So why do so many people think Tu B'Shvat has something to do with preventing greenhouse gasses or promoting animal rights or preserving rain forests? Because the Tikkun Olam Pagans, the assimilationist Leftism-as-Judaism proponents of pseudo-Judaism in the Diaspora and in Israel, have intentionally hijacked and distorted its meaning altogether.
Want to celebrate Tu B'Shvat in the real manner it was intended? Chop down a tree for lumber, slaughter some farm animals for dinner, build a farm in the forest, and fish to your heart's content.