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Tu B’Shvat Goes ‘Modern Green’

The Tu B’Shvat holiday traditionally is celebrated by planting trees to make Israel green. Environmentalists add new meanings.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/7/2012, 8:38 PM

ASFI members plant trees in Samaria
ASFI members plant trees in Samaria
ASFI

The Tu B’Shvat holiday Tuesday night and Wednesday traditionally is celebrated by planting trees to make Israel green, but environmentalists add new meanings to the color.

The “Jewish Arbor Day” falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat and for decades has been associated with planting trees in Israel, which was mostly barren in the early days of the modern state.

Sviva Israel's Eco Connection project is expanding its meaning to include the endangered environment and is operating a “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment” until next year’s Tu B’Shvat. Its program includes lessons on the Ecological Footprint, Jewish Environmental Traditions and Israeli Clean-Tech Innovations, besides workshops on Judaism and the environment and alternative energy. 

It is operating in 15 cities in Israel, the United States and South Africa.

The traditional center of attention on the “holiday of trees’ is the Jewish National Fund, which is celebrating its 110th year this year. After having helped plant 1.1 million trees in previous years on Tu B’Shvat, it is launching a virtual “social forest” this year that allows people to “plant” a tree via the Internet. JNF workers will plant a real tree for every virtual one.

Although the holiday is not mentioned in the Bible, the Torah is often referred to as the “tree of life.”

The Talmud notes Tu B’Shvat as the “New Year for Trees," and it is a custom to celebrate the holiday by eating every one of the Biblical “seven species” – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, which are the source for the honey referred to in the Torah.

Kabbalists began conducting a “seder” on Tu B’Shvat in the 16th century, similar to a certain extent to the Passover Seder.