1/16/14

Tu B'Shevat . . .

As the sun set last night I, and Jews around the world, marked Tu B'Shevat. Not "just" the 15th day of the month of Shevat on the Jewish calendar - Tu B'Shevat is the Jewish New Year for trees.

Yes. You read that correctly. There are at least four "New Years" on the Jewish calendar and this one is for trees. Let me explain . . . there has been (and remains) a tithing system in place for all produce-bearing trees in the Holy Land. But the question was once raised . . . how do you figure out when to "charge" for a tree that can be planted any time, might take different amounts of time to produce fruit, and might have various life spans for fruit.

The simple answer? A universal birthday for all trees - in other words - if you have a tree that gives fruit ON Tu B'Shevat . . . you are paying for that tree. Make sense? Don't say "no" - your own birthday is nothing more than a symbolic marker of another trip around the sun on the date you emerged from the womb of your carrier. Does THAT make sense?

Without further controversial dismissal of birthday tradition - here are some of my favorite fun facts and things to do tied to Tu B'Shevat.

  1. Tu B'Shevat is probably a pre-cursor, in many ways, to Earth Day as it is a celebration of the relationship between man and the planet and the gifts of nature.
  2. "Orlah" is the forbidden fruit of a tree that has not yet blown out three candles on its Tu B'Shevat cake but that gives way to "reva'i" the fruit of trees four-years-old or older 
  3. As a celebration of life, eulogies, fasting, and penitential prayers are forbidden. Only happy, positive, growth-related stuff is allowed by those who mark the day
  4. Tu B'Shevat is a lesser holiday in most Jewish communities. If the Kabbalists had not grabbed on to it many centuries ago it might not even be marked by the diaspora but it is a fun one that I'm, personally, glad has some legs in the year 5774
  5. The most delicious of all my favorite Jewish things . . . food . . . gets a special send up with a Tu B'Shevat Seder that celebrates wheat, fruits, and produce in general. Also - you can eat cake FIRST at a Tu B'Shevat meal
  6. There are typically four glasses of kosher wine consumed during a Tu B'Shevat celebration. They range from red (first glass) to white (fourth glass) with a dark pink mixture of red and white (more red) for the second and a light pink (more white) blend for the third glass
  7. The four glasses represent the four types of fruit . . . a) Fruits with shells (citrus, walnuts, etc.) that must be penetrated to get to the fruit. b) Fruits with pits (olives, apricots, etc.) that must be discarded. c) Fruits that we eat entirely (grapes, figs, etc.). d) Processed fruits (preserves, jellies, etc.). The symbolism is probably clear but it is to show that the fruits/gifts from G-d come in many forms and require various work to provide their associated pleasure
  8. Planting trees (or donating to groups that might if your land is frozen over) is a very appropriate tradition on this day
  9. The "Tree of Life" is a seriously complicated diagram showing how all the stuff ties to the other stuff and stuff.  
  10. It wouldn't be one of my Jewish Holiday countdowns without some awkward rap, right?

HAPPY TU B'SHEVAT, y'uns!