Wednesday, January 31, 2018

TU B'Shvat, A Real Holiday?

One of the most enigmatic Jewish "holidays" is TU B'Shvat, the 15th of the Jewish Month of Shevat which takes place towards the end of winter. It's more a day to be "noted" than celebrated. There are no mitzvot, commandments to be observed. And there's nothing forbidden. Torah observant Jews don't need to take a day off from work, either. Nor are special prayers said. This essay by Batsheva Haber on the Matan site gives a lot of background.

TU B'Shvat is celebrated most by Jewish preschools and elementary schools, most pragmatically because the Jewish curriculum is rather paltry over a month after Chanukah and a month before Purim. Talking and teaching about fruit grown in the Land of Israel, when it's often too cold to play outside, can be lots of fun.

Whenever my friends and I get together to compare notes on what we all did for TU B'Shvat as children, whether in my Conservative Jewish after school program, the best Jewish school in Paris or even in religious schools here in Israel we have similar stories. We ate raisins, dried figs and buksa, hard teeth-breaking carob pods. This was to symbolize the Shivat Haminim,  the Seven Botanical Species grown in the Holy Land.

With the advent of political zionism and the establishment of the Keren Kayemet, Jewish National Fund, JNF, TU B'Shvat became a major marketing, programming and fundraising tool. TU B'Shvat became THE DAY to plant trees in the Holyland. It didn't really bother anyone that it was really a month or two past the optimal time to plant trees. Most of the very limited rainfall had already fallen, and without expensive and sometimes logistically difficult supplementary watering an outrageous amount of the trees so lovingly photographed would soon be dead. But planting trees on TU B'Shvat has become a major activity for schools and youth movements here in Israel.

To be honest, I too planted a tree the very first time I came to Shiloh. It was TU B'Shvat thirty-seven 37 years ago, and the small community was on a promotional drive to bring more families to live here. Friends, who have daughters the same ages as our daughters, told us about it, and the girls and I piled into their car to drive out to Shiloh. We planted trees and met the pioneering families. I fell in love with Shiloh and then just had to convince my husband that it would be our new home. Yes, obviously I succeeded, because we're here in Shiloh.

Davka, yesterday I planted a tree. I didn't do it because of the date. I planted it since after it had been sitting on my window sill for a year, it looked rather ill and lonely. Last year when I was teaching in Yeshiva Tichonit Ahavat Chaim, the yeshiva high school in Kochav Hashachar, the little "tree" had been sitting in the Teachers Room and offered to anyone who wanted. So, I took it home. I tried to care for it, but after a year it looked awfully sick. Either it will thrive outside or die.

Some of you may be waiting for me to mention a Seder TU B'Shvat. That's the ceremony more and more people are observing to celebrate TU B'Shevat. The only thing it has in common with the Passover Seder is wine. That can be a subject for another post, Gd willing.


Mr. Cohen said...

Batya Medad said this about Tu BeShvat:

“There are no mitzvot, commandments to be observed.
And there's nothing forbidden.”

my personal response:

Actually, there is one thing forbidden on Tu BeShvat:
the prayers for repentance and forgiveness that we call
Tachanun”. In fact, Tachanun is also
forbidden during the Minchah before Tu BeShvat.


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Batya said...

Thanks for the info.