Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 02/03/2012

A HOLIDAY FOR TREES!

Tu B’Shevat 5772 – Feb. 8, 2012The “new year” for calculating the age of trees

Did you know that Israel was called a ‘barren wasteland’ by Mark Twain when he visited there in 1867? He is quoted to have called it: “….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” Yet, since God has begun regathering the exiled Jews from all over the world to their homeland, millions of trees have been planted and are flourishing as the ‘desert blooms’, fulfilling one of the many prophecies regarding Israel. “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.” Isaiah 35:1

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. The word “Tu” is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July “4 July”  See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numbers and why the number 15 is written this way.

Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. “When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit” Leviticus 19:23-25

Fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for G-d, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B’Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B’Shevat.

Customs 

There are few customs or observances related to this holiday. One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim) described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. The Shivat Haminim are: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8). You can make a nice vegetarian pilaf from the shivat haminim: a bed of cooked bulgar wheat or wheat berries and barley, topped with figs, dates, raisins (grapes), and pomegranate seeds, served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (grapes) and pomegranate juice. (I think I’ll try that!)

Some people plant trees on this day. Years ago, Jewish children commonly went around collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year. One organization that does this today is B’AHAVAT YISRAEL which has begun to plant olive trees at a recently purchased agricultural property in the Galilee. Click on this link to watch a one minute video of this group planting the trees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy8WwLE-ec4&feature=email. By supporting these efforts you are a partner in Saving the Galilee from being taken over by Arabs who also use fruit trees, mainly olives, to claim more and more of the Jewish Holy Land.  The more land that is purchased and worked by Jews in the Galilee the greater assurance of future Jewish sovereignty.

As is mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:7-9 “For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass”, the Land of Israel is described as a “land of wheat and barley, of [grape] vines, figs and pomegranates, and a land of olives for oil and [date] honey.”


THE SEVEN SPECIES

Olives: In Biblical times, olive oil was very important for cooking, as a fuel for lamps, and for preparing soap.

Grapes: In ancient times in the Land of Israel, grapes were used to make wine and vinegar. The fruit was eaten fresh off the vine. The grape leaves were used in cooking.

Figs: Figs were eaten fresh, and used in cooking in Biblical Israel. Fig honey and alcohol were made from them.

Pomegranate: In ancient Israel, pomegranates were used to make wine. Pomegranate juice was used as a dye. They were also a popular snack fresh off the tree.

Date: Dates were eaten fresh or dry during Biblical times. They were made into honey. It is thought that when the Land of Israel was described as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” it meant date honey, not bees’ honey.

Wheat and Barley: Wheat was used to bake bread in ancient Israel. It was the staple of the people’s diet. Barley was used to cook porridge and barley cakes. Poor people relied on barley more than on wheat, since it was more plentiful. It was also fed to the cows and goats.

Some info taken from Judaism 101.

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