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Happy New Year to the Trees

by Nanci Levy | Feb 02, 2018

Tu B'shevat seder 1-28-18 - 3While many people are familiar with the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, not everyone knows that there are actually four Jewish New Year celebrations, each with a unique set of traditions. This week we celebrated one of them, Tu b’shevat. Tu B’shevat is the New Year of the trees. It is observed on the 15th of the month of Shevat, which fell on January 31st this year. Tu b’shevat is the day that is used to determine the age of the trees. The 15th of Shevat is considered their birthday, no matter when they were planted. Why is it important to know the age of trees? Since the Torah says that fruits may not be eaten from trees that are less than three years of age, those who observe this practice must know the age of trees around them.

One of the customs of this holiday is to plant trees. Some people also like to plant parsley, thinking ahead for its use during the Passover Seder. Another custom is to have a Tu b’shevat Seder. This is similar to the Passover Seder, in that there is an order or ritual to it, but without the meal. Instead of a full meal, a variety of fruits are eaten, sometimes new fruits, or fruits from the seven species; wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates; and special blessings are said throughout the Seder. During this Seder we also have four cups of wine or grape juice, in varying shade of red as it is mixed with the white wine, representing the four seasons. Rabbi Stephanie Aaron from Tucson’s Congregation Chaverim led a very beautiful Seder for Handmaker residents earlier this week.

As for the other Jewish New Years…

The next one coming up is just before Passover, on the 1st of the month of Nisan, or March 17 of this year. It corresponds to the birth of the Israelite nation after our Exodus out of Egypt. While Passover actually begins on the 15th of Nisan, the Torah says that “this month [Nisan] shall mark for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first months of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). Thus, the first of Nisan begins the New Year for the cycle of Jewish holidays. The Torah goes on to say (Leviticus 23:5-6)  “Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast”. Clearly, this New Year is celebrated with the observance of Passover, and the Passover Seder. This New Year was also considered the New Year when counting the years of the reigns of kings in ancient Israel.

We celebrate another Jewish New Year on the 1st of Elul or August 12 of this year. According to the Mishnah, this was the New Year for the Temple-based ritual of selecting which domestic animals were to be tithed, or taxed. Since animal tithing is no longer practiced today, the celebration of this lesser known New Year has become more of a celebration of animals, a time to appreciate the role that animals play in our lives. Some refer it as the New Year for Animals.

The fourth Jewish New Year is the one that we are all most familiar with, Rosh Hashanah, meaning the head of the year. It is the birthday of the world, the anniversary of when Adam and Eve were created. We celebrate this well-known Jewish New Year on the 1st of Tishrei, or beginning on the eve of September 9 of this year. This New Year is celebrated with a candle lighting in the evenings, festival meals, prayer services which include Torah readings and the sounding of the Shofar, apples and honey, and is generally a joyous day spent with family and friends. 

How lucky are we to have so many different New Year celebrations every year!

(Disclaimer: Since I am not a Torah scholar, I generally rely on other resources for information on Jewish subjects that I am unfamiliar with. Please excuse any unintended inaccuracies in this blog)