When most people think of Shevat, they think of Tu b’Shevat, the “new year” of the trees. Tu b’Shevat is one of the four new years in the Jewish religion. What began thousands of years ago as a tax day on fruit trees, has grown into the Jewish arbor day and/or a spiritual opportunity to explore new growth and our connection to the environment. Like so many of our holidays there are so many layers, so Tu b’Shevat can offer an amazing array of in-roads to exploring Jewish practice.
It’s no wonder that Jews love Tu b’Shevat, after all we call the Torah the “tree of life.” In ancient Israel we even planted trees when children were born to commemorate their birth and then these trees were used as the chuppah poles at their weddings. That’s just one of many amazing tree-based traditions in Judaism! If you want to plant a tree for Tu b’Shevat, there are lots of organizations that you can donate to that will help you with that, since it’s a lousy time of year to actually plant trees in most parts of the world. If this is what you are looking for, then check out Casey Trees and Jewish National Fund. I’m sure there are tons of other great organizations, and I hope you’ll share your favorite in the comments.
Love the work? Help support it! (click to find out how)
By now most people have heard of a Tu b’Shevat seder, even if they’ve never been to one. So where do you start? Thankfully, there are many free, and really good, Tu b’Shevat seders available online. Here are few of my favorites to explore:
- The Copyright Infringement Tu B’Shevat Seder by Rabbi Patrick (Added Jan. 8th, 2014)
- Tu B’Shevat Seder of the Seasons
- Tu B’Shevat Seder of the Four Worlds
- The Trees are Davening: A Tu B’Shevat Haggadah
- Ritual Well: Tu B’Shevat Seder
- Velveteen Rabbi: Tu B’Shevat Seder
If you are a more DIY kind of person, check out this Tu B’Shevat Seder Outline, from Kolel (via the Internet Archive). It gives you a bit of a mix and match set up that allows you to easily create your own Tu B’Shevat seder.
I learned about the tradition of reciting the fifteen “Psalms of Ascent” (120-134) during the first fifteen days of Shevat from my teacher, RK’Jill Hammer. She has taken this practice further by associating a specific type of tree with each psalm. Since the psalms have become a big part of my daily spiritual practices right now, I’m very excited to explore this concept this year.
You could even create prayer trees by writing or printing out pieces of the psalms of ascent and tying them to trees in your yard. Imagine if you write the psalms on pieces of ribbon or fabric, how pretty the tree would look! You could leave the fabric up just during Shevat, or if you use unbleached cotton or muslin, you could even just leave it to disintegrate naturally over time.
Whatever you do, take some time to appreciate Judaism’s long and complicated history with trees. You might even want to take time to reflect on your own relationship with trees and nature. No matter where you live, take some time to appreciate these amazing partners in life. Without trees, we couldn’t breath, have paper, firewood, and a million other things!
Adapted from a post written for Punk Torah (2013)