Tu B’Shvat is a holiday that, for the most part, no one has ever heard of.
“I don’t know what that is,” said UNCG psychology major and senior, Jesse Gonzalez-Parks, who, like most people, does not know that Tu B’Shvat is a Jewish holiday about celebrating the trees.
To experience Tu B’Shvat myself, I went to the Tu B’Shvat celebration that UNCG’s Jewish organization, Hillel, hosted on campus.
While painting flower pots I asked students for their thoughts regarding Tu B’Shvat. “I like Tu B’Shvat,” said UNCG junior and design and technical theater major, Shira Lebovich, “because it makes me think more about nature and the world around me.”
Many of the other students at the event shared her opinion; “I think it’s awesome that we have a holiday for trees!” said UNCG freshman and psychology major, Skyler Portnoi.
Tu B’Shvat, like all Jewish holidays, shifts on the date of the Gregorian calendar in standard use, because the Jewish calendar is lunar, rather than solar. Therefore, while Tu B’Shvat will always consistently take place on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shvat, its date will always vary yearly on the standard calendar in use. This year, Tu B’Shvat took place from this past Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening.
It is the only Jewish holiday that is named after the day that it is on. Regarding Tu B’Shvat, UNCG Hillel Coordinator, Corie Hampton, said, “It is how farmers in the old day tracked how old trees were, so they knew when they can harvest from the trees.”
On Tu B’Shvat you celebrate by having a special meal called a Seder. During this Seder, you eat what is referred to as the “seven species” from Israel; which includes: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. These are all plants that grow naturally in Israel all year around. They are also all mentioned specifically in the Jewish holy book, the Torah.
For every idea and concept in Judaism it is usually continuously discussed and fought over. The two major players of these debates were always Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai. When discussing the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, they tried to decide on a day to celebrate it. Of the holiday, Rabbi Shammai said that it should be on the first of Shvat because the Jewish New Year always happens on the first of the month of Tishrei; therefore, the New Year for the trees should happen on the first of Shvat.
Rabbi Hillel on the other hand, argued that it should be on the fifteenth day of Shvat because the plants are not ready for harvest until the that day. In order to settle their disagreement, the two Rabbis asked the farmers about their harvests and decided to wait to see when the farmers’ crops were ready to harvest.
When the first of Shvat arrived, the plants had not bloomed and the crops were not ready for harvest, but, when the 15th arrived, the flowers were in bloom and the crops were ready for harvest. It was agreed then, that Tu B’Shvat would be celebrated on the fifteenth of Shvat. “Tu” in Hebrew is not actually a word; what it is, however, is the interpretation of the number 15 in Hebrew translated to English.
But Tu B’Shvat as a modern holiday means something very different than it did for Hillel and Shammai. “When I think of Tu B’Shvat I can’t help but think of the Lorax,” said Portnoi. The holiday has turned into Judaism’s form of Earth Day.
Now, it is mainly about conservation and environmentalism. It has become a tradition for people to plant trees or clean the environment. The UNCG Hillel celebrated by painting flower pots so that people could plant something at home. “In Israel, they give all of the students in school trees, and every student plants a tree,” said Boaz Katz, the Hebrew teacher at Beth David synagogue.
Tu B’Shvat is considered a very minor holiday and a very modern holiday that a lot of Jewish families don’t observe, but a lot of Jewish religious schools and Hebrew day schools observe, because it encourages the value of environmentalism and conservationism.