The Why of Why? – January 1, 2018 from Ha-Kol

January 1st, 2018 by

The goal of Why? is to help enrich each person’s practice of Judaism by learning more about the reasons behind common Jewish practices, prayers, rituals, and traditions. Please send your own questions by filling out the reply section below, by email to [email protected], or submit them in writing to the synagogue office

About Tu b’Shevat

Q. Why do we celebrate Tu b’Shevat?
A. Tu b’shevat is a minor but fun Jewish holiday that is also called Rosh Hashana la’Ilanot, the New Year of the Trees. In Israel, it is traditionally a day to plant trees. We can donate funds to plant trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund Originally an agricultural holiday, Tu b’Shevat celebrates the importance of trees and the environment as well as our responsibility to care for the natural world. Tu b’Shevat has been called the “Jewish Earth Day.” In Israel, trees planted anytime during the last year, especially on Tu b’Shevat, are counted as one year old as of this date. We also celebrate by eating foods using the seven species of plants mentioned in the Torah wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Q. Why is this holiday called Tu b’Shevat?
A. The name of the holiday is also the date on which we celebrate. The holiday takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. In Hebrew, each letter has its own numeric value. The “Tu” in Hebrew is spelled with the letters Tet, valued as 9, and Yud, valued as 6, adding to 15. This year, it is on January 31 (beginning sundown on the 30th).

Q. Why do some Jews have a seder on Tu b’Shevat?
A. The Tu b’Shevat seder doesn’t have matza and haroset, but it does involve eating special foods, the seven species, and drinking red and white wine (or juice) and mixing them to teach the participants about its themes. The Kabbalists in the 17th century created this to explore the symbolic and spiritual meanings they attached to each of the seven species. The seder focuses on the four seasons and four spheres representing our relationship to the earth.

See for a guide to having a Tu b’Shevat seder at home.

Audrie Berman


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