Israelis celebrate the New Year of the trees

Tu BiShevat, the New Year of the trees, coincides this year with the weekly Sabbath observance. As with all Jewish holidays, it starts and ends at sunset so the celebration begins Friday evening.

On Tu BiShevat, families countrywide will take part in tree planting. The name of the holiday means the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marking the beginning of spring when fruit trees begin to blossom.

When Jews began to return to the land of their forefathers in the late 1800s, one of the first orders of business was to cultivate and reforest the land.

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) has played a leading role in that effort, providing a way for anyone to plant trees in Israel.

During the 400-year Ottoman occupation (1517–1917), the land was basically denuded, in part to avoid paying taxes on trees. Around the turn of the century, the reforesting began in earnest. Since that time, more than a quarter of a billion trees have been planted, creating lush forests and beautiful groves of fruit trees and vineyards.

Israelis celebrate the holiday by planting trees and eating lots of fruit, especially the seven species described in Deuteronomy 8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, dates (and date honey).

A traditional Tu BiShevat Seder includes nuts and other fruits, like oranges, peaches, plums, coconut and avocado.

While the holiday itself is not specifically mentioned in scripture, the Bible has quite a lot to say about trees. The Israelites were instructed not to chop down fruit trees, though other trees could be used.

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.” (Deut. 20:19-20)

Tu BiShevat also marks the birthday of newly planted trees so Israelis can observe the biblical mandate to wait until the tree is five years old to harvest its fruit. (see Leviticus 19:23-25)

This article originally appeared on CBN News, February 9, 2017, and reposted with permission.