Jewish holiday symbolizes spiritual growth, enviromental concern

  • By Ashley Stewart Herald Writer
  • Saturday, January 29, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — Pineapples symbolize people with a hard shell and a soft heart; nectarines — those soft on the surface but hard on the inside.

Members of Temple Beth Or ate fruits and nuts more than a week ago, symbolizing the differe

nt aspects of people’s personalities. They also drank four glasses of wine to represent different seasons, marking Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees.

“We eat this food looking forward and thinking about the potential of the year and all the different sides of us becoming more,” said Jessica Kessler Marshall, the rabbi at the Reform synagogue in Everett.

Tu B’Shvat, or Tu B’Shevat, is the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. “Tu” is a combination of the Hebrew letters “tet,” equal to nine, and “vov,” equal to six.

Though Tu B’Shvat is a minor Jewish holiday, it has been reclaimed by many American Jews, especially the more environmentally minded, Marshall explained.

“One of the things that makes the holiday so special is the connection of the community to the land of Israel in a nonpolitical way, a way that is more about the growth of the land,” Marshall said.

The significance of the fruit on Tu B’Shvat dates back thousands of years.

In the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, taxes, called tithes, were collected on trees.

Priests, who had no way to make a living, received one-tenth of the fruit from each person’s land as a tax for their services.

Tu B’Shvat marked the new year for this tithe; anything grown after the day was collected as the current year’s tax.

When the temple was destroyed in the first century, Tu B’Shvat lost it purpose as the laws of tithing and planting did not apply outside Jerusalem.

In 16th century, the Kabbalists, followers of Jewish mysticism, reclaimed the holiday and developed a seder, or ceremonial feast, around fruit, Marshall said.

The holiday has since become more symbolic.

“Tu B’Shvat is the day when we remember that ‘man is like a tree of the field,’” said Rabbi Zevi Goldberg of the Chabad of Snohomish County, a Jewish center in Edmonds.

A tree has strong roots that allow it to stand tall, Goldberg explained. When a man has strong beliefs, he is able to stand close to God.

“Fruits are symbolic for our good deeds,” Goldberg said.

Many observe the holiday simply by donating money to plant a tree in Israel or eating one or more of the land’s seven blessed species. These include wheat, barley, dates, grapes, figs, olives and pomegranates.

Students at Seattle Jewish Community School spent the day discussing how each species relates to a different part of the body.

“We do a whole variety of activities having to do with trees and fruit,” said Gabrielle Azose, second-grade teacher at the school.

Ashley Stewart: 425-339-3453; astewart@heraldnet.com.

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