Current News



How the ancient Jewish 'new year for trees' became an Israeli celebration of nature

Shay Rabineau, Associate Professor of Israel Studies, Binghamton University, State University of New York, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

As a professor who researches Israel’s extensive network of hiking trails,, I’ve spent many days and nights in the field, walking long-distance routes and sleeping under the stars. Like many Israelis, the fellow hikers I meet are passionate about venturing out into nature – and at no time is that passion more visible than the Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat.

Thousands of people will take to Israel’s trails during the holiday sometimes described as “the Jewish Arbor Day.” The history of Tu BiShvat goes back to ancient times, but its meaning has been transformed – especially in Israel, where it has become a celebration of the land that is tightly tied to national identity.

In Israel, after all, it’s difficult to talk about land without talking about politics. Control over land has been at the center of Israel’s conflicts with Palestinians and its neighboring countries – meaning the love of nature can be closely connected with politics and religion.

The name Tu BiShvat refers to the 15th day of the month of Shvat on the Hebrew calendar. In 2023, it starts on the evening of Feb. 5. Over the next 24 hours, Jewish communities around the world will hold special services, and observant families will eat special foods mentioned in the Bible, like dried fruits and nuts. In Israel, schools and civic institutions will celebrate the country’s plants and trees.

Tu BiShvat began as the “new year for trees” in the Mishnah, a text of Jewish religious law that was written down almost 2,000 years ago. The Bible states that a tree’s fruit cannot be harvested until its fourth year, and that people cannot eat it until the fifth. Rather than make everyone keep track of exactly when every tree was planted, the Mishnah established Tu BiShvat as a sort of birthday for all trees: On that date, every tree was regarded as entering its next year.

After the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the first century and the dispersion of the Jewish people around the world, Tu BiShvat evolved to become a remembrance of Israel.


Jewish mystics in the 16th century observed the “new year for trees” by eating fruits and nuts mentioned in the Bible as the country’s native produce: almonds, figs, dates, olives and so on. Their practices spread to Jewish communities around the world.

Starting in the late 19th century, Zionism emerged as a political movement: the effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, which was then under Ottoman control, to help Jews escape antisemitism. Though most Zionists were secular, they saw Tu BiShvat as a tradition that could support their ideological goals.

This was particularly true for the radical youth who came to be known as Israel’s “pioneer” generation. Many of their leaders were revolutionary socialists who came from Eastern Europe, where Jews had historically been denied the ability to own and farm land. They saw connection with the soil as a key component of national life and believed that for Jews, this connection needed to be restored.

These young leaders devoted themselves to agricultural work and came to be known as Labor Zionists. They moved to rural areas, built roads, dug wells, plowed fields and built villages. But these “pioneers” were also mystics in their own way, who created what came to be described as a “religion of labor.” They sought to become one with the land of Israel through their work, but also more intimately through acts like walking barefoot in the dirt, immersing themselves in lakes and streams, and watching their sweat drip into the Earth.


swipe to next page


blog comments powered by Disqus