12 February 2006

Happy Tree New Year :)

After spending today in my apartment, doing some reading, but mainly watching "24" and napping, I finally got out into the snow-infested streets of New York City (yeah, there was a lot - not that you can really tell from the photo from my room, but there was alot of snow) to go to a Tu b'Shevat seder. While the seder, per se, did not really happen, there were people and food, which is all one needs to have a gathering. It was a nice time, though, like every year, it gave me pause to think about the day (check Lipman's blog for the liturgical or custom differences of this day)
So what is the New Year for Trees about? The first mention of the Tree New Year is m Rosh haShana 1.1, where there is a debate between the academies of Shammai and Hillel, the former saying that it occurs on the first of Shevat, while the latter saying it occurs on the fifteenth of Shevat. The reason given for this dating is given by Rabbi Eleazar quoting Rabbi Hoshea, "הואיל ויצאו רוב גשמי שנה ועדיין רוב תקופה מבחוץ Since most of the rains of the year have gone forth and still most of the season is outside" (bRH 14a). (See also yRH 1.2, where the exact same two amoraim are quoted, albeit through another amora Rabbi Ilai, whereas Rabbi Zeira who quotes them saying it's because of "עד כאן הן חיין ממי השנה שעבר מיכן והילך הן חיין ממי השנה הבאה Until here, they are nourished by the waters of the year that's passed; from henceforth, they are nourished by the waters of the coming year.") (For the various understandings of this tree new year, see Bloghead.)
I was internally struggling at the gathering to figure out my thoughts on the calendrical event of tu b'shevat - because that's really what it is. The date is set up as dealing with agricultural laws, not any sort of environmental/ecological pro-tree event. To do otherwise would be to betray the intent of the establishment of the date.

However, when I realized that while the original intent of it was for agricultural reasons (more specifically, for counting of orlah), it would not betray it to take it to an environmental understanding. This is all the more so true when one understands that the world of חז"ל (the rabbis) was one more involved in nature, whereas ours is not, and that it is special for us to connect to trees, as a part of God's creations (the midrash in Koheles Rabbah pops to mind (in chapter 7): At the moment that The Holy One Blessed be He created the first human, He put him down and reviewed all the trees of Gan Eden and said to him: "Look at My work! How beautiful! How fine! Everything I created, I created for you. Apply your mind in order that you ruin and destroy My world, for if you do ruin it, there will be no one to come after you to repair it.").
While looking at the rabbinic literature, I don't know where one would see the need to celebrate trees, but I understand that it is significant and meaningful for us to do so.

Oh, and unrelated to trees, I had let my guinea pigs out into the kitchen to roam around last Friday (the 3rd), and managed to put one of them back in the cage on Friday afternoon (the 10th), amounting to a whole week of them going around the kitchen, but I wasn't able to get the other one in until tonight (yippee!).


tnspr569 said...

Drew- I'm gonna be in Riverdale soon, for the next like 24 hrs or so...are you free any time between Monday evening and Tuesday noon-time? If not...just drop me an email in any case. Ttyl.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Drew: I heard a shiur the other day that Tu Bishvat only "reappeared" over the last 500 years which conincided with Jews returning to Israel.

The holiday has no relevance in chutz laaretz...except to remind us of the mitzvot hateluyot baaretz.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Jameel @ The Muqata,
It would be helpful for you to see a breakdown of the four different historical understandings of tu b'shevat to realize that the connection to the "national-political" sense of Israel, though there still is the mystical sense (which is ok, but it's not my thing), but also the ecological/environmental sense, which really resonates with me and which is not contingent on the land of Israel, but extends throughout God's creation.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Drew; Thanks for the link; though one doesn't have to agree with its thesis.

I connect the kabbalistic and national themes with Tu Bishvat, since thats the same time Jewish life started taking root again in Tzfat. The first "seder" of Tu Bishvat only started to appear then (roughly 500 years ago as I previously commented)...and that's when Tu Bishvat experienced a renaissance within Jewish life.

I'm not into the "political" sense of Israel or its modern day expression of Tu Bishvat...yet you have to admit, the awareness of Tu Bishvat has skyrocketed as a result of Israel as a poitical entity.