Illus­tra­tion cour­tesy of the publisher

In the Bible, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowl­edge were plant­ed in the Gar­den of Eden. (Gen­e­sis 29)

Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, falls dur­ing win­ter, often in late Jan­u­ary or ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, when trees form buds. In Jew­ish cus­tom, a tree is plant­ed when a baby is born. Both are cared for as they grow. The branch­es of a tree can be used as poles to hold up a chup­pa (canopy) under which the grown child is mar­ried. This con­tin­ues the cycle of life. The Torah, the first five books of the Jew­ish Bible, is referred to as the Tree of Life.” 

There are sym­bols and sto­ries in Judaism that refer to trees, link­ing the reli­gion to the envi­ron­ment. The spir­it of the hol­i­day, the impor­tance of being care­tak­ers for the earth, is shown in the words of Solomon ibn Gabirol, a medieval Jew­ish poet in Spain, who most like­ly lived from c. 1020 to 1057: The world is a tree, and human beings are its fruit.” 

The Tree of Life, as a metaphor for the Torah, comes from the Book of Proverbs, which uses the term three times. The most famous is: Etz chaim hee l’machazikim bah” (“She is a tree of life to those who grasp her”), Proverbs 3:18, and is com­mon­ly sung as the Torah is returned to the ark.

Tu B’Shevat Seder Plate 

The sev­en fruits asso­ci­at­ed with Israel — olives, dates, figs, grapes, pome­gran­ates, wheat, and bar­ley — are eat­en at a spe­cial Seder. 

  1. Olives: The hardy olive tree casts shade and pro­vides fruit. It is a sign of hope. An olive branch is a sym­bol of peace. 
  2. Dates: The date palm is beau­ti­ful and strong with sweet fruit. 
  3. Figs: The Torah has been linked to the fig tree, a sym­bol of peace. 
  4. Grapes: Four cups of grape wine are sipped to rep­re­sent the change in the four sea­sons. (Grape juice can be substituted.) 
  5. Pome­gran­ates: The tough out­er skin reminds us of the phys­i­cal world that pro­tects the soft­er spir­i­tu­al world (inside the fruit). Also, the many seeds sym­bol­ize fer­til­i­ty and life. 
  6. Wheat: Bread is the staff of life. 
  7. Bar­ley: The fruits of the soil.
Jane Zal­ben has cre­at­ed over fifty award-win­ning books for chil­dren: pic­ture books, nov­els, poet­ry, short sto­ries, cook­books and non-fic­tion. She is also an abstract painter, a for­mer art direc­tor at Scribner’s and has taught writ­ing, illus­tra­tion, and design at the School of Visu­al Arts in New York City for eigh­teen years. Jane explores issues of fam­i­ly, friend­ship, self-reliance, inner strength, peace and reli­gion, and the cre­ative process of music and art. Jane has won 4 sil­ver Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and has been exhib­it­ed in libraries, gal­leries, and muse­ums. Her stu­dio is on Long Island.