Tu Bishvat: The New Year of Trees
To explain the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat and to encourage understanding of different religious ceremonies.
by Emma Burford
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To explain the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat and to encourage understanding of different religious ceremonies.
Preparation and materials
- Tu Bishvat is a minor one-day holiday in the religious calendar of Jews. It is known as ‘the New Year of the Trees’, ‘the New Year for Trees’ and ‘the Birthday of the Trees’. It stems from Leviticus 19.23–25, where Jews are commanded not to eat the fruit of trees for the first three years after they have been planted. (The word ‘Orlah’ refers to this prohibition.)
This festival is one of four New Year festivals in the Jewish calendar. All trees have their anniversaries on this day, regardless of when they have been planted. Jews eat plenty of fruit on this day, especially wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (see Deuteronomy 8.7–8). Some Jews plant trees, or collect money for planting trees in Israel.
- You will need the following fruit, or pictures of the fruit: pomegranates, grapes, figs, olives, dates.
- For ‘Shalom, my friend’ by Michael Lehr, go to http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/mlehr/reflec/shalom/shalom.htm
- Staging ideas Split the performance space into three areas. The middle area can be used for the trees and animals and the two other areas can be used by the spirits and by Hillel, Leviticus and the Orlah spirits.
- Costume ideas The costumes can be as complicated or simple as the school would like! The students could simply wear coloured T-shirts with their role written on the front or whole animal, tree and spirit costumes could be created. All the spirits, including Hillel and Leviticus, would be from the forest so can be green – but again this can be down to the school’s interpretation.
- Links with art The tree costumes could be created with many green hand prints – different shades to distinguish between different fruits.
- Curriculum link Drama, English and RE.
- Cast All students can take part in the performance. Some can be extra non-speaking trees or animals.
There are 24 speaking parts
Pomegranate, Olive, Fig, Grape, Date
Monkey, Deer, Rabbit, Snake, Owl, Frog
Spirit 1, Spirit 2, Spirit 3, Spirit 4, Spirit 5, Spirit 6, Spirit 7
Orlah 1, Orlah 2, Orlah 3
Hillel the Elder
- Project photographs, or give clues, or show the the following fruit and ask the children watching the assembly to identify each fruit – grapes; figs; dates; pomegranates; olives.
Where do they grow?
- Say that today we are going to learn about the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat. In this holiday, Jewish people eat these fruits as part of a seder (feast) dedicated to a religious festival called Tu Bishvat.
We will learn about this festival with a performance set in an imaginary forest.
- Happy New Year, Trees
Narrator It’s the twenty-sixth of January in the year 2013, and in the forest, the fruit-bearing trees are waking up. Little do they know that today is a special day.
Pomegranate Ahhhhhh! Oh, sun’s up, I see. A wonderful January morning.
Olive I had the most beautiful dream last night, Pomegranate. All my leaves were made of gold and I was . . .
Fig (grumpily waking up) Huh, another dream about gold leaves, eh, Olive? I don’t know why you always get the dream about your golden leaves.
Grape It’s nice to see someone is in a good mood this morning! Really, Fig, you’d think that on a morning like this . . .
Pomegranate A wonderful sunny morning.
Grape Exactly. That you would rise with a smile and let the morning sun warm your frosty leaves and branches.
Date I quite agree, Grape.
Fig Don’t you all start on me before I’ve even properly woken up! I was just saying that being a tree and standing constantly next to someone who constantly dreams about having golden leaves can be a bit tedious!
Date Oh, ignore him! Don’t you love being a tree, Fig?
Fig I do feel there’s a lot of standing around!
Grape Well, I have to admit that being a tree can sometimes make you feel, I don’t know, insignificant.
Fig I wish I were a fir tree, then I could be chopped down and dressed in tinsel and admired in the winter season.
Date But then you’d miss all the other beautiful seasons we have!
Fig Other seasons? Wonderful! Worms wiggling around tickling my roots, rain on your leaves weighing you down.
Olive But it doesn’t always rain! And, besides, if we didn’t have rain, we wouldn’t survive.
Pomegranate And we are fruit-bearing trees. Surely, they’re much better than being a fir tree, decked up for just one celebration.
(Monkey and Deer enter excitedly)
Monkey Celebration! So you already know about the celebration! I’m glad you do. I was coming over to wish you a happy New Year, fruit-bearing trees!
Deer Yes, happy New Year!
Grape Happy New Year?
Olive Oh, I love celebrations!
(Rabbit and Snake enter)
Rabbit Happy New Year, fruit-bearing trees!
Snake I s-s-s-suppose you must all be feeling rather s-s-special.
Date Pomegranate, what month did you say we’re in?
Pomegranate January. It’s the twenty-sixth of January.
Olive But the animals are saying happy New Year!
Fig I knew I should have stayed asleep! Everyone’s gone mad!
Rabbit No, we’re not talking about the happy New Year you say at midnight on the thirty-first of December.
Monkey We mean the New Year of the Trees!
Olive New Year of the Trees?
Fig Told you! Everyone’s gone mad!
Pomegranate I must say, animals, I’ve never heard of the New Year of the Trees.
Snake It’s the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat.
Deer Or the New Year of the Trees.
(Everyone starts to talk excitedly about the day)
Fig Now wait a second! (Everyone stops talking and looks at Fig) Before we all start celebrating a day that all us trees know nothing about, I would like to know a little more, if you please.
Monkey Well, Owl told us all about the Jewish holiday.
Deer Tu Bishvat occurs on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat.
Snake ‘Tu’ stands for the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav, which are 6 and 9.
Rabbit Which, added up, make 15.
Deer And the second part, ‘Bishvat’ stands for ‘Hamisha Asar Bishvat’ and means the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat.
Rabbit And so this is why the holiday is now known as Tu Bishvat.
Date Who knew Owl was so knowledgeable!
Owl Did someone mention my name?
Olive We’re learning about the New Year of the Trees.
Date We didn’t know such a holiday existed.
Owl Oh, but it does, and it’s a great tradition in the Jewish faith.
Fig Hang on a minute, Owl. I read the Torah in my time as a young seed and I never heard of the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat.
Olive Fig, I don’t know what you mean. What’s the Torah?
Fig Don’t you know, Olive? It’s God’s law, written down in the first five books of the Bible.
Owl Well, my friends, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, I know of a very wise friend who can explain this.
(Frog enters slowly)
Grape Frog? What are you doing here?
Pomegranate You are the wise friend who can explain about the holiday of Tu Bishvat!
Fig And explain why it isn’t in the Torah?
(The trees laugh at Frog)
Frog Actually, I can, fruit-bearing trees. The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat isn’t in the Torah.
Fig Told ya!
Frog It’s actually in the Mishnah, which was a book containing all the many Jewish traditions that had been passed on by word of mouth, instead of being written down in theTorah.
Owl It was called the Oral Torah, the spoken and heard Torah. According to Jewish tradition, God spoke the words to Moses, when he gave Moses the written Torah, and Moses never wrote the words down. All down the ages, for hundreds of years, the words were spoken from father to children, from teacher to pupils.
Date How wonderful!
Monkey According to the Mishnah, Tu Bishvat is one of four New Year festivals.
Frog The spirits of the forest will tell us the four New Year festivals.
Narrator And before the animals’ and trees’ eyes, wonderful spirits appeared to show them the four New Years of the Jewish calendar recorded in the Mishnah.
(Spirits enter and create still pictures of each of the New Years)
Spirit 1 The first day of the month of Nisan.
Spirit 2 That’s the New Year for kings and festivals!
Spirit 3 The first day of the month of Elul.
Spirit 4 That’s the New Year for animal tithes.
Deer Animal tithes?
Frog Farmers gave a certain number of their animals to the priests in the Temple.
Owl During the New Year holiday in Elul, Jewish people also visited the graves of loved ones in order to remember and honour the people in our past.
Spirit 5 The first and second days of the month of Tishrei.
Spirit 6 The New Year for planting and sowing crops.
Spirit 7 The fifteenth day of the month of Shevat.
Pomegranate The New Year for Trees! Well, I have to say, I’m feeling quite important!
Frog You should, it was the great Hillel the Elder who decided that the New Year for the trees would be on the fifteenth of Shevat.
Olive Hillel the Elder?
Hillel Yes, myself, Hillel the Elder. I was born in Babylon and died in Jerusalem in year ten of the Common Era. I was a very famous Jewish religious leader. I lived in Jerusalem at the time of King Herod and Roman Emperor Augustus.
I lived a long life. I was 120 when I died. And during my time I studied and taught the Jewish faith. I helped develop the Mishnah and it was my experience and teaching of the Jewish faith that led the rabbis, the other Jewish teachers, to agree with me that the fifteen day of Shevat would be the date for calculating the growth, planting and sowing of trees and fruits in accordance with the biblical tithes of Orlah.
Fig Now you’ve lost me again! Biblical tithes? Orlah? What do they have to do with fruit and us?
Date Really, Fig, you’re so impatient!
Monkey Oooooh! I know this!
Owl Carry on, Monkey.
Monkey Well, there are some rules that the Jewish people follow when it comes to eating and Orlah helps the Jewish people know when to eat fruit from the fruit-bearing trees.
Olive Ooooooooh! That means us!
Grape Remember, Olive, this whole New Year is about us!
Olive I know, it’s so exciting!
Monkey Can I carry on?
Date Sorry, you may gather that Olive gets excited about . . .
Monkey Well, I was going to impress you by having the Orlah spirits tell you themselves.
(The Orlah spirits appear)
Orlah 1 We are the fruit of three years.
Orlah 2 We are a tradition that is held in the Jewish faith, the Jewish people use our law in their daily lives and especially in Tu Bishvat.
Orlah 3 To understand what we are, look at Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 23 to 25.
Leviticus ‘When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you: I am the Lord your God.’
Orlah 1 We are the fruit you cannot eat.
Orlah 3 We are not kosher in the Jewish law.
Fig That’s the Jewish law about food. If food is kosher, it’s safe for the Jewish people to eat.
Orlah 2 In the fourth year the fruit is to be taken to the Temple and eaten by the owners of the trees.
Orlah 1 In the fifth year the fruit can be sold and shared by all.
(Orlah spirits, Leviticus, Hillel and forest spirits all exit)
Snake And this-s-s-s-s is done during the Tu Bishvat feast. The Jewish people eat fruits, fruits-s-s-s traditionally from Is-s-s-rael.
Deer Fruits honoured in the Torah.
Fig Huh, bet that won’t be us sorry lot!
Rabbit Don’t be silly, you’re all mentioned in the Torah. Pomegranate, Grape, Date, Olive and even you, Fig. And your fruits are eaten in plenty at the Tu Bishvat feast.
Frog You are honoured, the tradition of Tu Bishvat is still strong today.
Pomegranate But how do we know whether or not our fruits are kosher?
Frog This is where the ‘New Year for the Trees’ is honoured. Each year on the fifteenth of Shevat, your owners know how old you are and when to share your fruit in accordance with the Jewish traditions and lessons from the Torah.
Olive So this is almost our birthday?
Owl In the Jewish law it is your birthday!
Grape Well, what d’ya know!
Pomegranate And here we thought it was just a normal Saturday!
Fig I have to say, after today’s lesson from our friends the animals, I do after all feel honoured to be a fruit-bearing tree!
Time for reflection
help us to understand and learn about different religious festivals,
that are celebrated all over the world by people of different religious faiths
so that we may respect and honour them.
Play the song, ‘Etz Chayim’ (‘Tree of life’)
(There are lots of recordings on YouTube – all in Hebrew – but many with English subtitles.)
‘Shalom, my friend’ by Michael Lehr (see ‘Preparation and materials’)