While planning tonight’s Tu Bishvat Seder at the Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, I’ve been scouring Jewish environmental resources and looking around for the most sustainable way to purchase fruits and nuts which are most certainly not locally grown in New England. A friend also planning the Seder has been looking around for seeds for the traditional American Tu Bishvat parsley planting. While I was certainly aware of the current Shmitta year in Israel, it has only recently come to our attention that this could create a potential question around whether or not to plant parsley at our Seder.
In lieu of the traditional tree-planting, the JNF has opted for other ways to celebrate the holiday in Israel, from a festival to hiking and bird-watching tours. In response to a question written in to the Jerusalem Post’s Ask the Rabbi column about whether a youth group could plant trees on the holiday, the answer was no. If the holiday traditionally marked the paying of taxes on fruit trees, how is the holiday different this year, since fruit trees are perennials and produce fruit without annual planting?
Clearly we are not in Israel, and thus unlikely bound by any restriction on planting. Yet, what does this mean for the way this holiday should be celebrated? And more indirectly, how does giving the land a rest relate to those of us who are not directly involved in agriculture in our daily lives? Should we change what we are eating on the holiday? On other days? How might we interpret this restriction more symbolically?