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January 23, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-01

Trees are very important to the nation of Israel.  On Monday, September 25 the Jewish calendar celebrates the “New Year for Trees.”  The name of the celebration in Hebrew is Tu B’Shevet which translates “the fifteenth day of Shevet”, which is the eleventh month in the Hebrew calendar.  Tu B’Shevet is not strictly a biblical holy day, but it was set aside to facilitate the rule in Leviticus 19:23 which outlines the use and tithing of fruit from trees planted in the “Chosen Land.”

Once a tree begins to bear fruit it is forbidden to eat the fruit for the first three years.  The fruit in the fourth year shall be an offering to the Lord.  On the fifth year the fruit may be eaten.

Such a regulation requires a date on which the age of the tree is reckoned.  The winter date of Shevet 15 was chosen.  This would mean that after the tree is planted the first Shevet 15 is reckoned as year one of the tree’s age.

Today Tu B’Shevet has become a kind of Jewish Arbor Day.  For centuries Israel was marched over by the armies of vast empires.  This began with the Syrians in the times of the biblical kings.  The Syrians were followed by the Babylonians, who were followed by the Persians, who were followed by the Greeks, who were followed by the Romans.  Armies require trees to provision the troops.  They need firewood, tent poles, wood to build siege engines and scaling ladders.  They denude the course of their invasion of trees.  Not much forest is left following the attack of an invading army in ancient times.

In more modern times what we know as Israel was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1917.  For the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul Israel was a tiny territory far far away with no particular economic value.   It became a backwater province which produced nothing but a few dollars that could be squeezed from the occasional Christian pilgrim.

One source of revenue was taxes on property.  The Ottoman’s decided that taxes would be leveed on the basis of the number of trees growing on private land.  It takes little imagination to discern the results of this regulation.  Land owners cut down all trees but those essential for their livelihood.

The first Jewish immigration to Israel began in 1882 and ended in 1903.  Jews, mainly from Russia, began to buy land from the Ottomans and develop farms.  The land was baron and eroded.  Trees became a priority.  Trees hold the soil, prevent wind damage and offer shade.

When Israel became an independent nation again in 1948 trees were again a priority.  Now the land could be reclaimed systematically with private and government cooperation.  Millions of trees were planted all over the nation.  Entire forests were created.  The Scarle family planted a few of them.  I’m sure some of my readers also planted trees in Israel.  As the Prophet Isaiah foretold – “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.”  The old story is told of the imaginary “thank you” note from Israel saying, “Thank you for the tree.  Your day to water is each Wednesday.”

The tree planting continues until today and Tu B’Shevet is an important holy day for Israel and its people.  Trees are important.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs