Today is the minor Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shvat, or the “new year of the trees.” Having originated as a financial deadline on the ancient calendar of tithe-collection, it has, over the years—particularly in the hands of 17th-century Jewish mystics—morphed into a more general celebration of trees and their fruit. Alan Zelenetz explains why these plants deserve special consideration (2014):
[The book of Deuteronomy] offers one of the most celebrated examples of the Torah’s ethical and ecological sensitivity, “Do not destroy [fruit-bearing] trees by wielding an ax against them, for from them you will eat, do not cut them down.” Based on this proscription, Judaism derives an overriding moral principle known as bal tashḥit, prohibiting any random destruction or wanton waste in all walks of life. . . .
[The] Jewish love affair with fruit, flower, and foliage has, indeed, been an eternal one. We can already discern the strains of a love song in talmudic times when the sages teach how to bless the trees “who” share our lives: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you? Your fruit is already sweet. Your shade is plentiful. . . . May it be God’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds be like you.” . . .
[I]n Jewish thought and practice a tree is no simple metaphor. The trees of Tu b’Shvat are at the essence of our understanding the interrelatedness of God’s world. The Torah, in fact, makes the comparison over and over. In both the book of Psalms and the Talmud we find fruit trees and cedars breaking into songs of praise for God. And the prophet Isaiah declares explicitly, “For as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people.”