Happy Tu B'Shvat, I suppose.
There was a Tu B'Shvat seder on campus yesterday, but I decided not to go because it is rude to giggle hysterically throughout events that someone has painstakingly planned. Which, as it so happens, was just what happened at my seminary's Tu B'Shvat Seder last year and my shul's Seder two years ago. I just can't help it.
Tu B'Shvat is, fundamentally, a holiday with no significance whatsoever. It is mentioned, if I am not mistaken, exactly once in the Talmud, has no commandments associated with it, and is basically the equivolent of the halachic first day of spring. The only distinction that it can possibly claim is that you don't say tachanun (on a Monday! Yay!), but that applies equally to days like Purim Kattan and The Day that Some Rebbe Got Out of Jail. And it apparently doesn't rate high enough to avoid Lamnatzeiach before Uva L'Tzion. But I digress.
What then, is the source of its perplexing popularity? I mean, a seder? Some might point to the kabbalistic background, but I know few kabbalists and many, many Tu B'Shvat celebrators.
I blame it on environmentalists. Tu B'Shvat is a chance, as someone at the Hillel said, "To be Jewish and hippie." And who wouldn't welcome a religiously mandated occasion to hug a tree? And to simultaneously demonstrate to the world just how hip and ecologically aware Judaism can be.
But it's not the mushy-gushy tree-hugging liberalism that annoys me. Tree-hugging is all very well, for those that enjoy it. They should live and be well. But did they need to co-opt an innocent holiday and invent for it an odd, ritualistic, pseudo-religious ecological ceremony? I think that my memory will be forever scarred by the image of the people at my shul- normal, sane, rational people- carefully pouring for themselves cups of half white and half red wine, to symbolize the infusion of spring. Or solemnly singing a song about apple trees.
Some might say the same of any Jewish ritual. Which is exactly my point. In my view of Judaism, rituals matter. Rituals have divine significance beyond the surface understanding, are commanded by G-d, and bring us closer to Him by performing His will. How dare a bunch of environmentalists think that they can make up a seder? How dare they try to make their verses about nuts and trees the equivolent of ceremonies written by the Sages? Saying that we can write a Tu B'Shvat seder says that all of our other practices have no meanings but the ones that we can readily replicate with our humanist little interpretations. I happen to believe that commandments are far more than that, that reducing mitzvot to the level of poems about nature is an insult to them and to ourselves.
So go out and hug your trees, if you like. But kindly do not devalue my religion by making your ceremonies part of it.