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Trees

Samuel Halpert (American, b. Russia, 1884-1930)

Trees, 1917

  • Oil on canvas
  • 32 x 25 1/2 in. (81.3 x 64.8 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Wesley Halpert with donor maintaining life estate, 1990-145

Not on view

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Trees

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Trees

Samuel Halpert probably did not have Tu B'Shevat in mind when he painted Trees, but the image is appropriate to the holiday nonetheless.

Tu B'Shevat is sometimes called "the New Year of the trees" or "the birthday of the trees." The holiday's origins can be traced to the biblical laws of tithing. The Torah states that one cannot eat the fruit produced by a tree during its first three years and that the fruit of its fourth year must be given to God. But how does one know when a tree turns three or four or five? The solution of the rabbis was to assign a "birthday" to all the trees. And that day is Tu B'Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Shevat.

Tu B'Shevat generally falls in January or February, around the time that the first trees begin to blossom in Israel. Some people mark the day by planting trees in Israel or eating fruits that grow in the Land of Israel. It is also an opportunity to consider our connection to the natural world in general and the role trees and other plants play in our lives. Recent years have seen a revival of a mystical custom known as the Tu B'Shevat Seder. Modeled on the Passover Seder, a Tu B'Shevat Seder typically includes four cups of wine, readings, and the eating of various fruits and nuts.