QUESTION: May a funeral be held on Tu Beshevat? The question has been asked by environmentally conscious teenage grandchildren who feel that this holiday is important to them? (Charles Lehman, Chicago IL).
ANSWER: This day, the New Year of the trees, is one of the very minor commemorative days mentioned by the Mishnah (R H 1.1) which has hardly been noted through the centuries. In ancient times it was customary to plant a cedar for every male child and a cypress for each female baby on that day. When the child was to be married the trees were cut down and the wood used for the hupah poles (Git 57a).
It was celebrated more widely by some kabbalists including Nathan Benjamin of Gaza who provided a liturgy for the night. Hayim Vital of Safed in the 16th century developed a full seder for the holiday (Sefer Peri Etz Hadar) of readings from many different sources. Hayim Vital also specified thirty species of fruit and nuts to be consumed during that night. He divided them into three groups of ten, each for ten sefirot. Consuming these fruit was considered atonement for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge in Paradise.
In northern Europe where fruit and nuts were not as plentiful and the population much poorer, carobs from Israel where consumed as a symbol of the festive day.
In more recent times this holiday has been associated with our ecological concerns and some congregations has developed their own seder for the night. Judaism has historically expressed concern for the environment (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa # 12); as our interest in this increases, the minor holiday will become more important. This has happened during the last century with Hannukah.
Despite such emphasis there would be no reason for avoiding a funeral on this day. There are no such prohibitions connected with any of the minor holidays. The grandchildren should combine their concern for ecology with the honor due to their grandfather; it may make the day even more memorable for them in the future.