Shalom, everyone! The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, or Tu BiShvat, is observed each year on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. The holiday is also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot” or the “New Year for Trees.” According to Jewish tradition, there are four new years in the Hebrew calendar: Aviv (Nisan) 1 – the new year for kings and festivals; Tsahim (Elul) 1 – the new year for animal tithes; Ethanim (Tishrei) 1 – the new year for the calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees; and Pe’ulot (Shevat) 15 – the new year for planting and sowing, the beginning of the agricultural cycle. This concept should not be strange as within our own civil calendars, there are a number of new years: A new school year typically runs from September to June; business and government entities often have fiscal years with beginning and ending dates outside of the normal January – December calendar year.
The name “Tu B’Shevat” is derived from the Hebrew date forÂ the holiday, 15th of Shevat; the word “Tu” stands for the Hebrew letters of Tet and Vav, which have a numerical value of 9 and 6 respectively. When written together, Tet and Vav (“Tu”) have a total numerical value of 15. Though the Torah does not mention Tu B’Shevat, the holiday is mentioned in the Mishnah, Jewish Talmudic literature. There are no restrictions from working on Tu B’Shevat.
Tu B’Shevat is observed for the purpose of calculating the age of fruit-bearing trees for tithing. The Torah states that the Nation of Israel are not allowed to eat the fruit from a tree during the first three years after that tree was planted (Leviticus 19:23). The fruit on such a tree is referred to as “orlah,” or literally “uncircumcised” fruit. In the fourth year of the tree, the fruit crop belongs HaShem (Leviticus 19:24). In ancient times, this fruit crop was brought to Jerusalem as a tithe called the “Neta Reva’i.” Today, this tithe is paid in the form of coins. In the fifth year, the fruit from the tree was free to be eaten (Leviticus 19: 25). A tree is considered to have aged one year by Tu B’Shevat if was already planted at least 44 days before Rosh HaShanah (Tishrei 1). On Tu B’Shevat, the tree will begin its second year having been planted about six months. If the tree had planted later, it begins its second year about a year and a half later, on the second Tu B’Shevat after its planting.
In Israel, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated as Arbor Day, a day for planting trees and raising environmental awareness. Jewish communities around the world commemorate Tu B’Shevat by eating a special meal called a “Tu B’Shevat seder,” a custom developed in the 16th century by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his students. Special Jewish texts called “haggadot” have been developed over the years to the set the order of this seder. During this seder, blessings and psalms are offered in gratitude to HaShem for having brought forth the Seven Species (Shiv’at HaMinim) of agricultural products associated with the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:8): Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. It is the custom to eat wheat crackers, dried fruits, and nuts, and drink wine during the course of this seder.
Categories: Tu B'Shevat