Significance: The "new year" for calculating the age of trees
Length: 1 day
Customs: eating fruit or the Seven Species; planting trees (or paying for planting them)
When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall
treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not
eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the
L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit. -Leviticus 19:23-25
There are four new years... the first of Shevat is the new
year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however,
places it on the fifteenth of that month.
-Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1
Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of
Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year
for Trees. The word "Tu" is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew,
as if you were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman
numerals). See Hebrew Alphabet for more information
about using letters as numbers and why the number 15 is written this way.
As I mentioned in Rosh Hashanah, Judaism has
several different "new years." This is not as strange a concept as it sounds at
first blush; in America, we have the calendar year (January-December), the
school year (September-June), and many businesses have fiscal years. It's
basically the same idea with the various Jewish new years.
Tu B'Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for
tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten
during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for
G-d, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each
tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B'Shevat, so if you planted a
tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a
tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the
next Tu B'Shevat.
Tu B'Shevat is not mentioned in the Torah. I have
found only one reference to it in the Mishnah,
and the only thing said there is that it is the new year for trees, and there
is a dispute as to the proper date for the holiday (Beit Shammai said the
proper day was the first of Shevat; Beit Hillel said the proper day was the
15th of Shevat. As usual, we follow Beit Hillel. For more on Hillel and
Shammai, see Sages and Scholars).
There are few customs or observances related to this holiday. One custom is to
eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim)
described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of
Israel. The Shivat Haminim are: wheat, barley,
grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8). You
can make a nice vegetarian pilaf from the shivat haminim: a bed of cooked
bulgar wheat or wheat berries and barley, topped with figs, dates, raisins
(grapes), and pomegranate seeds, served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic
vinegar (grapes) and pomegranate juice.
Some people plant trees on this day. In my childhood, Jewish children commonly
went around collecting money to
plant trees in
Israel at this time of year.
In the 16th century, kabbalists, developed a
seder ritual conceptually similar to the Pesach
(Passover) seder, discussing the spiritual
significance of fruits and of the shivat haminim. This custom spread primarily
in Sephardic communities, but in recent years
it has been getting more attention among
Ashkenazim. Aish.com provides a
traditional text for
this seder. The Jewish college student organization
Hillel also provides materials for a
List of Dates
Tu B'Shevat will occur on the following days of the secular calendar:
- Jewish Year 5773: sunset January 25, 2013 - nightfall January 26, 2013
- Jewish Year 5774: sunset January 15, 2014 - nightfall January 16, 2014
- Jewish Year 5775: sunset February 3, 2015 - nightfall February 4, 2015
- Jewish Year 5776: sunset January 24, 2016 - nightfall January 25, 2016
- Jewish Year 5777: sunset February 10, 2017 - nightfall February 11, 2017
For additional holiday dates, see Links to Jewish
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