Tu Bi'Shvat

About the festival

Tu bi-Shevat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, is known as the "New Year for Trees." This date determines the end of the "fiscal year" for trees for tithing purposes; in the time of the Temple, fruit that ripened before the fifteenth of Shevat was taxed for the previous year, fruit that ripened later, for the following year.

In Hebrew:  Rosh Hashanah la'Ilanot. The Mishnah mentions four different new years during the Jewish cylical year, the new year for the trees (for purposes of tithes and similar laws) being one. The School of Hillel reckoned the new year for the trees from the 15th of Shevat, while the School of Shammai designated the 1st of Shevat. [1]

In the community
Tu bi-Shevat actually marks the early beginnings of the spring season in Israel, at the time of the almond tree blossom. Through the Keren Kayemet l'Yisrael (Jewish National Fund) organization which is responsible for planting trees in Israel, Israeli school children plant trees on this day. In recent years, Tu bi-Shevat is becoming a day of environmental awareness in Israel. Jewish children abroad purchase Jewish National Fund certificates for the planting of trees in Israel, sometimes in honor or in memory of friends and relatives.

The mystics of Safed saw profound esoteric meaning in the verse: "For man is like the tree of the field." [2]

Other customs
In some Sephardi communities the men remain awake all night studying Biblical, Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources relating to the fruits of the land, stopping every so often to eat a different kind of fruit. In some communities a Tu bi-Shevat  "seder" is held, a custom which emerged under the influence of the 17th-century Kabbalists of Safed.Modeled on the Passover  seder, this ceremonial meal involves eating fruits and nuts and drinking four cups of wine with varying proportions of red and white wine, representing the shifting of the seasons. The  seder also includes readings on trees and fruit from a range of Jewish literary sources.

One of the earliest published texts for such a Tu bi-Shevat seder — Peri Etz Hadar (Fruit of the Citrus Tree) — was published in Salonika in 1753.


Traditional foods
Many Jewish communities observe Tu bi-Shevat by eating fifteen different kinds of fruit, especially the new fruits of the season. A popular custom is to eat the five fruits mentioned in the biblical description of the land of Israel - grapes, pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, and  bokser (St. John's bread) which is the fruit of the carob trees.

"...a land of wheat and barley, of vines, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey [dates]." [3]



[1] Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1
[2] Deut. 20:19
[3] Deut. 8:8
reading and study
Black, Naomi. Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals (Jonathan David, 1989).
Donin, Rabbi Hayim Halevy. To be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life (Basic Books, 1972).
Greenberg, Rabbi Irving. The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (Summit Books, 1988).
Greenberg, Blu. How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household (Jason Aronson, 1989).
Goodman, Philip, ed. Jewish Holiday anthologies (JPS, 1970, 1992).
Jacobs, Louis. The Book of Jewish Practice (Behrman House, 1987)
Kitov, Eliyahu. The Book of Our Heritage (Feldheim, 1978).
Klagsbrun, Francine. Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture around the Year (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996).
Knobel, Peter. Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year. (CCAR, 1983).
Renberg, Dalia Hardof. The Complete Family Guide to Jewish Holidays (Adama Books, 1985).
Schauss, Hayyim. The Jewish Festivals: A Guide to their History and Observance (Schocken Books, 1996).
Strassfeld, Michael. The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary (Harper & Row, 1985).
Waskow, Arthur. Season of our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish Renewal (Beacon Press, 1990).

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