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Tu Bishvat ( ) is a minor Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Shevat, usually sometime in late January or early February, that marks the "New Year of the Trees" ( ). Tu Bishvat is one of four "New Years" mentioned in the Mishnah. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israelmarker, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.

Etymology

The name Tu Bishvat is derived from the Hebrew date of the holiday, which occurs on the 15th day of Shevat (שבט). "Tu" stands for the Hebrew numerals "tet vav" which is 15.Until recent decades, it was most often called Ḥamisha Asar BiShvat (חמשה-עשר בשבט), the fifteenth, of Shevat. (Commercial Jewish calendars called it so until about the year 2000.) When representing the number using letters, rabbinic rules forbid using the letter-numerals that represent 10 (י yud, y) and 5 (ה hey, h) together because they form the abbreviation of the "ineffable name of god," YHVH יהוה. Therefore, 15 is represented by the letters (ט tet t and ו vav u) for 9 and 6=15.

In the Talmud

Tu Bishvat appears in the Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah as one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar. The discussion of when the new year for trees occurs was a source of debate among the rabbis: "And there are four new year dates: - The first of Nisan - new year for kings and festivals - The first of Elul - new year for animal tithes. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishrei. - The first of Tishrei- new year for calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees, for planting and sowing - The first of Shevat - new year for trees, according to the school of Shamai; The school of Hillel say: the fifteenth of Shevat" (Rosh Hashana:1a)

The rabbis of the Talmud ruled in favor of Hillel on this issue. Thus the 15th of Shevat became the date for calculating when the agricultural cycle began or ended for the purpose of biblical tithes involving trees and fruit.

Biblical tithes

  • Orlah refers to a biblical prohibition on eating the fruit of trees produced during the first three years after they are planted.
  • Neta Reva'i refers to the biblical commandment to bring fourth-year fruit crops to Jerusalem as a tithe.
  • Maaser Sheni and Maaser Ani were tithes to the poor that were also calculated by whether the fruit ripened before or after Tu Bishvat.


In contemporary Jewish law

Of the talmudic requirements for fruit trees which used Tu Bishvat as the cut-off date in the Hebrew calendar for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing tree, Orlah remains to this day in essentially the same form it had in talmudic times and uses Tu Bishvat in the same way. In the Orthodox Jewish world, these practices are still observed today as part of Halacha, Jewish law. Orlah fruit is not considered kosher, and Tu Bishvat is still used as the cut-off date. For a tree in its final year, fruit ripening before Tu Bishvat is considered orlah, while fruit ripening on or after Tu Bishvat in the final year is permitted. Maaser Sheni and Maaser Ani are observed today by a ceremony redeeming tithing obligations with a coin. Because the form of redemption is the same for both of these latter obligations, the year of the fruit no longer matters for these tithes.

Tu Bishvat generally falls on the second full moon before Passover, or, in a leap year, the third full moon before Passover.

In the synagogue, the penitential prayer of Tachanun is omitted on Tu Bishvat (and at the afternoon service of the day before), as is the custom on minor Jewish holidays. There are no other special recitations or blessings in the prayer service.

Kabbalistic customs

Dried fruit and almonds traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat


In the Middle Ages, Tu Bishvat was celebrated with a feast of fruits in keeping with the Mishnaic description of the holiday as a "New Year." In the 1600s, the kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safedmarker and his disciples instituted a Tu Bishvat seder in which the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel were given symbolic meaning. The main idea was that eating ten specific fruits and drinking four cups of wine in a specific order while reciting the appropriate blessings would bring human beings, and the world, closer to spiritual perfection.

In Israel, the kabbalistic Tu Bishvat seder has been revived, and is now celebrated by many Jews, religious and secular. Special haggadot have been written for this purpose.

Chassidic customs

In the Chassidic community, some Jews pickle or candy the etrog (citron) from Sukkot and eat it on Tu Bishvat. Some pray that they will be worthy of a beautiful etrog on the following Sukkot.

Customs in Israel

On Tu Bishvat in 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz, one of the founders of the Mizrachi movement, took his students to plant trees in the agricultural colony of Zichron Yaakovmarker. This custom was adopted in 1908 by the Jewish Teachers Union and later by the Jewish National Fund (Keren Hakayemet L’Israel), established in 1901 to oversee land reclamation and afforestation of the Land of Israel. Over a million Israelis now take part in the Jewish National Fund's tree-planting activities organized every year on Tu Bishvat.

In keeping with the idea of Tu Bishvat marking the revival of nature, symbolized by the budding of the almond tree, many of Israel's major institutions have chosen this day for their inauguration. The cornerstone-laying of the Hebrew University of Jerusalemmarker took place on Tu Bishvat 1918; the Technionmarker in Haifa, on Tu Bishvat 1925; and the Knessetmarker, on Tu Bishvat 1949.

Ecological interpretation

Tu Bishvat is the Jewish Arbor Day. Ecological organizations in Israel have adopted it to further environmental awareness programs. On Israeli kibbutzim, Tu Bishvat is celebrated as an agricultural holiday.

See also



Footnotes

  1. Tu Bishvat
  2. Tu Bishvat / The festival of love - the celebration of nature - Haaretz - Israel News
  3. What is Orlah: Ask Moses
  4. With Light and With Might: Glossary
  5. Ateret Cohanim
  6. Tu B'Shevat on Virtual Jerusalem
  7. 'A Thing or Tu 'bout Shvat' - Torah.org
  8. Zionist Philosophies
  9. Tu Bishvat gets 'shmita' treatment | Jerusalem Post
  10. Sources of the Festival of TuBishvat


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