TU B’SHEVAT: New Year of the Trees

On the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat– the New Year of the trees and the fruits. Tu B’Shevat, which falls this year on the evening of Feb. 5 and last until after sundown Feb. 6, is first mentioned in the Mishnah as one of the four New Years of the Jewish calendar: This means that Tu B’Shevat is technically the day when trees stop absorbing water from the ground, and instead draw nourishment from their sap. In Jewish law, this means that fruit which has blossomed prior to the 15th of Shevat may not be used as tithe for fruit which blossomed after that date.

Many celebrate Tu B’Shevat by eating dried fruits of trees that grow in Israel such as almonds, dates, figs, raisins and carob. Kabbalistic tradition even includes a Tu B’Shevat “seder,” in which the inner dimensions of fruits are expounded, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion. In particular, one should include among the fruits one eats on this day the species of fruit which the land of Israel is praised for: grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates. If one eats a sufficient amount of fruits of these fruits, one recites the special after-blessing “Al Ha’aretz ve’al HaPeorot.”

One should make an effort to eat at least one fruit which one has not eaten that entire season, and would require the blessing of Shehecheyanu, which should be recited prior to reciting the blessing of the fruit of the tree (“Haetz”). If he has already partaken of other fruits (at that particular sitting) then he only needs to say the Shehecheyanu upon eating the new fruit. Many also have a custom of eating carob on this day; and many eat the Etrog, either in the form of preserves, sugared slices, etc.

Tu B’Shevat has become a popular day for planting trees. On Tu B’Shevat of 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz went out with his students to plant trees in the agricultural colony of Zichron Yaakov. His idea was adopted by other schools, and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) designated it as national “tree-planting day.”

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