"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 Lord. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit."
-- Leviticus 19:23-25
What is Tu B'Shevat?
Tu B'Shevat (also spelled Tu Bishevat) is a holiday on the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat, and its name simply means "15 Shevat" in Hebrew. Tu B'Shevat falls on February 3 in 2007.
Tu B'Shevat might be compared to the beginning of the fiscal year in the modern world. The 15th of Shevat is a fixed date for counting the age of trees, in order to follow the biblical law quoted above. It is thus also known as the "New Year for Trees."
If a tree is planted on 12 Shevat, it will be considered one year old just three days later, on Tu B'Shevat. But if a tree is planted on 16 Shevat, it won't be a year old until a full year later on the next Tu B'Shevat. This is obviously not as exact, but easier than keeping track of the exact day each fruit tree was planted.
The date of 15 Shevat does not come from the Torah, but was developed by Jewish rabbis some time before the 1st century BC as a practical way of following the Torah's law concerning tree fruit. Tu B'Shevat is not a religious holiday and is relatively minor.
Over the years some rituals have developed for celebrating Tu B'Shevat. The main observance is to eat plenty of fruit on this day, especially the kinds that grow in Israel. Some of these are praised in another verse in the Torah:
"For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey." -- Deuteronomy 8:7-8
In recent years, Tu B'Shevat has become a day especially associated with Jewish environmentalism. Common practices on Tu B'Shevat thus include planting new trees and raising money for trees to be planted in Israel.
In the Middle Ages, Jewish mystics developed a Tu B'Shevat Seder (a meal like that held on Passover) symbolizing the connection to the land of Israel and God's relationship to the world using the imagery of a cosmic tree. The Seder involves drinking wine and eating fruit inspersed with readings and blessings related to the earth, such as "Praised are You, Adonai, our God, Sovereign over all, that creates the fruit of the tree." This ritual is still practiced today by some.
Dates of Tu B'Shevat
Tu B'Shevat falls on the following dates on the western calendar:
- Jan. 25-26, 2013
- Jan. 15-16, 2014
- Feb. 3-4, 2015
- Jan. 24-25, 2016