Tu B’Shevat is a Jewish holiday happening on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. In 2021, this falls on the evening of January 27th until the evening of January 28th. Tu B’Shevat is tied to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. It’s the “new year for trees.” This goes back to Temple times when worshippers offered the first fruits of the trees they planted, after the trees had turned four years old.
The holiday has its seed formation in the Torah. (Yes, I meant that as a pun since we’re talking about trees) The Torah says, “When you enter the land (Israel) and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten” (Leviticus 19:23). The fruit of the fourth year was then offered to Temple priests as a gift of gratitude for the bounty of the land. The fifth-year fruit and all fruits in later years was allowed for the farmer to use.
This raised a very important question that wasn’t explicitly spelled out on Torah: How do you mark the “birthday” of a tree? The Rabbis being the innovators that they were/are set the 15th of the month of Shevat as a general “birthday” for all trees. It didn’t matter when they were actually planted, the “birthday” was the 15th of Shevat of that particular year. In other words, it is the cut-off-date for delineating between one year’s fruits and the next.1
Seven Species of the Land of Israel
In modern times this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and participating in a seder-type meal where fruits and nuts (the produce of trees) are eaten. Deuteronomy 8:8 lists five fruits and two grains associated with Israel as a “land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees, and [date] honey.” These figure prominently in the celebrations. Almonds in the Tu B’Shevat seder also became a major theme, since the almond trees were believed to be the first of all trees in Israel to blossom. The seder meal was instituted many years after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE in an attempt not to forget the ancient and important system of fruit offerings for the Temple priests. It’s kind of turned into an ecological day to care for God’s plant creations, specifically trees and fruit trees.
HERE ARE SOME FUN WAYS TO CELEBRATE THIS DAY:
Ba-ruch atah Ado-nai, Elo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, borei pri ha-etz.
[Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.]