The special thing about the end of one year and the start of the next is that with each new year comes the promise of new beginnings. According to the Jewish calendar, there are four unique new year dates. Most people are already familiar with Rosh Hashanah, which falls out during the Hebrew month of Tishrei, but some are unaware of Tu BiShvat, the new year for trees. This year, the holiday falls out on the evening of February 9th. Marking the point in the year when the earliest blossoming trees in Israel start their new seasonal cycle, many Israelis choose to celebrate this wonderful Jewish holiday with the planting of new trees and a special “Seder” of different fruits.
In the past, Tu BiShvat used to be a much more significant holiday than it is now. Without going into too much detail, in Jewish law, there is an agricultural cycle within Israel that lasts for a period of seven years before beginning again. During the days of the Holy Temple, this cycle was especially important, since on certain years a percentage of all crops grown that year would be contributed to the Temple and to the poor, while every seventh year was a sabbatical year for the earth to rest and grow naturally without human intervention. Therefore, it was vital that a deadline date be established, as previously, agriculture was more than just a means of sustenance; it was a spiritual and social responsibility that ancient Israelis took seriously.
Tu BiShvat provided a way for people to calculate when a particular tree began its fruit-bearing cycle, which was crucial for farmers since trees that blossomed before Tu BiShvat were considered part of the previous year’s crop, while those that flowered after were deemed the product of the new year even if both were harvested after Tu BiShvat had passed. For this reason, Tu BiShvat became recognized as the universal “birthday” for all trees in Israel regardless of when they were actually planted.
Today, Tu BiShvat is viewed a bit differently, particularly in modern-day Israel. As we no longer have a Temple and many ancient laws are no longer applicable, the holiday is now seen more as an enjoyable springtime festivity rather than the serious spiritual one it was in the past. Despite the sabbatical year of Shmita still being observed every seventh year in Israel, for most modern Israelis, Tu BiShvat has become an environmental awareness day. Each year, thousands of Israeli children and adults flock to parks, forests, fields, and private gardens to plant trees before sitting down to a festive meal of fresh and dried fruits, grains, and nuts. Most have the custom of eating the fruits and grains associated with the Seven Species, such as barley, wheat, dates, pomegranates, olives, figs, and grapes, but other popular fruits include apples, carob, and almonds.
So even though it may not have the same spiritual importance as it did in the past, Tu BiShvat still remains a delightful and special holiday in the Jewish calendar that recognizes the life-giving beauty of our planet and celebrates the incredible gifts that trees give us each and every year!
On behalf of Judaica WebStore and all of Israel, we wish our readers (and the trees!) a wonderful Chag Sameach! For anyone looking to spice up their Tu B’Shevat Seder, we highly recommend you check out our amazing selection of Tu BiShvat Gifts to find something perfect for your holiday table!