Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish New Year for the trees. It takes place on the 15th of Shvat, which is a Hebrew month that usually falls between mid-January and mid-February. In Hebrew, “tu” correlates with the number fifteen and “b” means “of.” Hence, Tu B’shvat literally means “15th of Shvat.”
An Ancient Holiday
Tu B’Shvat is an ancient holiday. Its original purpose was to calculate the age of the trees for tithing. Leviticus 19:23-25 states that no fruit may be taken from a tree during its first three years of life. Fruit from the fourth year was given to God as a burnt offering, and in the fifth year the fruit could be eaten. Trees aged one year on Tu B’Shvat, so in many ways Tu B’Shvat is the birthday of the trees.
Modern Day Customs
Many Jews celebrate Tu B’Shvat by donating money to the Jewish National Fund, an agency that plants trees in Israel. It is also popular to commemorate Tu B’Shvat by eating foods that can be found in Israel, such as olives, figs, grapes, honey, carob fruit and pomegranates. Some of these foods are mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8, which describes Israel as “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.”
Some Jews make a special seder on Tu B’Shvat that is similar to the Passover seder. This tradition began with Jewish mystics but is becoming more prevalent among Jews who are interested in environmental initiatives.