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What is Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish holiday known as the “New Year of the Trees”?

Israeli children plant trees on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat, Jan. 27, 2021. (Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Tu B’Shvat is a Jewish ecologically-themed holiday that takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat.

In modern Israel, Tu B’Shvat – the “New Year of the Trees” – is the functional equivalent of Arbor Day, an agricultural holiday. It is celebrated outdoors with tree planting ceremonies across the country, school activities which center on environmental awareness and other festivities to bring local communities together.

It is common to eat dried fruits and nuts on Tu B’Shvat, a practice which likely originated from European Jews with a desire to eat fruits directly from the land of Israel. Before the age of modern transport and refrigeration, it was required to dry fruit before shipping so the fruit would be edible by the time it reached its destination. However, the custom of eating dried fruits remains to this day. 

The name Tu B’Shvat finds its origins from the Hebrew date when it occurs (Hebrew: ט״ו בִּשְׁבָט, lit. '15th day of the month of Shevat). "Tu" stands for the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav, which together have the numerical value of 9 and 6, adding up to 15.

While the holiday and customs of Tu B’Shvat are not directly found in the Bible, other texts such as the Mishnah, the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions, have referred to the fruits and trees of the land of Israel as having symbolic meaning.

According to the Mishnah, there are four new ‘heads of the year’ that respond to an appointed time of the year: The month of Shevat represents the new year for trees; the first of the month of Nissan is the new year for kings and pilgrim feasts; the first of the month of Elul is the new year for animal tithes; on the first of the month of Tishrei is the new year for counting Sabbatical and Jubilee years.

Mixed dried fruit (Photo: Shutterstock)

The tradition of giving symbolic meaning to fruits and trees of the land of Israel originated in the 16th century from Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. As a result, eating fruits and planting new trees on Tu B’Shvat is widely celebrated by both secular and religious Jews.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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