Jewish New Year for Trees
Tu Bishvat is the New Year for Trees, or Jewish Arbor Day. It is first mentioned in the Mishna (Oral Torah)
and the name is actually the Hebrew date of the holiday, the 15th of Shvat.
Tu, the Hebrew letters tet and vav, have the numerical value of 15. Bi means “in”, or “of”, and
Shvat is the name of the Hebrew month. To find out when Tu Bishvat starts according to the modern
(Gregorian) calendar, use
The holiday’s origins stem from the Second Temple period
, when religious leaders struggled with certain biblical
laws relating to when fruit can be eaten from a tree, bikkurim (giving first fruits to the priests of the Temple),
It was determined that fruit which ripened and was picked prior to the date of Tu Bishvat belonged to the
previous year, and fruit picked afterwards belonged to the “new year”.
How A Date Became a Holiday
With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (in 70 CE by the Romans) and the subsequent exile of
the Jews from the land of Israel, Jews could no longer work the land and then offer bikkurim, or give tithes.
It therefore became necessary to make the 15th of Shvat something more tangible, so that the commandment
(of bikkurim, and tithes) wouldn’t be forgotten.
In the Diaspora, teachers asked their students to bring fruits to eat in class. They would
talk about the fruits and the trees of the land of Israel. In many places fresh fruits were often not
in season, so dried fruits began to take their place.
The date started to be a celebrated holiday, and became associated with the Jewish people’s longing for its
The Tu Bishvat Seder
In the 17th century, Kabbalists in Tzfat (Safed) created a seder
where the foods, along with 4 glasses of wine, were given symbolic meaning.
These foods include the seven species of grains, vegetables and fruits that are native to the land of
Israel: pomegranates, barley, wheat, olives, figs, grapes and dates
. Many communities today both in
Israel and in the Diaspora celebrate with Tu Bishvat seders.
The Tradition of Tree Planting
Jewish pioneers established settlements in modern Israel at the end of the 19th century. After not farming
for almost two millennia, there was a need to strengthen these new farmers’ connection to the land.
On Tu Bishvat in 1892, a teacher named Ze’ev Javitz planted trees with his students in Zichron Yaakov,
and this custom started to spread throughout the country.
In 1908 the Teacher’s Union declared
Tu Bishvat to be an official planting holiday
, and has been celebrated as such ever since.
Celebrating in Israel Today
Israelis celebrate by eating dried fruits and nuts (and
dishes made with these foods),
planting trees and some celebrate with a seder.
Planting trees has become such an established
tradition, we even did it (symbolically of course) when I lived in the Negev in 1980!
Schoolchildren learn about the
that are native to Israel, sing special holiday songs, and learn how seeds grow into plants.
The almond tree features prominently in songs and activities for the holiday, as it blossoms earlier than other types of fruit trees in Israel, “announcing” the holiday’s arrival. Activities and Festivals
If you’re in Israel, there are several forests where you can plant with your own hands. For more information,
call the Keren Kayemet L’Israel office (in Israel) at 02-658-3349 or email email@example.com.
Even if you’re not in Israel, you can still
With the winter rains, the bright red kalaniot flowers are in bloom, especially in the northern Negev.
Throughout the month of February the Red Festival (“Festival Adom”) takes place, when many people come to
frolic, picnic, bike, go off-road jeeping and hike around the flowers. The
and recorded hotline (052-999-1003) are in Hebrew.
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