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What is Tu b'Shvat?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

Library » Holidays » Tu B'shvat | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Tu b'Shvat (lit. the 15th of Shevat) is the "New Years" for trees.1 A fruit which blossomed before the 15th of Shevat is considered to be produce of the previous year. If it blossomed afterwards, it is produce of the new year.2

Why is this so? In the Mediterranean region3, the rainy season begins in the beginning part of Cheshvon. It takes approximately three months (from  the 7th-15th of Cheshvon, until the 15th of Shevat) for the rains of the new year to saturate the soil and sap, at which point the tree begins to develop fruit.4 All fruit which blossom beforehand are a product of the rains of the previous year.

This timeline is relevant for numerous Jewish laws.

1. The Torah mandates the giving of various tithes from every year's crop. It is forbidden to use fruit from one year's crop as tithe for a different year's crop.5 It is thus important to have a date that determines last year from this year.

2. Furthermore, different years require different tithes. According to Biblical law, there is a seven year agricultural cycle, concluding with the Sabbatical year.6 When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, on years one, two, five and six of this cycle, farmers were required to separate a tenth of their produce and eat it in Jerusalem. This tithe is called Maaser Sheni, the Second Tithe, because it is in addition to the (two percent Terumah which must be given to the Kohen, and the) ten percent Tithe which is given to the Leviite. On the third and sixth years of the cycle, instead of the owners eating the Maaser Sheni in Jerusalem, they gave this second tithe to the poor, who were permitted to consume it wherever they wished.7

Not all fruit-related laws are contingent on this date. According to the Torah it is forbidden to eat or derive any benefit from fruit for the first three years after a tree is planted, and in the fourth year its use is restricted (See What is Orlah?). Those years are counted from the 1st of Tishrei8.

See also When is Tu b'Shvat? and How is Tu b'Shvat celebrated?

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Rosh Hashanah 2a.
  • 2. By comparison, grains, vegetables, and legumes have the same New Year as humans, the 1st of Tishrei.
  • 3. As explained in this article the nature of this New Years is associated with Jewish tithing laws, which only apply to fruit grown in Israel.
  • 4. Talmud tractate Rosh Hashanah 14a
  • 5. Maimonidies law of Terumah 5:11 and laws of Maser 1:7
  • 6. Leviticus 25:3-4
  • 7. Maimonidies laws of Gifts to the Poor 6:2-4. On the Sabbatical year, no tithes are separated. All produce which grows during this year is ownerless and free for anyone to take. (ibid 6:5).
  • 8. Talmud tractate Rosh Hashana 9b. Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 294:4 If the tree is planted at least 45 days before Rosh Hashanah (the 1st of Tishrei), that is considered its first year, and after Rosh Hashanah it enters its second year. If it is planted less than 45 days before Rosh Hashanah, it does not enter its second year until the following Rosh Hashanah.

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COMMENTS

tu b' shvat

Posted by: Elaine Furman, Jax., FL on Jan 24, 2006

on a fruit tree- is the age of the tree counted from the first year it fruits, or when it is planted? this could be a difference of many years?

thanks

Editor's Comment

The three-year period starts from when the tree is planted.

Tu b'Shvat

Posted by: Anonymous on Jan 31, 2007

How do I know what year of the cycle we are in? Since it is impractical to take my tithe to Jerusalem, how do I observe this mitzva today for my fruit-bearing trees in the US? Are shrubs (e.g., berries) counted as trees?

Editor's Comment

1) This law is only applicable to fruits grown in Israel. 2) The fruits are not taken to Jerusalem nowadays, rather the fruits are exchanged for a coin that is left untouched until the Holy Temple will be rebuilt. 3) The Jewish year 5767 (2006-2007) is the sixth year in the seven year cycle. 4) You can celebrate Tu B'shvat today wherever you are and regardless if you own trees. See "How is Tu b'Shvat celebrated?" .

Orlá

Posted by: Anonymous, São Paulo, S.P., Brasil on Jan 31, 2007

Regarding to de editor"s comment on Maasser:

Maasser is only in Erets Yisrael, but orlá is also chutz laarets. If one knows for sure that the tree is less than 3 years old, even if it is owned by a non-jew, it is forbidden to eat from its fruits. I once depared with a pomegranate tree in a ranch of a friend of mine, non jew, and she proudly showed me the beautyful tree, 1 meter high and less than 1 year, and already plenty of big, heavy fruits.

Thank you very much

CHAG SAMEACH

CATARINA

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Shevat
The eleventh month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to January-February.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Terumah
The tithe given to the priest (descendant of Aaron) from certain crops. The tithe was approximately 2% of the harvest.