Tu B’Shvat or Tu Bishvat is a Jewish holiday. Though, it is not very relevant as there are no restrictions on working. However, it is one of the four Rosh Hashanahs (New Years) mentioned in the Mishnah- the basis of the Talmud, the sacred book of Jews. Tu Bishvat also signifies the Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot “new year of the trees”.
Tu Bishvat owes its name to the date of the holyday that is the 15th day of Shevat. Shevat is actually the month of Hebrew calendar, read as “Tu,�, this is how the number 15 is represented in Hebrew numerals using the Hebrew alphabet. You can understand this more clearly, as Haredi Jews identify the day by its original full name, Hamishah Asar BeShevat meaning “The Fifteenth of Shevat”.
Origin of Tu B’Shvat
You would come across a number of opinions regarding the origin of Tu B’Shvat. According to the school of Hillel, Tu Bishvat was originally the day when the fruits that grew from that day onwards were counted up till the following year regarding tithes. On the contrary, the school of Shammai believes that day is the first day of Shevat.
It was observed that during the Middle Ages or perhaps a little before that, this day was celebrated as a minor ceremony by eating fruits as this day was regarded as “Rosh Hashanah” (“New Year”) in the Mishnah. Later on it was understood as being a appropriate time for celebration.
Today, Tu B’Shvat has grown popular with many Jews. It is now celebrated with much fervor in Jewish synagogues, schools, and communities. The main activity people perform on this day, is planting trees in open spaces in Israel.
This tradition of planting trees began way back in 1890, when Zeev Yabetz the famous teacher and writer went out with his students in a school in Zichron Yaakov for a celebratory planting. In 1908, this initiative was popularized by the Israeli Teachers trade union and later on by the Land Development Authority.
The Tu Bishvat Seder
The kabbalistic way of celebrating Tu Bishvat seder�s holiday is quite unique. They usually invite some friends to their house, and make various symbolic offerings. Then they enjoy wine and fruit and hold discussions on the four main aspects of this holiday- physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual and try to relate the four themes of the seder namely- social, cosmic, national, ecological. The Seder host chooses one aspect of one theme at a time to concentrate on.
Customary celebrations on Tu B’Shvat
There is a custom to have different types of fruit on this holiday and recite the apposite blessings. Traditionally, the Seven Species associated with the Land of Israel mentioned in the Torah: Wheat, Barley, Pomegranates, Grapes, Figs, Olives and Dates are taken on this day. Someone who eats sufficient amount of these fruits, he recites the special after blessing prayers of Al Ha’aretz ve’al HaPeorot.
Many Jews eat fruits such as oranges, bananas, walnuts, pistachios, dates, apricots, olives and persimmons. Many of them prefer to eat all kinds of dried fruits like raisins and nuts.
It is also a custom for many to have candied etrog or carob.
Kabbalistic tradition preaches that eating these fruits creates an association with the abstract Tree of Life that God placed in the Garden of Eden as mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
Every Jew should make an attempt to eat at least one fruit on Tu B�Shvat, which he has not eaten for the entire season, and would require the blessing of Shehecheyanu. While having such a fruit, the Shehecheyanu should be said before reciting the blessing of “Haetz�.
Tu B’Shvat is a great day for celebrations. This is the day for performing the customs and the blessings of Almighty. Tu B�Shvat is an occasion for Jews to relate the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual thoughts of humanity.