Home Jewish Holidays 10 Facts About 15 Shevat, the New Year for Trees

10 Facts About 15 Shevat, the New Year for Trees

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By Menachem Posner

1. Tu Bishvat is 15 Shevat

This holiday is properly known as Chamishah Asar Bishvat, the “Fifteenth of Shevat.” So where did the “Tu” moniker come from? In Hebrew, every letter represents a number. The letter Tet (?) represents 9, and Vav (?) is 6. 9+6=15. And when you put Tet (9) and Vav (6) together (?”?), it can be pronounced “Tu.”

2. It’s the New Year for Trees

That’s right. When we hear the words Rosh Hashanah, we think of the 1st (and 2nd) of Tishrei , which celebrates the day G?d created Adam and Eve. The 15th of Shevat is the day the fiscal year begins for all things related to arboriculture.

3. It’s When the Soil Is Moist and Fertile

Shevat 15 is four months after we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, which marks the start of the rainy season in the Middle East. After four months of rain, the soil is moist and primed for growth, and the sap has begun circulating in the trees. This is the time when the previous year’s crop comes to an end, and whatever grows from this date and on belongs to the new year’s crop.

4. It’s Relevant to Tithing and More.

Why does it matter to which year’s crop your fruit belongs?

  • Fruit grown in the first three years of a tree’s life may not be eaten. In Temple times, fruit grown in the fourth year was enjoyed in Jerusalem as a quasi sacrifice. When does one year end and the next year begin? 15 Shevat!
  • Fruit grown in the Holy Land must be tithed, with portions set aside for the Kohen (priest) and Levite. Additional portions are either taken to Jerusalem or distributed among the poor, depending on the year in the Shemitah cycle. The produce from each year must be tithed separately, and by now you can surely guess which date demarcates one year from the next: 15 Shevat.

5. The Holiday Developed Over Millennia

The Talmud does not record any specific celebrations or observances to be held on this day.

One of the earliest sources for the 15th of Shevat being a celebratory day is a pair of ancient liturgical poems that were found in the Cairo genizah, a trove of old Torah texts, documents and manuscripts discovered in the 19th century. The poems, composed by Rabbi Yehuda Ben Hillel Halevi around the 10th century, were meant to be added to the prayer service of the day.

During the renaissance era, when the Safed school of Kabbalists flourished, the custom to eat fruit was popularized as well.

6. We Eat Specific Fruit on This Day

Some are particular to eat a fruit they have not enjoyed since last time it was in season, necessitating the special Shehecheyanu blessing, thanking G?d for bringing us to this milestone. There is also a custom to eat fruit listed among the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is praised: grapes, figs, dates, pomegranates, and olives.

7. The Day Has Inner Significance

Keying off the Biblical verse, “For man is a tree of the field,” the Kabbalists ascribed significance to this day, when trees are showcased and recognized. Like a tree, we must constantly grow and bear fruit that will benefit those around us. And like little saplings, whatever we experience when we are young, will impact us deep into adulthood.

8. Carobs Are Traditional As Well

Many recall being given baggies of dried fruit in school on 15 Shevat, perhaps harking to the era when fresh fruit was not as readily available in the winter. More often than not, the melange included pieces of carob, known by the Yiddish name, bokser

9. The Prayer Service is Slightly Truncated

Since this is a happy day, the Code of Jewish Law tells us to skip Tachanun, the prayers for forgiveness normally said after the silent amidah.

 

10. Beit Shamai Celebrated 15 Days Earlier

Shevat 15 is listed among the four “heads of the year” mentioned in the Mishnah.1 Interestingly enough, the Mishnah tells us that this date follows the tradition of Beit Hillel. The House of Shammai, however, is of the opinion that it is actually on 1 Shevat, 15 days earlier.

FOOTNOTES

1.

Rosh Hashanah 1:1.


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