Tu B'Sh'vat is sometimes known as the "New Year for Trees." Its literal meaning reflects its actual calendar date, the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shvat. Spelling comes in a few different variations.
There is no scriptural mandate for this holiday. It was begun by the Rabbis. Sometimes it is associated with being a Jewish New Year day for the purpose of tithing fruit (Neh. 10:35) and other legal issues that are determined by the tree's age. For instance, fruit that blossoms before Tu B'Shavat may not be used as tithe for fruit that blossoms after that date, and vice versa.
Tu B'Sh'vat falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shvat. This is usually around the middle of winter. Sometimes there is a full moon at holiday time. Trees are planted throughout the world, climate permitting. When the climate does not permit the planting of trees outside, sometimes a "planting" can take place inside a congregational building until the seedling can be re-planted outside. The largest tree planting occurs in Israel where forest's have been created for this holiday. This helps to build up the earth and its natural resources. This holiday is usually celebrated outdoors with a picnic at a park. When first fruits are associated with this holiday, it marks the beginning of the festival of the new year of fruit trees.
Because now there is no longer a temple to bring the first fruits offering, the holiday has taken on a modern meaning of being Israel's Arbor Day.
There are many organizations that collect donations for the purpose of planting tress in Israel.
By paying for a tree to be planted in Israel, people living outside of Israel are able to feel like they are contributing to the growth and development inside Israel.
Many people wishing to help plant trees go through the Jewish National Fund: This organization helps to oversee the planting of new forests.
In Israel, the holiday is celebrated by planting trees. This can mean a day off from regular school activities in order to plant the trees and sing songs. In some places, the holiday cannot be celebrated this way because of the climate being too cold to plant trees.
Outside of Israel, there is a popular tradition to collect money to be passed on to Israel for the specific reason of planting trees. It is a custom to eat fruits, which are not normally eaten very much during the year. Fruits that are eaten consist of pomegranates, olives, dates, and figs because they are native to the land of Israel. By eating fruits that we don't normally eat, it allows us a chance to say a blessing (Shehechiyanu) that perhaps wouldn't normally be said.
Some people follow the custom of eating 15 different fruits on this holiday. Fifteen is the number chosen for two reasons. The first is because the holiday falls on the 15th of Shvat. The second is because the numerical Gematria value of the Hebrew word Tu is fifteen.
Some places celebrate Tu B'Sh'vat by having a special Tu B'Sh'vat Seder Meal. This tradition is said to have been started in the sixteenth century by the Kabbalists. This meal follows a specific order and includes prayers and songs. During the meal, people drink four cups of wine and eat certain nuts. Different foods have come to represent different types of people and things. It is taught that eating becomes sacred when a person eats food with the proper mindfulness and uses the energy of that food for good things.(1) Fruits that are often eaten include olives, dates, pomegranates, barley, wheat, grapes and figs. Focus of the meal includes things like a renewal (both personal and of Israel), charity and the biblical purpose surrounding Israel and its fruits.
A long time ago farmers and some rabbis believed that on this day the sap would begin to rise in the fruit trees in Israel. This allowed the trees to get nourishment from the sap which ushered in a new spring harvest season. This helped to describe the holiday as a New Year For Trees. They also believed the land starts to awaken from being asleep all winter.
There is a beautiful old tradition that is still followed by some families. When a baby is born, a tree is planted. A cedar tree if it's a boy and a cypress tree if it's a girl. As the children grow so do the trees. After the children are grown, when it comes time for their wedding, some branches from the trees are used to make up a marriage canopy.(2) Some believe this custom was in place and used by the Jewish people to celebrate this holiday even when they were not living in Israel.
Though the Bible does not mention specifically how to determine a trees age, Jewish tradition, dating back to the time right before the life of Yeshua (Messiah), informs us that Tu B'shavt, or, the 15th of the month of Shevat, is the birthday of all trees. That means that if the tree is planted on the 14th of Shevat, it is considered 2 years old on the 15th of Shevat.(3) That is because trees that produce fruit before Tu B'Shavat are considered 1 at Tu B'Shvat Trees that are too young to produce fruit by Tu B'shavt automatically belong to the next counting cycle and Tu B'shavt is the "cut-off date" from one year (of trees producing fruit - agricultural cycle) to the next. The Jerusalem Talmud mentions that this date was chosen because most of Israel's rain has already came for the year by this date.
It is believed that this was decided because some mechanism had to be in place in order for the commandment found in Leviticus 19: 23-25 to be observed. This commandment basically said that one may not partake of a tree's fruit during the first three years of it's existence, that the fruit of the fourth year is for the Lord, and that the fruit of the fifth year is for human consumption.(3) Since the fruit of the fourth year went to the Lord it was considered a type of tithing of the first fruits. There seems to be more than one opinion on determining the age of the tree for tithing purposes. In general, fruit of the fourth year deals with the fourth year that the tree produces fruit by Tu, B'shavt.
The traditional blessing said on this holiday is "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree."(3)
Around 2000 years ago this holiday was a tax deadline, of sorts. Any trees planted before Tu B'Shvat were considered to have been "born" the previous year. Those planted after Tu B'Shvat (or, perhaps those that started blooming after Tu B'Shvat) were part of the next year's crop. As the amount of fruit you were required to tithe from each tree was determined by its age, this date was significant. And since the easiest way to remember a tree's birthday was to plant it on that day, that's what some folks did.(4)
This is one of the few holidays that is not really connected to a historical event.
It is believed that the Romans intentionally removed trees during their wars against Israel in 70 and 135 AD.
There are now more than 150 million trees in Israel.
In Ezekiel 36:30-36, God promises to restore Israel's bareness. Some Bible scholars believe that this replanting of trees in Israel occurring today is a fulfillment of this passage.
While the Jewish National Fund is the main organization that plants trees in Israel, there is a forest being built by a combination of Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians. These two groups, both adopted into one family as part of the body of Christ, are building this forest to bring honor and glory to their Messiah. In a small way, it will serve as evangelism to Jews in Israel to show that believers in Jesus care about the Jews and their land. It will be a statement to all who see it or hear of it that Jews all over the word believe in Jesus.
For those who wish to plant a tree in a forest dedicated to Messianic Judaism this can be done. Please contact the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, P.O.Box 274, Springfield, Pa. 19064. Phone 1-800-225-MJAA. There is already a forest planted and trees can be added to it.
Another forest that is worth mentioning has been planted in Jerusalem. For only $10 per tree, you can have trees planted in The Friends of Israel Forest in Jerusalem. Here is a link for those who wish to plant a tree here http://www.foi.org/plantatreeinisrael or call FOI at 800-257-7843.
Tu B'sh'vat is considered a minor holiday, It's explicit origins are not biblical, thus many believers in Messiah Jesus do not connect with it at all.(3)
Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned (John 15:5-6).
Get together to plant a tree somewhere if the climate permits. If not, go together and buy a tree for Israel, the cost is around ten dollars, and share a variety of fruits.
For a list of future holidays dates check the Master Calendar Table.
Articles of interest include:
1) Chabad of Peoria Jewish Art Calendar 5766.
2) The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays by Malka Drucker.
3). Messianic Times. Jan-Feb 2008 p.13.
4). Forward Newspaper, 1-29-2010 p.24.
Information from The Biblical And Historical Background Of The Jewish Holy Days, by Abraham P. Bloch is copyrighted material and was used with permission of the publisher. KTAV Publishing, 900 Jefferson Street. Box 6249, Hoboken, NJ 07030-0102
The Feast of Israel by Bruce Scott of Friends of Israel Ministries.
Tree image from Google Images (JRF.ORG).