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Tu B'Shevat

15'th of Shevat, the New Year for Trees

(Photo: Tomer Yaffe)

Tu Bishvat is a Jewish holiday and one of the four Rosh Hashanahs ("New Years") mentioned in the Mishnah, the basis of the Talmud. Tu Bishvat is the new year of the trees. The name Tu Bishvat comes from the date of the holiday, the 15th day of Shevat. Shevat is the name of a Hebrew calendar month and Tu, is how the number 15 is represented by Hebrew numerals using the Hebrew alphabet.

Tu Bishvat was originally a day when the fruits that grew from that day on were counted for the following year regarding tithes. (This is according to the school of Hillel, while according to the school of Shammai that day is the first of Shevat (Mishnah, Tractate Rosh Hashana 1:1).

There is a Hasidic tradition for one to pray on Tu Bishvat for a kosher Etrog (citron) to be used in the four species held during Hallel prayers on Sukkot. In conjunction with this practice, many Hassidic Jews eat etrog on this day. Note: The citron pictured here does not have the pitom tip at its bottom that is favored by many.During the Middle Ages or possibly a little before that, this day started to be celebrated with a minor ceremony of eating fruits, since the Mishnah called it "Rosh Hashanah" ("New Year"), and that was later understood as being a time appropriate for celebration.

Israel's "Aggression", the Nebelspalter, Switzerland, 1956

During the 1600s in the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a short Tu Bishvat seder, somewhat like the Passover seder, that evokes the holiday's Kabbalistic themes. There is a Hasidic and Sefardic tradition that on this day a devout Jew should pray for a kosher etrog (the citron) that is part of the four species of trees used on the major festival of Sukkot.

In modern times Tu Bishvat has become popular with many Jews, and is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Jewish schools, synagogues, and communities. The main activity is planting trees in open places in Israel.

The tradition to plant trees started in 1890 when the teacher and writer Zeev Yabetz went out with his students in a school in Zichron Yaakov for a festive planting. This iniative was adopted in 1908 by the Israeli Teachers trade union and later on by the Land Development Authority (Hakeren Hakayemet L'Israel). This practice is shunned by most Orthodox Jews due to its secular origin.

(from Wikipedia)

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