Tu Bishvat

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Tu Bishvat (Bi-Shevat, Tu B'Shevat, New Year of the Trees)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Jewish), Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: Between January 16 and February 13; fifteenth day of Shevat
Where Celebrated: Israel, United States, and by Jews throughout the world
Symbols and Customs: Trees
Related Holidays: Arbor Day


Tu Bishvat is a holiday in Judaism, one of the oldest continuously observed religions in the world. Its history extends back beyond the advent of the written word. Its people trace their roots to a common ancestor, Abraham, and then back even farther to the very moment of creation.

According to Jewish belief, the law given to the Jewish people by God contained everything they needed to live a holy life, including the ability to be reinterpreted in new historical situations. Judaism, therefore, is the expression of the Jewish people, attempting to live holy (set apart) lives in accordance with the instructions given by God. Obedience to the law is central to Judaism, but there is no one central authority. Sources of divine authority are God, the Torah, interpretations of the Torah by respected teachers, and tradition. Religious observances and the study of Jewish law are conducted under the supervision of a teacher called a rabbi.

There are several sects within Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is characterized by an affirmation of the traditional Jewish faith, strict adherence to customs such as keeping the Sabbath, participation in ceremonies and rituals, and the observance of dietary regulations. Conservative Jewish congregations seek to retain many ancient traditions but without the accompanying demand for strict observance. Reform Judaism stresses modern biblical criticism and emphasizes ethical teachings more than ritualistic observance. Hasidism is a mystical sect of Judaism that teaches enthusiastic prayer as a means of communion with God. The Reconstructionist movement began early in the twentieth century in an effort to "reconstruct" Judaism with the community rather than the synagogue as its center.

Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday honoring TREES , similar to the American observation of ARBOR DAY. It originated in Israel, where the fifteenth of Shevat comes at the beginning of spring when the buds on the trees are beginning to open. The ancient Jews loved trees and treasured them for the fruit, shade, and lumber they provided. They assigned many trees special symbolic meanings (see TREES ) and compared the Torah, their holy book, to "a tree of life." In fact, most of the forests seen in Israel today were originally planted by Jewish colonists.

It is said that the sap begins to rise in the fruit trees of the Holy Land on the fifteenth day of Shevat. It is customary, therefore, to sit up late the previous evening and recite passages from the Jewish scriptures dealing with trees, fruits, and the fertility of the earth. Israeli schoolchildren go outside with shovels and hoes and plant trees on Tu Bishvat, singing songs about trees and flowers as they work and dancing around the trees they have planted. Because there are relatively few trees in Israel, the task of planting them on this day is considered crucial to preserving the soil.

Tu Bishvat is primarily a children's holiday in Europe. In Jewish schools, they bring figs, dates, raisins, almonds, and other fruits native to Israel into their classrooms, where the teacher divides the supply equally so there will be no distinctions between rich and poor. In Jewish schools in the United States and other countries, Tu Bishvat is often celebrated with special assemblies, classroom parties, and entertainment for parents. Refreshments usually include fruits that grow in Israel, such as dates, figs, carobs, and Jaffa oranges. In some countries, Jewish children buy Jewish National Fund tree certificates, which can be purchased for the modest cost of a sapling and its planting, in honor of their parents, while parents often buy the certificates as educational gifts for their children. Many Jews in the United States have donated money for trees in honor of famous Americans such as George Washington, Harry S Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Chief Justice Louis Brandeis.

Because Tu Bishvat is primarily a nature festival without any specific religious ceremonies, it is surprising that it was remembered after the Jews left Palestine. That it survived and is still observed in Western countries where there is often frost and snow during the month of Shevat shows how deeply Jews have longed for their homeland.



There was a long-standing Jewish tradition, revived recently in Israel, of planting a cedar tree, symbolic of courage and strength, when a baby boy was born, and a cypress, which is smaller and more fragrant, to honor the birth of a girl. Tu Bishvat

When the child grew up, the wood of this tree was used to make the huppa or wedding canopy.

Because trees were associated with two of the most important events in a person's life, birth and marriage, Jewish children were raised with a great reverence for trees. Different types of trees were used to symbolize human characteristics: for example, the olive (wisdom), the grapevine (joy and childbearing), and the palm (beauty and stateliness). Planting trees to celebrate births and setting aside a day specifically for tree-planting has kept the Jewish homeland wooded from one generation to the next.

Tu Bishvat is also known as Rosh Hashanah Leilanot, or New Year of the Trees. It is widely believed to be the day on which trees are "judged"; in other words, it is the day on which each tree's fate is decided. This determines which trees will flourish and grow tall; which will wither and die; which will suffer from lightning, strong winds, or insects; and which will be strong enough to withstand all danger.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Edidin, Ben. Jewish Holidays and Festivals. 1940. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Gaster, Theodor H. Festivals of the Jewish Year. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1953. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Renberg, Dalia Hardof. The Complete Family Guide to Jewish Holidays. New York: Adama Books, 1985.


Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/shevat/tubshevat.htm

Tu Bishvat (Bi-Shevat; B'Shevat; Hamishah Asar Bishevat)

Between January 16 and February 13; Shevat 15
Tu Bishvat, also known as New Year for Trees, is a minor Jewish festival similar to Arbor Day. It is first referred to in the late Second Temple period (515 b.c.e.-20 c.e.), when it was the cut-off date for levying the tithe on the produce of fruit trees. When Jewish colonists returned to Palestine during the 1930s, they reclaimed the barren land by planting trees wherever they could. It became customary to plant a tree for every newborn child: a cedar for a boy and a cypress or pine for a girl.
Today the children of Israel celebrate Tu Bishvat with tree planting and outdoor games. In other countries, Jews observe the festival by eating fruit that grows in the Jewish homeland—such as oranges, figs, dates, raisins, pomegranates, and especially almonds, the first tree to bloom in Israel's spring.
Union for Reform Judaism
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Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
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212-563-4000; fax: 212-564-9058
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BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 18
BkHolWrld-1986, Jan 29
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 40
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 50
OxYear-1999, p. 727
RelHolCal-2004, p. 56