Tu BiSh’vat, the New Year for Trees, is the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, and usually coincides with February on the secular calendar. The holiday is sometimes referred to as “Jewish Arbor Day,” and is a minor holiday in Judaism. In Hebrew, the name Tu BiSh’vat is an abbreviation for “The fifteenth day of Shevat.” (Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and the Hebrew letters tet and vav, which spell “Tu”, add up to fifteen.)
The origins of Tu BiSh’vat are not found in the Torah. The holiday is mentioned in the Mishnah, and most scholars believe it was originally an agricultural festival that celebrated the coming of Spring. There are no specific mitzvot (commandments) associated with Tu BiSh’vat, so observances have evolved over time and vary by community. In ancient times, tithes of the first fruit crop were taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. New trees were also planted, especially by parents who had been blessed with children during the preceding year. These trees, planted on the fifteenth of Shevat, were eventually cut down and used as part of the chuppah (marriage canopy) of the children for whom they were planted.
A special ritual, modeled after the Pesach Seder, celebrates God’s presence in the natural world. The Tu Bi Sh’vat Seder focuses on drinking four different colors of wine and eating several varieties of fruit. Today’s celebrations have many variations: planting a tree locally or in Israel; planting parsley that will be ready in time for Pesach; eating Israeli grown fruits and products; and conducting an adult Seder or a Seder appropriate for young children. The Seder reminds us that we must take care of the earth so that we leave a healthy world to those who will come after us.