Tu B'Shevat

5 Things You May Not Have Known About Tu B’Shevat

February 4, 2015

You know that guy you saw on the way to work shouting “Happy New Year!” to a tree? He wasn’t crazy. Well, he might have been, but not for being kind to an oak or maple. It might just be the 15th day of the month of Shevat on the Jewish calendar—better known as Tu B’Shevat.

So have some fruit (raspberry jelly-filled doughnuts might not count) in celebration and enjoy these fun facts you may not have known about the festive day:

  • While you may be familiar with the holiday of Rosh HaShanah — the beginning of the Jewish New Year in Tishrei— that arrives in the fall each year, there are actually four Rosh HaShanahs in the Jewish calendar cycle. TuB’Shevat is one of them, marking the beginning of a new year for trees. The first of Nisan (the new year for counting the months) and the first of Elul (the new year for tithes)are the other two Rosh HaShanahs.
  • The academies of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai have hundreds of arguments throughout the Mishnah and Talmud. One such disagreement is the date of the Rosh Hashanah for trees. Beit Shammai hold that it falls on the first of Shevat, while Beit Hillel, whom we follow, hold that it falls on the fifteenth.
  • According to Jewish law (Deuteronomy 20:19), one is not permitted to cut down a fruit tree without an acceptable reason to do so.   (Consult your local Orthodox rabbi for the definition of “acceptable.”)
  • Avot D’Rabbi Natan highlights the importance of planting when it relates a story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who said: “If there is a plant in your hand when they say to you, ‘Behold, the Moshiach!’– go and plant the seedling, and afterward go out to greet him.”
  • Many popular Hebrew names are tree-related. These include Tamar (a date tree), Erez (a cedar tree), Yaniv (to bear fruit), and Ilan/Ilana (tree).