Tu BiShvat is a Jewish holiday on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This year, Tu BiShvat begins at sunset on January 16 and ends on the evening of January 17. In contemporary Israel, it is an ecological awareness day celebrated by ecologists, children, and anyone who cares for plants and the future of the planet, with the planting of trees. Although it’s not an official holiday, Jews take pride in observing a celebration that is dedicated to the life-giving plants.
History of Tu BiShvat
The name ‘Tu BiShvat’ has its roots in the Hebrew date of the holiday. Traditionally, the holiday occurs on the 15th day of Shevat. ‘Tu’ represents Tet and Vav, Hebrew letters with the numerical value of nine and six respectively, which add up to 15. ‘Tu BiShvat’ is also called ‘Hamisha Asar BiShvat’ or the ‘15th of Shevat.’
In the Middle Ages, Tu BiShvat was celebrated with a feast just like the Mishnaic description. In the 16th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed, who is recognized as the father of modern Kabbalah, invented a Tu BiShvat seder that gave the fruits and trees of Israel symbolic meaning. He taught his disciples that bringing all living things to spiritual perfection could be achieved by eating ten fruits and drinking four cups of wine while reciting the appropriate blessings, all in a specific order.
In Israel today, many religious and secular Jews still celebrate the kabbalistic Tu BiShvat seder. In the Hasidic community, some Jews pick citrus fruits on Sukkot and eat them on Tu BiShvat. Some pray that they will be worthy of delicious and nutritious fruits on the following Sukkot. Also more commonly called Israeli Arbor Day by the international media, organizations that focus on the environment have adopted the holiday to promote their awareness programs. In Israeli kibbutzim, Tu BiShvat is celebrated as an agricultural holiday.
Tu BiShvat timeline
Judaism appears in Greek records for the first time during the Hellenistic period.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed starts celebrating Tu BiShvat with the eating of fruits and drinking of wine.
Demands for less restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society are raised.
The State of Israel starts absorbing hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world.
The GSPC is established to slow the pace of plant extinction around the world.
Tu BiShvat FAQs
What does the Hebrew word ‘Shevat’ mean?
Shevat is a Hebrew month that is made up of 30 days, usually between January and February on the Gregorian calendar. It is believed that the word originated from the Akkadian ‘Šabātu,’ which refers to the heavy seasonal rainfall.
What foods are eaten on Tu Bishvat?
Those who partake in a Tu BiShvat seder will eat at least 10 different types of fruits and vegetables. The seven species in the Torah — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates — are also traditionally included.
What does the tree of life symbolize in Judaism?
The tree of life is a visual and symbolic representation used in mysticism. It symbolizes the revelation of God, humanity, and human ascent to divinity. Kabbalists developed a full model of reality, a symbol that uses the tree of life to create a map of creation.
How to Observe Tu BiShvat
Plant a tree
The best way to celebrate Tu BiShvat is by planting a tree. Plant a tree in your backyard, neighborhood park, or community garden.
Care for your plants
Spend some time with your plants on Tu BiShvat. Water, trim, and care for them. Spending time in the company of trees and plants can significantly elevate your mood.
Gift a plant
Plants make for a very thoughtful gift. On Tu BiShvat, gift your loved ones seeds, plants, or flowers.
5 Facts About Trees That Will Blow Your Mind
Plants can heal
Hospital patients who see fresh green trees from their rooms heal faster than those who don't.
The world’s oldest clonal tree cluster
Found in Utah, U.S., D.N.A. testing has indicated that the group is about 80,000 years old.
Banana trees have no wood
The main stalk of a banana tree is fibrous, and internal water pressure keeps it standing.
We are losing a lot of trees
Nearly 16 billion trees are lost every year due to deforestation and land use.
Trees drink plenty of water
Each year, a tree can drink about 2000 liters of natural H2O.
Why Tu BiShvat is Important
It makes the world green
With rising concerns of deforestation and climate change, Tu BiShvat encourages us to plant trees and work collectively for a greener future.
It reminds us to be kind
Caring for plants and spending time in their company makes us kinder towards other creatures. It teaches us to understand the intrinsic value of all living beings.
It’s good for us
Studies have shown that surrounding oneself with plants and greenery can beat stress, anxiety, and inculcate positive feelings in us. Celebrating Tu BiShvat brings us happiness and health.
Tu BiShvat dates