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Tu Bi-Shevat


TU BI-SHEVAT (Heb. ט״ו בִּשְׁבָט; Fifteenth of Shevat), name for the festival of the New Year of Trees. According to *Bet Hillel, the 15th of Shevat marked the beginning of the separation of the *tithes of fruit (rh 1:1). This date was chosen because most of the annual rain in Ereẓ Israel falls before the 15th of Shevat (rh 14a; tj, rh 1:2, 57a); consequently the fruits of those trees which blossom after the 15th of Shevat are considered to belong to another year for the levying of tithes and for the prohibitions of *orlah (see: Lev. 19:23–25; Maim., Yad, Terumot 5:11; ibid., Ma'aser Sheni 19:9–10). The New Year of Trees is regarded as a minor or semi-holiday for liturgical purposes; no penitential prayers are said and fasting is not permitted. In the Ashkenazi communities in Europe it was customary to eat 15 different kinds of fruits on the 15th of Shevat; special preference was given to the kinds of fruit grown in Ereẓ Israel. The eating of fruits was accompanied by the recital of Psalm 104 and of the 15 "ascending" psalms (nos. 120–34). In many communities the children had no school on this day. The Sephardi Jews gave the New Year of Trees a greater significance. Under the influence of the kabbalists of Safed in the 16th century the Sephardi liturgy and customs for this festival were expanded. From Safed the liturgy spread to Sephardi communities in Europe (Turkey, Italy, Greece) and, finally, to Sephardi centers in other parts of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Among Sephardi Jews this day was called the Feast of Fruits and the special poems sung were called "complas." A special order of service for the 15th of Shevat, Ḥemdat ha-Yamim, was believed to have been compiled by *Nathan of Gaza. It was modeled on the Passover seder and included drinking four cups of wine. This liturgy, expanded by additional poems, piyyutim for the Amidah on the 15th of Shevat, and readings from the Scriptures and midrashic literature, was collected and published under the name Peri Eẓ Hadar ("Citrus Fruit," 1753).

Since the establishment of the agricultural settlements in Palestine in the last decades of the 19th century, the New Year of Trees has acquired great significance symbolizing the revival and redemption of the land by the conquest of the desert. In Israel Tu bi-Shevat is celebrated with children's songs in honor of the feast of the trees and with tree-planting ceremonies by kindergarten schoolchildren and others under the auspices of the afforestation department of the Jewish National Fund.


C. Pearl, Guide to the Minor Festivals and Feasts (19613), 23–33; Y.T. Levinsky, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 5 (1954), 317–492; H. Palagi, Mo'ed le-Khol Ḥai (1861), 252b–253a.

[Meir Ydit]

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