Tu Bishvat

Jewish New Year for Trees

Tu Bishvat is the New Year for Trees, or Jewish Arbor Day. It is first mentioned in the Mishna (Oral Torah) and the name is actually the Hebrew date of the holiday, the 15th of Shvat.

Tu, the Hebrew letters tet and vav, have the numerical value of 15. Bi means “in”, or “of”, and Shvat is the name of the Hebrew month. To find out when Tu Bishvat starts according to the modern (Gregorian) calendar, use this converter

orange grove in Israel


The holiday’s origins stem from the Second Temple period, when religious leaders struggled with certain biblical laws relating to when fruit can be eaten from a tree, bikkurim (giving first fruits to the priests of the Temple), and tithes.

It was determined that fruit which ripened and was picked prior to the date of Tu Bishvat belonged to the previous year, and fruit picked afterwards belonged to the “new year”.

How A Date Became a Holiday

With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (in 70 CE by the Romans) and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the land of Israel, Jews could no longer work the land and then offer bikkurim, or give tithes.

It therefore became necessary to make the 15th of Shvat something more tangible, so that the commandment (of bikkurim, and tithes) wouldn’t be forgotten.

In the Diaspora, teachers asked their students to bring fruits to eat in class. They would talk about the fruits and the trees of the land of Israel. In many places fresh fruits were often not in season, so dried fruits began to take their place.

The date started to be a celebrated holiday, and became associated with the Jewish people’s longing for its homeland.

The Tu Bishvat Seder

In the 17th century, Kabbalists in Tzfat (Safed) created a seder where the foods, along with 4 glasses of wine, were given symbolic meaning.

These foods include the seven species of grains, vegetables and fruits that are native to the land of Israel: pomegranates, barley, wheat, olives, figs, grapes and dates. Many communities today both in Israel and in the Diaspora celebrate with Tu Bishvat seders.

The Tradition of Tree Planting

Jewish pioneers established settlements in modern Israel at the end of the 19th century. After not farming for almost two millennia, there was a need to strengthen these new farmers’ connection to the land.

On Tu Bishvat in 1892, a teacher named Ze’ev Javitz planted trees with his students in Zichron Yaakov, and this custom started to spread throughout the country.

In 1908 the Teacher’s Union declared Tu Bishvat to be an official planting holiday, and has been celebrated as such ever since.

planting for tu bishvat

Celebrating in Israel Today

Israelis celebrate by eating dried fruits and nuts (and dishes made with these foods), planting trees and some celebrate with a seder.

Planting trees has become such an established tradition, we even did it (symbolically of course) when I lived in the Negev in 1980!

Schoolchildren learn about the different trees that are native to Israel, sing special holiday songs, and learn how seeds grow into plants.

The almond tree features prominently in songs and activities for the holiday, as it blossoms earlier than other types of fruit trees in Israel, “announcing” the holiday’s arrival.

Activities and Festivals

Planting Trees
If you’re in Israel, there are several forests where you can plant with your own hands. For more information, call the Keren Kayemet L’Israel office (in Israel) at 02-658-3349 or email atree4you@kkl.org.il. Even if you’re not in Israel, you can still

plant trees.

kalaniyot - anemones

Kalaniot (Anemones)
With the winter rains, the bright red kalaniot flowers are in bloom, especially in the northern Negev.

Throughout the month of February the Red Festival (“Festival Adom”) takes place, when many people come to frolic, picnic, bike, go off-road jeeping and hike around the flowers. The site and recorded hotline (052-999-1003) are in Hebrew.

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