Two trees

Hebrew for Tu Bishvat 101: The New Year for Trees!

It's a Cartoon Hebrew tradition to have special guides to the most important Jewish holidays, and Tu Bishvat is a really neat one.

How do you pronounce Tu Bishvat?

ט"וּ בִּשְׁבָט (audio)

What's Tu Bishvat?

The quick answer is that Tu Bishvat is the Jewish New Year for trees!

Of course that brings up a lot of questions.

Why is it called Tu Bishvat? What does it mean?

Tu Bishvat is literally just a date in the Jewish Year.

In Hebrew, you can use the Hebrew letters to write out numbers, kind of like we sometimes do with Roman numerals in English. Aleph is one, Bet is two, Gimel is three, and so on. Once you get to Yod, which is 10, you put together letters to make higher numbers. The number 15 is represented by Tet together with Vav. And since they're letters, you can pronounce them like a word, so you get: Tu.

Shvat is the name of a Hebrew month. So Tu Bishvat just means the 15th of Shvat! Since the Hebrew calendar is based on both the moon and sun, Tu Bishvat varies from about mid January to mid February.

Why do trees get their own new year?

Part of the answer is that Jews are strangely willing to have a bunch of new years. (Actually, it's not weird, it's amazing: who wouldn't want more New Year celebrations?) For example, Nisan, the month of Passover, is a kind of new year, too, and there's also the main Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah.

Trees need a New Year, though, because traditionally Judaism has a seven year cycle for farm produce, including fruit. For example, in the 7th year the land is supposed to be left untouched, and in the 3rd and 6th year a portion of the food is specially set aside for poor people.

Tu Bishvat therefore is the point that marks when one year ends and another begins for the 7-year cycle.

How do Jews celebrate Tu Bishvat?

Tu Bishvat is neat because it's not really what you'd call a religious holiday, like Passover or Yom Kippur. But there are still neat traditions people observe.

Eating fruit is the biggest tradition on Tu Bishvat. It's a tradition to eat more fruit than usual, and especially to eat fruit that the land of Israel is historically known for, like pomegranates, figs, grapes, dates and even olives. (Yes, olives are a fruit. I guess that makes a martini a fruity drink?)

Modern Tu Bishvat in Israel and around the world

Tu Bishvat has actually become a very popular holiday, both in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, at least partly because of the natural connection to care for the environment. It's a holiday that celebrates nature and the planting of trees, so it fits in well with modern concerns about caring for the planet.

Tu Bishvat Greeting

The usual greeting on Tu Bishvat is simply "happy Tu Bishvat," which in Hebrew is:

tu beesh vat sameach: טוּ בִּשְׁבָט שַׂמֵחַ (audio)

More Tu Bishvat Words

Let's look at some more Tu Bishvat words you can practice reading...

Tree — This is a formal or literary term for tree, and also a male given name. אִילָן (audio) "Ilan"

Head — Also used metaphorically for beginnings or leaders. רֹאשׁ (audio) "rosh"

Year שָׁנָה (audio) "shanah"

New Year — Usually the word we use for the main Jewish New Year but it's really any new year. רֹאשׁ הַשָׁנָה (audio) "rosh hashanah"

New Year for Trees: רֹאשׁ הַשָׁנָה לַאִילָנוֹת (audio) "tu beesh vat sameach"

Want to learn about more Jewish holidays? Check these out: