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Tu B’Shvat is, of course, the New Year for trees1 and it is said that from this day onwards the upcoming season’s fruits have begun to take root. It is customary to partake lavishly in as many different fruits as possible on Tu B’Shvat.2 Some Chassidim, including many Rebbes, wear their distinctive Shabbat garb on Tu B’Shvat in honor of the day.3 Many sifrei minhagim make mention of an ancient custom to recite the daily prayers of Tu B’Shvat in the Yom Tov tune. So too, the communities of Syria had the custom to read the Ten Commandments in Arabic on Tu B’Shvat.4

The halachic significance of Tu B’Shvat applies primarily to the mitzvot of teruma, ma’aser, and other agricultural mitzvot, most of which are only binding in Eretz Yisrael.5 One should not recite the birkat ilanot until the month of Nissan even if one happens to see fruit trees beginning to blossom from Tu B’Shvat onwards.6 It is taught that one should try to give tzedakah in multiples of ninety-one on Tu B’Shvat – the numerical value of ilan, tree.7

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It is said in the name of Rav Chaim Vital that one should endeavor to eat 30 different types of fruit on Tu B’Shvat: ten fruits that are eaten in their entirety, ten fruits of which only the interior of the fruit is eaten, and ten fruits in which only the exterior is eaten.8 Other kabbalists teach that only 15 different fruits are necessary. As Tu B’Shvat is specifically the New Year for trees, there is no particular significance in eating fruits that grow from the ground.9 Some sources indicate that the custom of eating fruits on Tu B’Shvat applies specifically to the night of Tu B’Shvat, though most others insist that the entire 24-hour period is equally significant for eating fruits.10

It is appropriate to eat an etrog on Tu B’Shvat, especially the etrog that one used on Sukkot, if possible. In fact, one should use the day to pray that one be allotted a beautiful etrog for the upcoming Sukkot.11 Even in years when Tu B’Shvat falls out on Shabbat, one is permitted to pray for a beautiful etrog for Sukkot, even though personal supplications are generally forbidden on Shabbat.12 Some have the custom to hold an elaborate ceremony known as the “Tu B’Shvat Seder,” complete with four cups of wine, mystical readings, and other prayers.

One should take the opportunity afforded by Tu B’Shvat to reflect and thank G-d for the fruits that He has created for our enjoyment.13 The holiness to be found within fruit all over the world emanates from the fruit of Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, one who eats fruits of Eretz Yisrael imbues his soul with holiness.14 It is the custom of some Chassidim to bless each other with “May you merit good fruits,” enigmatically referring to children.15 Many people mistakenly attribute to Tu B’Shvat the quality of being the day of judgment for trees. However, trees are judged on Shavuot, not on Tu B’Shvat.16

There is a custom to begin a daily study of Tractate Megilla on Tu B’Shvat, which would allow one to make a siyum on Purim.17 Indeed, one may combine the Purim feast and the siyum celebration into one meal and there is no concern for the prohibition of “ein osin mitzvot chavilot chavilot – not ‘bundling’ mitzvot together.”18 Although Tachanun is not recited on Tu B’Shvat,19 this custom is likely of recent vintage. There are those who rule that Tachanun should be said at the mincha before Tu B’Shvat,20 while others rule that it should be omitted.21

There was a custom in Talmudic times to plant a cedar tree upon the birth of a boy and a cypress tree upon the birth of a girl. The wood from these trees was used to craft the chuppah for their weddings.22 Related to this is the teaching, “If you have a sapling in your hand and are told that the Mashiach has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go and greet him.”23 One should not fast on Tu B’Shvat under any circumstances.24

 

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  1. Rosh Hashana 2a.
  2. Magen Avraham 131:16; Mishna Berura 131:31, 225:19.
  3. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 131:5.
  4. I saw this in “Tu Bishvat B’halacha U’bminhag” by Rav Shlomo Neuwirth in an Ohr Yisrael Journal. I can’t find the month/year. See also: http://pizmonim.org/book.php#515.
  5. YD 331:125; Mo’adim B’halacha p.182-185.
  6. Har Tzvi 1:118 cited in Zechor L’avraham, Leket Hilchot U’minhagei Tu Bishvat by Rav Avraham Yosef Schwartz.
  7. Zechor L’avraham, Leket Hilchot U’minhagei Tu Bishvat by Rav Avraham Yosef Schwartz.
  8. Lu’ach Davar B’ito, 15 Shevat 5769; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 131:5
  9. Zechor L’avraham, Leket Hilchot U’minhagei Tu Bishvat by Rav Avraham Yosef Schwartz.
  10. Zechor L’avraham, Leket Hilchot U’minhagei Tu Bishvat by Rav Avraham Yosef Schwartz.
  11. Bnei Yissachar, Shevat 2:2.
  12. Halichot Shlomo 1:17 note 14.
  13. Aruch Hashulchan, OC 224:5.
  14. Bach, OC 208 s.v. “vekatav”.
  15. Lu’ach Davar B’ito, 15 Shevat 5769.
  16. Rosh Hashana 16a; OC 494.
  17. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 686:2.
  18. Chazon Ovadia, Laws of Purim p. 181, cited at: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?PageIndex=9&ClipID=1391
  19. OC 131:6.
  20. Minhagei Amsterdam and London, among others.
  21. Mishna Berura 131:32.
  22. Gittin 57a.
  23. Avot D’rabbi Natan Ch. 31.
  24. Hagahot Maymoniot Shofar 1:1; OC 572:3 Yechaveh Da’at 1:81.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.