What is Tu B’Shvat?



January 18, 2024

It’s cold, it’s snowing, the trees are bare… in many parts of the world, that is. But in Israel, the earliest flowers are starting to bloom and it’s time to celebrate a Jewish holiday called Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat celebrates the Jewish people’s indigenous connection to the land of Israel through marking the beginning of the agricultural year in Israel and uplifting Israel’s seven native species, among other practices.

The name of this festival is actually its date: “Tu” is a pronunciation of the Hebrew letters that represent the number 15, and it falls in the Hebrew month of Shvat. Throughout history, Tu B’Shvat has taken on different meanings for the Jewish people in Israel and across the world.

Where do Tu B’Shvat Rituals and Celebrations Come From?

By the early modern period (16th century), rabbinic scholars in the city of Tzfat had developed a Tu B’Shvat meal similar to a Passover seder. This seder celebrated the seven native species of Israel: pomegranates, olives, dates, figs, grapes, wheat, and barley. 

According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), all living beings hide within them a spark of divine presence. Similarly, fruits, nuts, and grains hide within them seeds of new life and potential growth. Human actions can release these sparks and help increase God’s presence in the world. On Tu B’Shvat, the Kabbalists would eat certain fruits associated with the land of Israel as a symbolic way of releasing these divine sparks.

Tu B’Shvat rituals grew and changed over time. By the late 19th century, early tree-planting Zionists used Tu B’Shvat as an opportunity to celebrate their agricultural work of “making the desert bloom” in Israel. Today, planting trees in and out of Israel is one way of celebrating Tu B’Shvat.

An important part of Jewish consciousness is rooted in environmentalism and ecological activism. Many people think about Tu B’Shvat as an ancient Jewish Earth Day and spend the holiday learning about the Jewish tradition of environmental advocacy and volunteering for efforts connected to the land and sustainability. 

Ways to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat This Year:

Tu B’Shvat Resources: