Tonight is Tu Bishbat (ט”ו בשבט), i.e., the 15th of the month of Shebat. The 15 Shebat is the “New Year of Trees” (Rosh Hashana laIlanot). On the fifteenth of Shebat trees become one year older. This is a very important factor for many mitsvot connected to agriculture, for example, עורלה: the prohibition against eating the fruits of a new tree during the first three years of the tree. The age of a tree does not increase on the day it was planted (the “birthday” of the tree). All trees become Halakhically “a year older” on the 15th of Shebat. (Tomorrow, BH, we will elaborate on the importance of determining the age of trees, applying this factor in some biblical commandments).
In the Tora or in the Mishna there is no indication about the celebration of the 15th Shebat. This day is not considered a holiday, or the commemoration of a historic event, and no prohibitions or ritual ceremonies are prescribed by the Tora for this day. However, the ancient custom is to have a se’uda (a meal or a plate) of fruits to remember the fruits and trees of Israel.
There are no precise instructions on how to perform this se’uda. In many communities it is customary to eat at night (tonight) and / or during tomorrow all kinds of fruits and especially the seven fruits for which the Land of Israel was praised in the Tora. Israel was designated as “…a land of wheat and barley, grapes, figs and pomegranate, a land of olives and honey (= dates)” (Deuteronomy 8: 8.).
In the Seder of TU BISHBAT we say the berakhot, especially ha’ets for the fruit of the tree, and the appropriate blessings for whatever else we eat made with wheat or barley (usually mezonot), etc. Each berakha each is followed by a short prayer, “yehi ratson …”
Many consider a special zekhut eating at this Seder fruits that grew in the Land of Israel, saying berakha for them.
The Jews of Aleppo, Syria, had a very special custom for TU BISHBAT. On this day they read the 10 Commandments with the sharah, the translation to Arabic composed by rabbi Sa’adia Gaon (882-942). This is done in preparation for the reading of Parashat ITRO, which contains the Ten Commandments, which always falls on the Shabbat after TU BISHBAT.
In 1890 a new custom was introduced in Israel to celebrate TU BISHBAT. That year Rabbi Zeev Yaabetz (1847-1924) took his students to plant trees in Zichron Yaaqob celebrating TU BISHBAT. This custom was adopted in 1908 by the union (Histadrut) of Jewish teachers and then by the Jewish National Fund (keren kayemet leIsrael).
Rabbi Zeev Yaabetz z “l
No special prayers are added to the regular services during TU BISHBAT. Tahanun, however, is not recited in TU BISHBAT.
To read about these and other customs of TU BISHBAT, especially customs adopted by those who follow the teachings of the Qabbala, see here the great article written by Mr. Joseph Mosseri, Brooklyn NY.