fbpx

How is Tu b’Shevat Connected to the Land of Israel?

Dear Jew in the City,

How is Tu b’Shevat connected to the land of Israel?

Best,

Jonah

 

Dear Jonah,

Thanks for your question. We discussed Tu b’Shevat a few years ago, so let’s make a quick recap.

The first mishna in tractate Rosh Hashana tells us that there are four “new years,” as follows:

  1. The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for holidays. In Exodus 12:2, God tells us that the Jews are to count Nisan as the first month, because that’s the month in which He took us out of Egypt. For this reason, the reigns of Jewish kings and the dates of Jewish holidays are counted from this date. So, when you see something like, “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign” (Isaiah 36:1), that’s counting from Nisan. (This also explains why Rosh Hashana – “Jewish new year” – is in the seventh month; because we count holidays from Nisan.)

 

  1. The first of Elul is the new year for animal tithes, though Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say it is on 1 Tishrei. Leviticus 27:32 commands us to give 10% of our herds and flocks to God. These must be tithed from the current year’s stock, so there has to be a cut-off point to determine what’s “last year” and what’s “this year.” This is that cut-off point.

 

  1. The first of Tishrei is the new year for counting years, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, for planting and for vegetables. “Counting years” includes counting the reigns of secular kings as well as the Jewish calendar years. While our “first month” is Nisan, the calendar changes from 5784 to 5785 in Tishrei. Tishrei is likewise the turning point for the Sabbatical (every seven years) and the Jubilee (every 50 years). Tishrei is also the dividing line for determining the age of trees and for vegetable tithes.

 

  1. Finally, the first of Shevat is the new year for the trees according to Beis Shammai, though Beis Hillel say that it is 15 Shevat. The month of Shevat, when the rainy season is mostly over, is the cut-off for in which year fruits are to be tithed. We follow the opinion of Beis Hillel that the date selected for this cut-off point is 15 Shevat. In Hebrew, 15 is represented by the Hebrew letters tes and vav – which spell “tu” – hence, “Tu b’Shevat.”

You’ll note that a lot of these “new years” have to do with tithes. What exactly is a tithe (“maaser” in Hebrew)?

To tithe something means to give 10% of it, be it to God, to the poor, to the church (in some religions), or what have you. In Genesis 14, Avraham tithed the spoils of war to Malki-Tzedek, who was a priest to Hashem (see verses 19-20 and Rashi on verse 20). In Genesis 28:22, Yaakov commits to set aside a tithe from everything that God gives him. We continue to tithe today. The 10% that we’re encouraged to give to charity is called “maaser kesafim” – the tithe of profits – though it’s generally accepted as a rabbinic enactment, and not a Torah obligation.

When we speak of tithes in the Torah sense, we are referring to the portion that was given to the Levites. (The portion that was given to the kohanim is called terumah, and we won’t get into that here.) Specifically, the Levites were given maaser rishon (first tithe); there was also maaser sheini (second tithe), which was eaten by its owners in Jerusalem, and maaser ani, which was given to the needy. (Maaser sheini and maaser ani were given in different years.)

So why were the Levites given 10% of everybody else’s produce? For a very simple reason: all the other Tribes were given hereditary lands. The Levites weren’t because, as Numbers 18:20-21 says, “In their land you shall not inherit and you will not have a portion among them. I (God) am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. And to the children of Levi, behold I give all the maaser in Israel for an inheritance in exchange for their service that they perform, the service of the Tent of Meeting.”

In other words, the Levites didn’t have farms, flocks or herds. They were the religious functionaries in the Temple. Their wages were the tithes that the farmers, vintners, cattlemen and shepherds paid them in exchange for their services.

Now, you asked what Tu b’Shevat has to do with Israel, so why am I talking to you about tithes? Because these tithes only apply in Israel. It was in Israel that the Tribes had ancestral fields and it was in Israel that the Levites worked in the Temple. Elsewhere in the world, anyone could be a farmer, or a barber, or a rabbi, or a used-camel salesman, or whatever. There’s no need for all other Jews to support the Levites in Mumbai or in Michigan. 

Since the reason for Tu b’Shevat only applies in Israel, the question might become why the holiday is recognized at all in other countries. The answer, I think, is apparent: because Israel in important to us. Tu b’Shevat was observed throughout the centuries when we didn’t control Israel, and all the more so now that Israel has been returned to us. 

So yes, Tu b’Shevat is inextricably linked with the land of Israel. It’s appropriate to mark the occasion by reciting blessings to God over the fruits He has created, especially those fruits for which Israel is particularly praised, such as dates and figs. (See Deuteronomy 8:8 for the complete list.)

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Educational Correspondent
Follow Ask Rabbi Jack on YouTube

If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.

481660

Contact formLeave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

What does Judaism say about the death penalty?

Ethiopian Jewish Woman, Mazi Pilip’s, Journey To Israel

Previous post

How One Woman Brought Light Into a Post October 7 World by Giving Away Her Kidney

Next post

JITC Returns To Sundance To Discuss Blood Libels With Noa Tishby

IT'S FINE
We’ll Schlep To You

Get JITC
In Your
Inbox Weekly