Tu Be’Shevat: Inside and Outside the Land of Israel
By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Former Rosh Kollel (Warsaw, 2013-17)
Currently Head of the English department at Machon HaTorah Ve’Haaretz,
The Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel
Tu BiShevat is a day with significant halachic ramifications in terms of the mitzvot tied to the Land of Israel—primarily ma’aserot and orlah. The Mishna (Rosh Hashana 1:1) informs us that Tu BiShevat, 15 Shevat, is the New Year for trees.
Orlah: Since 15 Shevat is the New Year for trees, and not 1 Tishrei, only fruit that blooms after this date on the fourth year from the time the tree is planted will no longer have the forbidden orlah status. These fruit assumes the sanctity of neta revay, the fruit of fourth-year saplings. Fruit that bloom after Tu Be’Shevat of the fifth year and on no longer have neta revay sanctity, and are considered regular fruit (in Israel, terumot and ma’aserot are separated before they can be eaten).
Ma’aserot: The halacha is that one may not tithe produce from one year to exempt produce from a different year. This means that we cannot take ma’aserot from fruit that bloomed before Tu Be’Shevat to exempt fruit the bloomed after this date. Furthermore, ma’aser ani needs to be separated from fruit that bloomed prior to Tu Be’Shevat this year (5778 is the third year of the shemita cycle, when ma’aser ani is taken). Any fruit that bloom from this date on is subject to ma’aser sheni (5779, the fourth year, is a ma’aser sheni year).
At first glance Tu Be’Shevat seems to be a technical cut-off date. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 131:6) cites the custom not to say tachanun on Tu Be’Shevat. What is the joyous aspect of this day?
It is related that Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859) asked his disciple, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (1799-1866, author of the Chiddushei HaRim and founder of the Gerrer Chassidic dynasty), to say a devar Torah during the special meal they had on the fruit of the Land of Israel on Tu Be’Shevat. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir launched into an intricate explanation of the Talmud’s discussion on the New Year for trees. Rabbi Menachem Mendel remarked: “Had we only been in the Land of Israel, it would be sufficient to go out to the fields and gaze at the trees to understand what the New Year for trees really means, in its plainest sense.”
This story is somewhat perplexing; while the mitzvot tied to the Land of Israel can be observed primarily in the Land of Israel, there is no shortage of fruit trees to look at in Kotzk and Góra Kalawaria.
It seems that the Kotzker Rebbe is not referring to understanding any particular tree-related halachot, but rather to a deep connection to this special day of Tu Be’Shevat: eating the fruit of the Land of Israel, internalizing the sanctity of its very soil, and experiencing the bond between agriculture, nature, Torah, and Judaism. Outside of Israel, this principle can be put into practice only in part, but it can be fully actualized in Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey.
Perhaps this is the joyous aspect of Tu Be’Shevat and why there is a custom to refrain from reciting tachanun on the New Year for trees. Just like any new year, it is a date of new opportunities, anticipation with a measure of trepidation on the one hand, but also a sense of satisfaction with the year that has just ended. On Tu Be’Shevat we rejoice with the fruit of the Land of Israel: joy over the bond between the physical and spiritual world, happiness with the blossoming new fruit and with eating the holy fruit of the Land of Israel that grew over the past year, which involve many mitzvot. Perhaps today we can also rejoice over the flourishing of the Jewish People upon our return to Zion.
The bond between the physical (agricultural) and spiritual (halachic) is our focus at the Torah VeHa’aretz Institute on a daily basis. We are the halachic address for farmers, rabbis, and homeowners who want to know how to grow vegetables, fruit, and other produce in the Land of Israel while observing the halachot related to the mitzvot tied to the Land of Israel. Many agricultural-halachic developments have been produced by the Torah VeHa’aretz Institute over its past 30 years, and we are looking forward to developing many more in the future, with G-d’s help.
The English Department provides guided agricultural-halachic tours in English to tourists and Israelis who want to experience, first-hand, the application of the mitzvottied to the Land of Israel. We also offer lectures, answer halachic queries, translate halachic materials into English (available on our English website), and more.