Monday, February 9, 2009

CAT (Commonly Ambiguous Term) Tu B’shvat

Today is Tu B’shvat (the Hebrew calendar date: 15th of Shvat=ט''ו בשבט) and everyone knows that it is the Jewish tree hugging holiday. And some of you may even know that it is really the Rosh HaShanah for trees. But why does a tree need a Rosh HaShanah? Should I go outside and blow shofar for the trees in my yard? A quick look at the original source  for Tu B’shvat should clear up a lot of confusion. (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:1)

באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי בית שמאי בית הלל אומרים בחמשה עשר בו.

Beit Shammai says that the Rosh HaShanah for trees is on the first of Shvat. Beit Hillel says that it is on the 15th of Shvat.

We once again posken the halakhah of this machloket like Beit Hillel and celebrate the new year for trees on the 15th of Shvat. The Mefarshim of the Mishnah tell us what we are actually celebrating: the arcane subject of Terumat and Ma’asrot (agricultural tithes). The halakhah is that you can only tithe fruit that has grown in the same calendar year. Tu B’shvat marks the beginning of that calendar year. Thus, apples that grew in the month of Tishrei cannot be grouped together with apples that grew in the following month of Adar. Those apples are from separate years and must be tithed individually. All of you fellow Israelis, any fruit that has started budding today cannot be be tithed with any fruit you may have sitting around in your refrigerators. Please consult your LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi) for any halakhah l'maaseh questions.

One last note - the halakhik term fruit applies to produce that grows on trees. (That is why we say tree hugging and not vine hugging.) Olives are halakhik fruit, but strawberries are not.

Happy Tu B’shvat.

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