Counting from 1st of Tishri (Rosh Hashanah), The second new year is 15 Shevat, the New Year for trees. Most Jewish sources consider 15 Shevat as the New Year both for designating fruits as orlah (that is, forbidden to eat, because they have grown during the first three years after a tree’s planting) and for separating fruits for tithing. (Some sources, however, consider 1 Tishrei to be the new year for orlah and 15 Shevat for tithing.) This date was selected “because most of the winter rains are over” (Rosh Hashanah 14a), the sap has begun to rise, and the fruit has started to ripen. Fruits that have just begun to ripen–from the blossoming stage up to one third of full growth–are attributed to the previous year, whereas fruits that are more mature on 15 Shevat apply to the upcoming year. As with vegetables and grains, fruits that budded during one “fiscal year” could not be used as tithes on those that budded in another year.
The 15th of Shevat has become a minor holiday, Tu Bishevat. On this day, it is customary to eat, for the first time, a fruit from the new season, particularly one typical of the Land of Israel, and to say the Shehecheyanu blessing. In Ashkenazi communities in Europe, it was customary to eat 15 different kinds of fruits. The Sephardic mystics of Safed in the 16th century expanded the Tu Bishevat observance with a seder that uses the symbolism of fruit with and without shells to enact the process of opening up to God’s holiness. In modern Israel, Tu Bishevat has come to symbolize the redemption of the land and the awakening of environmental awareness through the planting of trees.
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