Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Tu Bishvat
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Why do Trees Need a New Year?

We all know that Tu Bi'Shvat is the "Rosh Hashanah" for trees, but what does that mean? Halachot of "ARLAH".


Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

We all know that Tu Bi’Shvat is the "Rosh Hashanah" for trees, but what does that mean? Do the trees ignite fireworks on their New Year? Does Hashem judge their deeds and misdeeds and grant them a fruitful year or otherwise, chas v’shalom? As an aside, the judgment of trees is on Shavuos, not Tu Bi’Shvat (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 16a.) Do the trees coronate Hashem as their King on their Rosh Hashanah? Is the only halacha ramification to eat all kinds of fruit on Tu Bi’Shvat?

Obviously, since trees have no free choice, the Heavenly Tribunal does not judge them on their Rosh Hashanah, yet the arboreal New Year does have major halachic ramifications other than the popular custom of eating fruit.

Here are some halachic inquiries, whose answers are influenced by Tu Bi’Shvat:

Question #1: Arlah

Introduction: The Torah (VaYikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years, and this prohibition is as severe as that against eating pork. This mitzvah applies whether the tree grew in Eretz Yisroel or in Chutz La’Aretz, although the halachos relating to arlah are more lenient for trees growing in Chutz La’Aretz (Mishnah Arlah 3:9). I am required to burn the forbidden fruit to guarantee that no one benefits from it (Mishnah Temurah 33b), and I should remove it from the tree as soon as it begins to grow to prevent someone from mistakenly eating it (heard from Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt"l).

The Shaylah.
Dateline: New York

During Av, 5764 (August 2004), Miriam purchased a pear tree from a nursery, which was neatly wrapped with a ball of earth surrounding its roots. While the gardener was planting the tree in her yard, much of the attached earth fell off. Although the tree is already several years old, since it could not survive without any additional soil, we consider it halachically as a new tree. Therefore, its arlah count begins anew and all fruit that grows during the next three years of this tree’s life are not kosher. Miriam would like to know when to begin enjoying the fruits of her labors, that is, when the three years end so that fruit that sets after this date is permitted.

If the earth ball remained intact while the tree was transplanted, then whether the arlah count begins anew is the subject of a halachic dispute. One factor is how much earth must remain with the tree [based on Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 294:13].

Question #2: Revai’i

Introduction: The Torah (VaYikra 19:24) teaches that the fruit a tree produces during its fourth year (the year following its arlah years) has a unique halachic status called revai’i. One may eat this fruit only within the original city walls of Yerushalayim and only if one is tahor, a status that is unattainable today as we have no ashes of parah adumah. However, the Torah permitted us to redeem revai’i in a special procedure, after which one may eat it anywhere and even if one is tamei. (Note that the current city walls, built by the Turks, probably have little relationship to the halachic kedusha of the city. Much of the Holy City probably lies outside these walls, particularly its southeastern section, and the western part within the current walls is probably not part of halachic Yerushalayim.)

There are two interesting disputes regarding the mitzvah of revai’i. The first, mentioned in the Gemara (Brachos 35a), is whether the mitzvah of revai’i applies only to grapes or to all fruits. A second dispute is whether the mitzvah of revai’i applies outside the land of Israel, like the mitzvah of arlah, or whether it follows the general rule of most other agricultural mitzvos and it applies only in Eretz Yisroel (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Brachos 35a s.v. ulimaan; Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:28).

The Shaylah.
Dateline: Baltimore

Rachamim, who was born in Iran and follows Sefardic practice, knows that Beryl, his Ashkenazi neighbor, celebrated his move into the neighborhood four years ago by planting grapes and an apple tree in his yard. Do the halachos of revai’i apply to the fruits these trees produce this year? If they do, what determines which fruits are included in this mitzvah and which are not.


Now that we have some background to the halachic issues, we can discuss what Tu Bi’Shvat has to do with these questions.

Miriam, who planted her tree in Av 5764 (August, ’04) wanted to know when the pears produced by her tree are no longer arlah. According to the calendar, her tree is not yet three years old, and therefore she assumed that its fruit is arlah. However, this is not accurate, because the three-year count for arlah sometimes includes partial years as I will explain. How does one determine this?

There is a dispute in the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10b) how to calculate this. The accepted halacha is that any tree planted before the 16th of Av is considered to have begun its first year of growth that year until Rosh Hashana (Rambam, Hil. Maaser Sheni 9:10; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 294:4; cf., however, Chazon Ish [Shvi’is 17:29] who calculates everything a day later). Chazal teach us that this partial year is enough to be counted as the first year for arlah purposes. Thus, if Miriam planted her tree on the 15th of Av or earlier, the year 5764 counts as the first year of the tree’s life, 5765 as the second, and 5766 as the third. However, the third year does not end at Rosh Hashanah of 5767. Since Tu Bi’Shvat is the "New Year" for trees, fruits that begin to appear before Tu Bi’Shvat of 5767 are prohibited as arlah. Thus, we see how Tu Bi’Shvat has major halachic ramifications. Fruits that appear before Tu Bi’Shvat of 5767 are arlah and prohibited; those that appear afterwards are permitted.


Indeed, in most colder parts of the northern hemisphere, the difference between Rosh Hashanah and Tu Bi’Shvat does not really make much difference, since most fruit trees do not appear in the fall or winter. However, this does affect trees growing in the southern hemisphere, where summer begins in late December, and also affects certain early fruit producers in warmer climates such as some citrus trees, shesek [loquat], peach, and almond.


Thus, someone who planted a tree in Santiago, Melbourne, or Johannesburg (all of which have thriving Jewish communities) should pay attention to whether the tree began producing fruit before Tu Bi’Shvat or after. Some fruits growing on the same tree may be prohibited as arlah, and others are permitted.


Previously I wrote that one counts 5764 as the first year for a tree that was planted before the 16th of Av of that year, but not if the tree was planted afterwards. What is special about the 16th of Av?

The year 5764 can only count as the first year of this tree’s life if thirty days passed before Rosh Hashanah after the tree took root. Chazal assume that this usually happens if the tree was planted before the 15th of Av; however, if one could somehow determine that the tree had already formed new roots prior to the 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, the year 5764 would still count as its first year (Chazon Ish, Dinei Arlah #6).

What if Miriam planted her tree later?

If Miriam did not plant her tree until after Tu Bi’Shvat of the year 5765, then 5765 is its first year, 5766 its second year, and 5767 is its third year, and all produce of these years is prohibited as arlah. In addition, fruits appearing before Tu Bi’Shvat of 5768 will also be prohibited.

What if she planted her tree between the 16th of Av and the 15th of Shvat?

The poskim dispute what are the halachos concerning the fruit of this tree.

(1) According to the Rambam and Raavad (Hilchos Maaser Sheni 9:11), a tree planted between the 16th of Av and Rosh Hashanah ends its third year on Rosh Hashanah beginning the fourth year, not the Tu Bi’Shvat following. Thus a tree planted in Elul 5764 becomes permitted on Rosh Hashanah of 5768; fruit that appears on this tree after Rosh Hashanah is not prohibited as arlah.

According to Rambam, if the tree was planted between Rosh Hashanah and Tu Bi’Shvat one counts exactly three years from its planting (Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:13; cf. Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Maaser Sheni 9:12). He contends that arlah for these trees will never apply for longer than three full years.

(2) Raavad contends that a tree planted between the 16th of Av and Rosh Hashanah ends its third year on Rosh Hashanah beginning the fourth year; if it is planted after Rosh Hashanah, it becomes permitted on the Tu Bi’Shvat following. In his opinion, there are two potential cutoff dates for arlah, Tu Bi’Shvat and Rosh Hashanah, and they will permit the tree if it is already three years old. Thus a tree planted in Elul 5764 becomes permitted on Rosh Hashanah of 5768 and a tree planted during the beginning of 5765 becomes permitted on Tu Bi’Shvat of 5768.

(3) Other Rishonim contend that the cutoff date for all arlah is Tu Bi’Shvat. In their opinion any tree planted after the 15th of Av and before Tu Bi’Shvat does not become permitted until three Tu Bi’Shvat’s have passed. (Baal HaMaor and Ran to Rosh Hashanah 10a). According to this opinion, a tree planted after 15th of Av 5764 and before Tu Bi’Shvat 5765 produces forbidden fruits until Tu Bi’Shvat of 5768.

Shaylah #2:

Rachamim knows that his neighbor Beryl planted grapes and an apple tree in his yard when he moved in four years ago, and now the tree is producing fruit. Do the halachos of revai’i applied to this fruit?

When the mitzvah of revai’i applies, it always applies to the crop year produced in the first year when the tree is no longer producing arlah fruits (Rambam, Maaser Sheni 9:11). Therefore, on a tree planted during the summer of 5764 before the 15th of Av, the arlah period ends on Tu Bi’Shvat of 5767; the fruit produced between Tu Bi’Shvat of 5767 and Tu Bi’Shvat of 5768 are growing in the revai’i year. (According to Rambam’s opinion that the arlah year may end on different dates depending on when the tree was planted, revai’i ends exactly a year later.)


There are three opinions among the poskim:

(1) Revai’i applies to the fruit of all trees growing outside Eretz Yisroel.

(2) Revai’i applies only to grapes, but not to other fruit trees of Chutz La’Aretz.

(3) Revai’i does not apply in Chutz La’Aretz.

How do we paskin?

Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 294:7) quotes the 1st and 3rd opinions, but rules primarily like the 1st opinion that the mitzvah of revai’i does apply outside of Eretz Yisroel. Rama and Gra both rule like the 2nd opinion that it applies for grapes even outside of Eretz Yisroel, but not for other fruits. Therefore, Ashkenazim may be lenient not to redeem fourth year fruits grown outside of Eretz Yisroel other than grapes, but Sefardim are required to redeem them. Thus Beryl must redeem the grapes that grow in the fourth year but not his apples; however, Rachamim may not eat the apples without first redeeming them. For advice on redeeming these fruits, please consult your Rav.

Two more Tu BiShvat rules: Maasros

Among the wonderful mitzvos that Hashem granted us concerning Eretz Yisroel are the separating of terumos and maasros. This requires separating terumah, maaser rishon (usually called simply "maaser"), and then a second maaser, which, depending on the year, is either maaser sheni or maaser ani.

Each of these items, terumah, maaser rishon, maaser sheni and maaser ani, has its own unique halachos. Terumah has a tremendous level of sanctity which permits it to be eaten only by a kohen or his family members, and only when they are tahor. Since we cannot become tahor today, no one may eat terumah. Unlike revai’i, one cannot redeem terumah. If the terumah becomes tamei one should burn it; if it is tahor, one must be careful to put it where no one will use it until it decomposes, either by burying it (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331), by wrapping it carefully and disposing of it in a place where no one will use it (Kuntros Terumos, published in Derech Emunah, Vol. 3 pg. 754) or by allowing it to rot in a place where no one will get to it (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129).

The owner of the crops gives the maaser rishon to a levi, who then separates one tenth of the maaser rishon, which is called terumas maaser, and gives the terumas maaser to a kohen. Whereas the terumas maaser has the same sanctity as terumah, the rest of the maaser rishon (after the terumas maaser has been separated from it) has no sanctity and is the property of the levi. Anyone, even a non-levi, may eat it whether or not the person or the fruit is tamei.

During the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years of the seven year shmittah cycle, the second maaser that is separated is maaser sheni, which has halachos very similar to revai’i and therefore must be redeemed. Immediately prior to redeeming these fruits, recite a bracha, asher kidishanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu al pidyon maaser sheni (Rambam, Hilchos Maaser Sheni 4:3).

During the other years, that is the 3rd and 6th years of the shmittah cycle, we give this second maaser to poor people and it has no sanctity. Thus, the poor person may give it away or sell it to anyone and may eat it when tamei.

Note that since the New Year for trees is --- Tu Bi’Shvat, that fruits that appear before Tu Bi’Shvat are considered to be from the previous year’s calculation, and those appearing afterwards are from the next year.

There is also another maasros question that is germane to Tu Bi’Shvat. Tu Bi’Shvat functions as the cutoff point between two crop years, and the halacha is that one cannot separate terumah or maasros from one crop year on the next. This can have interesting ramifications for fruits that appear just about Tu Bi’Shvat time, such as peach, loquat or almond. One could easily have a tree containing some fruit that appeared before Tu Bi’Shvat and some afterwards. This creates a shaylah and dispute whether one can separate terumah and maasros from the earlier fruit on the same tree for the late bloomers on the same tree.

Thus, we have now learned four different halachos where Tu Bi’Shvat makes a difference:

(1) The last date for determining whether a tree is producing forbidden arlah fruit or not is usually the day before Tu Bi’Shvat. Once Tu Bi’Shvat of the fourth year arrives, the fruits appearing after this point are permitted.

(2) Fruits of the fifth year of a tree’s life do not have the sanctity of revai’i; those of the fourth year do. The determining date whether these fruits are considered 4th year or 5th year fruits is usually Tu Bi’Shvat.

(3) Dependent on which year a fruit grows is whether one must separate maaser sheni from it or maaser ani. Tu Bi’Shvat determines whether the fruit is obligated in maaser sheni or maaser ani.

(4) Tu Bi’Shvat determines which crop year a fruit belongs to, and this affects how one separates terumah and maasros.

While nibbling on the fruit on Tu Bi’Shvat this Shabbos, we should think through the different halachic ramifications that affect us, and include this education as part of our Shabbos table conversation.

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
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