This article is part of Rabbi Lerner's "Kol HaShoneh Halachot" email list. To subscribe, click here.
The Mishna at the beginning of Masechet Rosh Hashana lists four “New Years”. The final Rosh Hashana, the one for “trees”, is in the month of Shvat. According to Beit Shammai it occurs on the first of Shvat, while according to Beit Hillel on the fifteenth. (Hence, the term Tu B’Shvat, where the numerical value of Tu equals fifteen.) As is often the case, the halacha follows Beit Hillel. What is the significance of the fifteenth of Shvat? The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 14a) explains that by this date most of the rainy season in Eretz Yisrael has already passed. (Rabbenu Chananel makes the following calculation. According to the Gemara Ta’anit (6a) the main rains begin to fall in mid Marcheshvan, and theoretically are in season until the end of Nissan. Tu B’Shvat is, therefore, shortly after the middle of the term.) From this point on, the fruit of the new season begin to grow, and the new year for trees commences.
What are the halachic ramifications of the new year?
Trumot / Ma’asrot- The halacha is that one cannot separate fruit as truma or ma’aser on behalf of other fruit, unless all the fruit are from the same year. Consequently, fruit that began to grow in a given calendar year after Tu B’Shvat cannot be separated as truma or ma’aser for fruit that began to grow before Tu B’Shvat. Additionally, in the third and sixth year of the shmitah cycle, one separates ma’aser ani, instead of ma’aser shaini. For trees, the year begins on Tu B’Shvat. The year 5768 is a shmitah year (year #7). Therefore, fruit that began to grow before Tu B’Shvat 5767 is considered 5th year fruit and one separates ma’aser shaini. If it began to grow after Tu B’Shvat 5767 one would separate ma’aser ani.
Shmitah – The role that Tu B’Shvat plays in determining the shmitah status of fruit is a matter of dispute among the Rishonim. Rabbenu Chananel (Rosh Hashana 15b) writes that fruit that began to grow before Tu B’Shvat 5768 does not have the kedusha of shmitah fruit. However, any fruit that began to grow between Tu B’Shvat 5768 and Tu B’Shvat 5769 is considered to be shmitah fruit. The Rambam (Hilchot Shmitah 4:9) disagrees. Regarding shmitah, Tu B’Shvat is irrelevant. Any fruit that began to grow between the first of Tishrei 5768 and the first of Tishrei 5769 is shmitah fruit. R’ Shimshon of Shantz (Sifra, B’har 1:4) has a third opinion. Any fruit which began to grow between the first of Tishrei 5768 and Tu B’Shvat 5769 would be considered shmitah fruit. Many Achronim accept the Rambam’s psak (Minchat Chinuch 328:4; Pe’at Hashulchan 22:9; Chazon Ish, Shviit 4:13).
The halacha regarding an etrog is more complex. The Gemara Rosh Hashana (15 a-b) quotes a Tanaitic dispute whether the year of the etrog is determined by its earliest growth stage or when it is harvested. The Rambam (Shmitah 4:12) accepts the latter opinion. Accordingly an etrog that grew entirely in 5767 and was harvested right after Rosh Hashana 5768 would be considered a shmitah etrog. Although many disagree and the normative halacha is that the shmitah year is determined by the earliest growth, nevertheless the Rambam’s opinion is an accepted chumra (Chazon Ish, Shviit 7:10). To avoid this problem, the etrogim that will be marketed for Sukkot 5768 will be harvested prior to Rosh Hashana.
Orlah – Fruit grown during the first three years after planting is considered Orlah and one may not benefit from it. How does one determine the three years? If the tree was planted at least 44 days before Rosh Hashana 5767, year #1 ends at Rosh Hashana 5767, year #2 at Rosh Hashana 5768, but year #3 does not end until Tu B’Shvat 5769. Any fruit that began to grow prior to this date will be considered Orlah. (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 294:4) If the tree was planted less than 44 days before Rosh Hashana 5768, according to the Rambam (Ma’aser Shaini 9:11), Tu B’Shvat is no longer relevant. Year #1 ends at Rosh Hashana 5768, year #2 at Rosh Hashana 5769, and year #3 at Rosh Hashana 5770. The Ba’al Hamaor and others (Rosh Hashana 10a) disagree. In their view, year #3 will not end until Tu B’Shvat 5770. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 294:5) quotes both opinions. The Chazon Ish (Dinei Orlah) writes that in Eretz Yisrael one should be machmir like the Ba’al Hamaor, but in Chutz L’Aretz one may be lenient like the Rambam. And those who adopt the Rambam’s leniency even in Eretz Yisrael have whom to rely on.