Tu b’Shvat: Celebrating the Impregnation of Mother Earth

In Jewish tradition, when do we celebrate conception?

This question is answered by the Jewish New Year for trees: Tu b’Shvat.

Tonight (Sunday January 24) starts the Jewish New Year for Trees. It is commonly referred to as Tu b’Shvat which simply means the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat.

It almost was known as Echad b’Shvat, the first of Shvat.

2500 years ago, two of our great sages, Shammai and Hillel, argued over when the new year for trees should be.

In our sacred text called the Talmud, Rashi, a sage from 1000 years ago explained that what they were arguing over was when we celebrate conception.

To summarize the debate: In Israel, Shvat is the middle month of winter and most of the rain has fallen by the first of Shvat. Nobody questions this, or the analogy that the rain is like sperm coming down and impregnating mother earth.

Since most of the rain has fallen by the first, everyone agrees that the earth has conceived by then.

Shammai believed that we should not wait to celebrate conception and so the new year for trees should be on the first.

Hillel disagreed with him. He believed that we should wait until we could see some outward appearance of conception, and then celebrate.

One of the interesting things about the Jewish tradition is that it can hold multiple truths at the same time, even when they contradict. Hence both opinions are true and accurate.

If it was possible, we would celebrate conception both when it occurred and when it was first noticeable.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where a second celebration of a wondrous event is like a balloon with all of the air let out of it.

So, we have to make a decision as to which day to celebrate. 2000 years ago, our sages decided to celebrate worldly conception on the 15th of Shvat, on Tu b’Shvat. It makes sense to celebrate global conception on a communal level.

But what about on a personal level?

When will you celebrate conception, when it happens or when it starts to show? Please leave your answer below and keep in mind this does not have to be conceiving of just a child. It could also be the conceiving of an idea or a dream or a goal or a project, or even watering a single seed that germinates.

If you enjoyed this post and want to receive more of them, simply fill out the form below.

About the Author

Picture of Shmuel Shalom Cohen Shmuel Shalom Cohen spent 10 years studying Torah in Jerusalem. Six years ago, he started Conscious Torah to help Jews connect to their tradition in ways they didn’t think possible. Shmuel also started, and is the executive directory of Jewish Events Willamette-valley, a non-profit whose mission is to build Jewish community, pride, and learning. In his free time, Shmuel likes walks in nature, playing music, writing poetry, and time with good friends.


Tu b’Shvat: Celebrating the Impregnation of Mother Earth — 6 Comments

  1. Well, since you’re asking, it seems premature to celebrate conception of any kind before we’re sure it’s happened, and we can’t know that impregnation has taken place until we see some sign of quickening.
    Therefore, I agree with Hillel- not bad company to be in.
    You’re probably aware that Pagans- at least those who follow Celtic traditions- celebrate the Festival of Imbolc, on February 1st, or halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. What makes this of interest here, is that it is associated with (depending on who you ask)the conception, or the birthing, of lambs, and the beginning of Spring. This point in the Yearwheel has been celebrated back to Neolithic times, and there are stone features across Northern Europe that align to allow a ray of sunlight through on this day.
    By the way, here in California, and where you are, as well, we sincerely hope that the rains are not over. We ask for a couple month’s more, at least, stopping in time for Opening Day, Baseball Gods willing.
    Thanks, as always, for the teaching, and be well.

    • Thank you Buff. Your comments are always well thought out, informative, and at least make me smile if not laugh.

      I agree it is silly to celebrate until we know for sure. The question is: can we know before there is an outward appearance. Being a guy, I can’t answer that. Any women out there want to help us out? Do you know if you are pregnant before there is any external sign?

      Shmuel Shalom

    • Thank you Beverly. Your knowledge challenges Buff’s assumption and lends support for Shammai’s position. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *