Tu b’Shevat harder to spell than Chanukah (Hanukkah?)

How do you spell Tu b’Shvat, Jewish Arbor Day?

Answer wisely, lest you be on the receiving end of an orthographical smackdown. 

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More so than the Chanukah vs. Hanukkah debate, the debate over the Jewish New Year for the trees rages on.

Jewish environmental organization Hazon learned this the hard way after defending its spelling of Tu B’Shvat from a 2011 critique by Jewschool blogger Mah Rabu.

But with the tenacity of an annual plant, Mah Rabu’s argument sprouted anew this year, as the blogger busted out the grammar school like a ruler to the wrist:

In Hebrew, a word may not begin with two shevas. (A sheva is the vowel that looks like a colon underneath the letter; depending on context, it is pronounced either not at all or like the English schwa.) Therefore, if one of the prefixes b-, k-, or l- is placed on a word beginning with a sheva, the prefix letter gets a chirik (the “ee” vowel, represented by a single dot under the letter) instead of a sheva. For example, the name of the month of Sh’vat (uniquely among all the Hebrew months) begins with a sheva, so when the prefix B- is attached to the month, you get Bishvat (or BiShvat or biShvat or Bi-Shvat or BeeShvat — however you want to write it).

To be clear, this is a Hebrew grammar issue; it is NOT a transliteration issue…

I’m writing this post while cowering beneath my desk, thinking JTA could be next on Mah Rabu’s grammatical hit list for our current style, Tu b’Shevat with a lowercase b.

"That’s the spelling I’ve known forever," JTA’s copy editor of more than six years stated. "We spell everything with a "b-apostrophe," citing "Lag b’Omer" as an example.

JTA has a modestly plausible excuse: in 1966, the American Jewish Press Association designated "Hamisha Asar b’Shvat" the preferred spelling of the holiday.

In truth, JTA’s spelling of the holiday has changed more often than the leaves on the trees. A sample from our earlier years:

the 15th of Shevat (1924)
Chamisho Osor B’Sh’vat (1926)
Chamisho Osor D’shevat (1927)
Chamisho Osor Bishevat (1928)
Chamisho Osor B’Shevat (19281930, 1933)
Chamishah Asar B’Shvat (1933)
Chamesha Asar B’Shevat (1934)
Chamisha Asar Beshvat (1934)
Chamisho Osor be-Shvat (1941)
Tu B’Shevat (1961)
Tu Bishvat (1962)

To read more about JTA’s historical coverage of the holiday, try the following search query: 
"hamisho" OR "chamisho" OR "chamishah" OR "chamisha" OR "b’shevat" OR "shevath" OR "shvath" OR "shevat" OR "sh’vat" OR "sh’vath" OR "b’shvat" OR "bishvat" OR "bishevat" OR "bishevath" OR "bishvath"

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