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My six articles related to Tu Bishvat

My 6 articles related to Tu Bishvat are below. You can scroll down to read each one.

1. Why Is This Night Different?: Thoughts on Tu Bishvat

2. Preserving the Sacred Environment: A Religious Imperative – A Tu Bishvat Message

3. Lessons From Trees: a Tu Bishvat Message

4. Celebrating Tu Bishvat as if Environmental Sustainability Matters

5. For Tu Bishvat: 36 Jewish Quotations About Trees

6. Tu Bishvat and Veganism

(Suggestions very welcome)

1. Why Is This Night Different?: Thoughts on Tu Bishvat

      One of the highlights of the Passover seder is the recitation of the four questions which consider how the night of Passover differs from all the other nights of the year. Similar questions are appropriate for Tu Bishvat, which starts on Sunday evening, January 20, in 2019, because of the many ways that this holiday differs from Passover and all other nights of the year.

     While people drink four cups of red wine (or grape juice) at the Passover seder, the four cups of wine at the Tu Bishvat seder vary in color from white to pink to ruby to red.

     While Passover is a holiday of springtime, Tu Bishvat considers the changing seasons from winter to autumn, as symbolized by the changing colors of the wine or grape juice, to remind us of God’s promise of renewal and rebirth.

     While Passover commemorates the redemption of the Israelites, Tu Bishvat considers the redemption of humanity, as the kabbalists of Safed who inaugurated the Tu Bishvat seder regarded the eating of the many fruits with appropriate blessings and kavannah (intentions) on Tu Bishvat as a tikkun (repair) for the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

     While other Jewish holidays honor or commemorate events and people, Tu Bishvat honors trees, fruits, and other aspects of nature.

While people generally eat whatever fruits are in season, on Tu Bishvat people try to eat fruits from Israel, especially fruits mentioned in the Torah.

     While people generally take the environment for granted, on Tu Bishvat there is an emphasis on the proper stewardship of the environment and related Jewish teachings.

     While people do not generally think about trees in the winter, there is much interest in trees on Tu Bishvat, although the spring is still months away.

     While people generally think of Israel as the land of the Bible, as the Jewish people’s ancestral home, and as the modern Jewish homeland, on Tu Bishvat people think of Israel in terms of its orchards, vineyards, and olive groves.

     While people generally think of fruit as something to be purchased at a supermarket or produce store, on Tu Bishvat people think of fruit as tokens of God’s kindness.

     While people generally try to approach God through prayer, meditation, and study, on Tu Bishvat people try to reach God by eating fruit, reciting blessings with the proper intentions, and by considering the wonders of God’s creation.

     While many people eat all kinds of food including meat and dairy products during most Jewish holidays and on most other days, the Tu Bishvat seder in which fruits and nuts are eaten, along with the singing of songs and the recitation of Biblical verses related to trees and fruits, is the only sacred meal where only vegetarian, actually vegan, foods are eaten as part of the ritual.

      While people generally look on the onset of a new year as a time to assess how they have been doing and to consider their hopes for the new year, Tu Bishvat is the New Year for Trees, when the fate of trees is decided.

     While most Jewish holidays have a fixed focus, Tu Bishvat has changed over the years from a holiday that initially marked the division of the year for tithing purposes to one in which successively the eating of fruits, then the planting of trees in Israel, and most recently, responses to modern environmental crises have became major parts of the holiday.

     Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once quipped that the most important Jewish holidays are the ones that are least celebrated. While there has been increasing interest in Tu Bishvat recently, this holiday that is so rich in symbolism and important messages for today, is still not considered to any great extent by most Jews. Let us hope that this will soon change and that an increased emphasis on Tu Bishvat and its important lessons will help revitalize Judaism and help shift our precious, but imperiled, planet onto a sustainable path.

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2. Preserving the Sacred Environment: A Religious Imperative – a Tu Bishvat Message

Many contemporary Jews look upon Tu Bishvat (January 20 -21 in 2019) as a Jewish Earth Day, a day for contemplating our ecological heritage – and the multitude of threats our planet currently faces.

An ancient midrash has become all too relevant today:

              “In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

Today’s environmental threats can be compared in many ways to the Biblical ten plagues, which appear in the Torah portions read on the Shabbats immediately preceding Tu Bishvat. When we consider the threats to our land, water, and air, pesticides and other chemical pollutants, resource scarcities, threats to our climate, etc., we can easily enumerate ten modern “plagues.” Unfortunately, like the ancient Pharaoh, our hearts have been hardened, by the greed, materialism, and wastefulness that are at the root of these threats. And, in contrast to the biblical plagues, modern plagues are all occurring simultaneously, and there is no modern Goshen as a refuge, where most of these plagues do not occur.

The sacred environment 

The Talmudic sages express a sense of sanctity toward the environment: “The atmosphere (air) of the land of Israel makes one wise.” (Baba Batra 158b) They assert that people’s role is to enhance the world as “partners of God in the work of creation.” (Shabbat 10a) The rabbis indicate great concern for preserving the environment and preventing pollution: “It is forbidden to live in a town which has no garden or greenery.” (Kiddushin 4:12; 66d) Threshing floors are to be placed far enough from a town so that the town is not dirtied by chaff carried by winds. (Baba Batra 2:8) Tanneries are to be kept at least 50 cubits from a town and to be placed only on its eastern side, so that odors are not carried by the prevailing winds from the west. (Baba Batra 2:8)

“The Earth is the Lord’s” (Psalms 24:1)

We are the stewards of God’s Earth, responsible to see that its produce is available for all God’s children. Property is a sacred trust given by God; it must be used to fulfill God’s purposes.

The story is told of two men who were fighting over a piece of land. Each claimed ownership and bolstered his claim with apparent proof. To resolve their differences, they agreed to put the case before the rabbi. The rabbi listened but could come to any decision because both seemed to be right. Finally he said, “Since I cannot decide to whom this land belongs, let us ask the land.” He put his ear to the ground and, after a moment, straightened up. “Gentlemen, the land says it belongs to neither of you but that you belong to it.”

“Thou shall not destroy”

The prohibition not to waste or destroy unnecessarily anything of value (bal tashchit – “thou shalt not destroy”) is based on concern for fruit-bearing trees, as indicated in the following Torah statement:

 When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you under siege? Only trees that you know to not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been destroyed. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20)

This prohibition against destroying fruit-bearing trees in time of warfare was extended by the Jewish sages. It is forbidden to cut down even a barren tree or to waste anything if no useful purpose is accomplished. (Sefer Ha-Chinuch 530)

The sages of the Talmud made a general prohibition against waste: “Whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs up a fountain, or destroys food violates the prohibition of bal tashchit” (Kiddushin 32a)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 19th century philosopher and author, states that bal tashchit is the first and most general call of God: We are to “regard things as God’s property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing!” He indicates further that destruction includes using more things (or things of greater value) than are necessary to obtain one’s aim. (Horeb; Chapter 56)

Ecological balance

It has become customary to recite psalms on Tu Bishvat, among them Psalm 104. This psalm speaks of God’s concern and care extended to all creatures, and illustrates that God created the entire earth as a unity, in ecological balance:

You make springs gush forth in torrents; they make their way between the hills, giving drink to all the wild beasts; the wild asses slake their thirst. The birds of the sky dwell beside them and sing among the foliage. You water the mountains from Your lofts; the earth is sated from the fruit of Your work. You make the grass grow for the cattle, and herbage for man’s labor, that he may get food out of the earth, wine that cheers the hearts of men, oil that makes the face shine, and bread that sustains man’s life. (Psalm 104: 10 -15)

Tu Bishvat is indeed an appropriate time to apply Judaism’s powerful ethic of reverence for God’s creation, conservation and sustainability, to help move our precious, but imperiled, planet onto a sustainable path.

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3. Lessons From Trees: a Tu Bishvat Message

Some of my most important lessons in life I learned from Jewish verses about trees.

From the following I learned that I should be an environmental activist, working to help preserve the world:

 In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

From the following and the rabbinic commentaries on it I learned that I should avoid destruction and should conserve resources:

 When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat of them, but you must not cut them down; for is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20)

The following Torah message helped convince me that I should be a vegan:

And God said: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit — to you it shall be for food.”   (Genesis 1:29)

From the following I learned that as a Jew I should strive to serve as a positive example

 And they [bnei Yisrael] came to Elim, where were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees; and they encamped here by the waters. (Deuteronomy 15:27)  Rabeynu Bachya saw a much deeper message. He stated that the 12 springs represented the 12 tribes and the 70 palm trees represented the 70 then nations of the world. He stated that just as the 12 springs nourished the 70 palm trees, the 12 tribes (the Jewish people) should serve to ‘nourish’ the world by serving as a good example.

    From the following I learned to consider the consequences of my actions on future generations:

While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.” (Ta’anis 23b)

     From the following I learned how important it is to be involved in the natural world:

In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the beauties of nature – meadows full of flowers, majestic mountains, flowing rivers. For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people. (Rabbi Abraham ben Maimonides, cited by Rabbi David E. Stein in A Garden of Choice Fruits, Shomrei Adamah, 1991).

     From the following I learned the importance of acting on my knowledge and beliefs:

Whoever has more wisdom than deeds is like a tree with many branches but few roots, and the wind shall tear him from the ground… Whoever has more deeds than wisdom is like a tree with more roots than branches, and no hurricane will uproot him from the spot. (Pirke Avot 3:17)

     From the following I learned the importance of working for a more peaceful world:

 And He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken.  (Micah 4:3-5)

     Last but far from least, from the following I leaned how the Torah is a guide to a happy, productive, and fulfilling life:

    [The Torah is] a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of        pleasantness,  and all its paths are peace.  (Proverbs 3: 17-18)

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4. Celebrating Tu Bishvat as if Environmental Sustainability Matters 

     Since Tu Bishvat, the “New Year for Trees,” has increasingly become a “Jewish Earth Day,” why not use Tu Bishvat Seders as, among other things, a time to consider how we can effectively respond to current environmental crises that threaten all life on the planet?

     The world is rapidly heading toward a climate catastrophe, severe food, water, and energy scarcities, and other environmental disasters. This is a strong consensus of almost all climate scientists and science academies worldwide.

    Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade. All 19 of the warmest years worldwide have occurred since 1998. 

Polar ice caps and glaciers worldwide are melting faster than the worst-case predictions of climate experts. There has been a recent significant increase in the number and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. There have been so many severe climate events in California recently that their governor Jerry Brown declared, “humanity is on a collision course with nature.” Military experts see climate change having a potential multiplier effect for instability, terrorism, and war as tens of millions of desperate, hungry refugees flee from severe climate events.

Everything possible should be done to avert a climate catastrophe and other environmental disasters, because if we don’t, nothing else will matter. Saving the global environment should become a central concern for civilization today, and tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) should become a major focus for all of Jewish life today.

Time is running out for efforts to avert the potential catastrophes. Climate experts believe that we may be very close to a tipping point, when climate change will spiral out of control with disastrous consequences. While many climate experts think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for avoiding a climate catastrophe, we reached 400 ppm in 2014 and are experiencing an increase of two to three ppm per year. While climatologists think that an increase of over 2 degrees Celsius would be disastrous, climate experts project that we are on track to have an increase of at least 4 degrees Celsius, unless major changes soon occur.

Among the many necessary changes, reducing consumption of meat and other animal products is something everyone can do to meaningfully address the problem of climate change. A 2006 UN FAO report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” indicated that animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (GHGs), in CO2 equivalents, than is emitted by all the cars, planes, ships, and other means of transportation worldwide combined. A 2009 cover article in World Watch magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank argued that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced GHGs. This is largely due to the massive destruction of tropical rain forests to produce pasture land and land to grow feed crops for animals and the emission of methane  from farmed animals. During the 20-year periods that methane remains in the atmosphere it is 72 to 105 times as potent in causing warming than CO2 per molecule.

Tu Bishvat is an ideal time to start a dietary shift since the Tu Bishvat seder in which fruits and nuts are eaten, along with the singing of songs and the recitation of Biblical verses related to trees and fruits, is the only sacred meal where only vegetarian, actually vegan, foods are eaten as part of the ritual. Such a shift would be consistent with basic Jewish teachings on protecting human health, treating animals with compassion preserving the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people.

Despite all of the above and much more, there is great denial out there and far from enough is being done to try to avert the potential catastrophes. Most people seem to be “rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, as we head toward a giant iceberg.”

In response to the above points, Jews, preferably in alliance with others, should play a major role in increasing awareness of the threats and how the application of Jewish values, including a shift toward vegan diets, can make a major difference. This would help show the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings and help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path, so we can leave a decent world for future generations

5. For Tu Bishvat: 36 Jewish Quotations About Trees

Since Tu Bishvat is considered the “birthday for trees,” a time when trees are to be judged regarding their fate for the coming year, I hope the following Jewish quotations about trees and fruits will be helpful for celebrations of this increasingly popular holiday.

1. And God said: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit — to you it shall be for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

2. In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

3. When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat of them, but you must not cut the down; for is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it fall. (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20)

4. It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a besieged city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither. Whoever cuts down a fruit-bearing tree is flogged. This penalty is imposed not only for cutting it down during a siege; whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive intent, flogging is incurred. It may be cut down, however, if it causes damage to other trees or to a field belonging to another man or if its value for other purposes is greater. The Law forbids only wanton destruction… Not only one who cuts down trees, but also one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent transgresses the command “you must not destroy.” Such a person is not flogged, but is administered a disciplinary beating imposed by the Rabbis. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8,10)

5. And they came to Elim, where were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees; and they encamped here by the waters. (Deuteronomy 15:27) Rabeynu Bachya saw a much deeper message. He stated that the 12 springs represented the 12 tribes and the 70 palm trees represented the 70 then nations of the world. He stated that just as the 12 springs nourished the 70 palm trees, the 12 tribes (the Jewish people) should serve to “nourish” the world by serving as a good example.

6. Happy is the man … who delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalms 1: 1-3)

7. Whoever has more wisdom than deeds is like a tree with many branches but few roots, and the wind shall tear him from the ground… Whoever has more deeds than wisdom is like a tree with more roots than branches, and no hurricane will uproot him from the spot. (Pirke Avot 3:17)

8. While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

9. And I will restore my people Israel and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine, they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit. (Amos 9:14)

10. And He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken.

      For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. (Micah 4:3-5)

11. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane-tree, and the larch together; That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:19)

12. And I will turn the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit of them. (Amos 9:14)

13. No part of the date palm is wasted: The fruit is eaten, the embryonic branches (lulav) are used for the Four Species of Sukkot, the mature fronds can cover a sukka, the fibers between the branches can make strong ropes, the leaves can be woven into mats and baskets, the trunks can be used for rafters. Similarly, no one is worthless in Israel: some are scholars, some do good deeds, and some work for social justice. (Midrash Numbers Rabba 3.1)

14. [The Torah compares humans to trees] because, like humans, trees have the power to grow. And as humans have children, so trees bear fruit. And when a human is hurt, cries of pain are heard throughout the world, so when a tree is chopped down, its cries are heard throughout the world. (Rashi)

15. Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and bringing forth a secret of the divine mystery of creation (Rav Kook)

16. In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the beauties of nature – meadows full of flowers, majestic mountains, flowing rivers. For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people. (Rabbi Abraham ben Maimonides, cited by Rabbi David E. Stein in A Garden of Choice Fruits, Shomrei Adamah, 1991).

17. Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)

18. Rabbi Yaakov Said: “When A Person Walks On A Journey Reviewing [A Passage Of The Torah], And Interrupts His Study To Remark: ‘How Beautiful Is This Tree! How Beautiful Is This Plowed Field!’ [The Torah] Considers It As If He Were Guilty Of A Mortal Sin.” (Pirke Avot 3:9) The message here might be that appreciating the beauties of nature should not be considered an interruption of Torah learning, but rather a continuation of it.

19. I shall bring you an example of what this resembles. It is like a man, who wanders in the desert, weak with hunger, exhaustion and thirst, and finds a tree with sweet fruits and shady leaves, beneath which is a source of water. He eats the fruit, drinks the water and rests in the shade. When it comes time to leave, he thinks: “O, tree, how shall I thank you? If I say, “May your fruit be sweet” – they are already sweet; shall I say, “May your shade be beautiful?” – it is so; or, “May your roots find moisture?” – they already have it. So I shall say, “May everything which comes from you resemble you.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit, p.5)

20. It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. (Gittin 57a)

21. [The Torah is] a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17-18)

22. And I will turn the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit of them. (Amos 9:14)

23. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. (Ezekiel 34:27-28)

24. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12)

25. Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a sapling in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah.” (Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b)

26. For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people. (Isaiah 65:22)

27. R’ Abba taught: There is no greater revealing of redemption than that which the verse states: “And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for my people Israel, for they shall soon come.” (Ezekiel 36:8; Talmud Sanhedrin 98a)

28. Rabbi Simon said, “There is no plant without an angel in Heaven tending it and telling it, ‘Grow!'” (Genesis Rabba 10:7).

29. And G-d said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit trees yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is on the earth,” and it was so. And the earth blossomed with grass, herbs and trees, and G-d saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-13)

30. And God said: “Let the earth put forth grass, herb-yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit of its kind.” “Fruit tree” means the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which put forth blossoms and fruit. “Bearing fruit” is the tzaddik, the basis of the world. ‘Of its kind’ means all the human beings who have in them the spirit of holiness, which is the blossom of that tree. This is the covenant of holiness, the covenant of peace — and the faithful enter into that kind and do not depart from it. The Tzaddik generates, and the tree conceives and brings forth fruit of its kind. (Zohar – Bereishit 33a)

31. “My teacher [the holy Arizal] used to say that one must intend while eating the fruits [at the Tu B’Shvat Seder] to repair the sin of Adam who erred by eating fruit from the tree.” (Rabbi Chaim Vital)

32. The tree of life has five hundred thousand kinds of fruit, each differing in taste. The appearance of one fruit is not like the appearance of the other, and the fragrance of one fruit is not like the fragrance of the other. Clouds of glory hover above the tree, and from the four directions winds blow on it, so that its fragrance is wafted from world’s end to world’s end.” (Yalkut Bereishit 2)

33. The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that “On Tu B’Shevat most of the winter rain has already passed, and the roots of the trees begin to suckle from the new rains of the current winter, and no longer suckle from last year’s rains.”

34. How can a person of flesh and blood follow God? … God, from the very beginning of creation, was occupied before all else with planting, as it is written, “And first of all [mi-kedem, usually translated as “in the East”], the Eternal God planted a Garden in Eden [Genesis 2:8] Therefore … occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting (Leviticus Rabbah 25:3).

35. When a tree that bears fruit is cut down, its moan goes from one end of the world to the other, yet no sound is heard (Pirket de-R. Eliezar 34)

36. Rabbi Shimon said, “The shade spread over us by these trees is so pleasant! We must crown this place with words of Torah.” (Zohar, 2:127a)

6. Tu Bishvat and Veganism

     Tu Bishvat is arguably the most vegan of Jewish holidays, because of its many connections to vegetarian themes and concepts:

1. The Tu Bishvat seder in which fruits and nuts are eaten, along with the singing of songs and the recitation of biblical verses related to trees and fruits, is the only sacred meal where only vegan foods are eaten. Hence this meal does not even require the killing of plants, as would be the case if, for example, carrots and bread were eaten. This is consistent with the diet in the Garden of Eden, as indicated by God’s first, completely vegetarian, dietary law:

     And God said: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed   

     which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has 

     seed-yielding fruit–to you it shall be for food.” (Gen.1:29)

2. The Talmud refers to Tu Bishvat as the New Year for Trees. It is considered to be the date on which the fate of trees is decided for the coming year. In recent years, one of the prime ways of celebrating Tu Bishvat, especially in Israel, is through the planting of trees.           

     Vegetarianism also reflects a concern for trees. One of the prime reasons for the destruction of tropical rain forests today is to create pasture land and areas to grow feed crops for cattle. To save an estimated 5 cents on each imported fast food hamburger, we are destroying forest areas in countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica, where at least half of the world’s species of plants and animals live, and threatening the stability of the world’s climate. It has been estimated that every vegetarian saves an acre of forest per year.

3. Both Tu Bishvat and veganism are connected to today’s environmental concerns. Many contemporary Jews look on Tu Bishvat as a Jewish Earth Day, and use Tu Bishvat seders as a chance to discuss how Jewish values can be applied to reduce many of today’s ecological threats. When God created the world, he was able to say, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Everything was in harmony as God had planned, the waters were clean, the air was pure. But what must God think about the world today? What must God think when the rain he sends to nourish our crops is often acid rain due to the many chemicals poured into the air by our industries? when the abundance of species of plants and animals that God created are becoming extinct in tropical rain forests and other threatened habitats, before we are able to even catalog them? when the fertile soil that God provided is rapidly being depleted and eroded? when the climatic conditions that God designed to meet our needs are threatened by climate change? An ancient midrash has become all too relevant today:

            In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

     Today’s environmental threats can be compared in many ways to the Biblical ten plagues, which are in the Torah portions in the weeks immediately preceding Tu Bishvat: When we consider the threats to our land, water, and air, pesticides and other chemical pollutants, resource scarcities, threats to our climate, etc., we can easily enumerate ten modern “plagues”. The Egyptians were subjected to one plague at a time, while the modern plagues are threatening us simultaneously. The Jews in Goshen were spared the Biblical plagues, while every person on earth is imperiled by the modern plagues. Instead of an ancient Pharoah’s heart being hardened, our hearts today have been hardened by the greed, materialism, and waste that are at the root of current environmental threats. God provided the Biblical plagues to free the Israelites, while today we must apply God’s teachings in order to save ourselves and our precious but endangered planet.

     The Talmudic sages assert that people’s role is to enhance the world as “co-partners of God in the work of creation.” (Shabbat 10a) They indicated great concern about preserving the environment and preventing pollution. They state: “It is forbidden to live in a town which has no garden or greenery” (Kiddushin 4:12; 66d). Threshing floors had to be placed far enough from a town so that it would not be dirtied by chaff carried by winds (Baba Batra 2:8). Tanneries had to be kept at least 50 cubits from a town and could be placed only on the east side of a town, so that odors would not be carried by the prevailing winds from the west (Baba Batra 2:8,9). The rabbis express a sense of sanctity toward the environment: “the atmosphere (air) of the land of Israel makes one wise” (Baba Batra 158b). Again, vegetarianism is consistent with this important Jewish environmental concern, since modern intensive livestock agriculture contributes to many current environmental problems, including soil erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, the destruction of habitats, and potential global warming.

4. Tu Bishvat and vegetarianism both reflect the Torah mandate that we are not to waste or destroy unnecessarily anything of value. It is interesting that this prohibition, called bal tashchit (“thou shalt not destroy”) is based on concern for fruit-bearing trees, as indicated in the following Torah statement:

 When you shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat of them but you shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged boy you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it fall. (Deut. 20:19-20)

      This prohibition against destroying fruit-bearing trees in time of warfare was extended by the Jewish sages. It it forbidden to cut down even a barren tree or to waste anything if no useful purpose is accomplished (Sefer Ha-Chinuch 530). The sages of the Talmud made a general prohibition against waste: “Whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs up a fountain, or destroys food violates the prohibition of bal tashchit” (Kiddushin 32a). In summary, bal tashchit prohibits the destruction, complete or incomplete, direct or indirect, of all objects of potential benefit to people. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch states that bal tashchit is the first and most general call of God: We are to “regard things as God’s property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing!” (Horeb; Chapter 56, #401) He indicates that destruction includes using more things (or things of greater value) than is necessary to obtain one’s aim. (Horeb; Chapter 56, #399) The important Torah mandate of bal tashchit is consistent with vegetarianism, since, compared to plant-based diets, animal -centered diets require far more land, water, energy, and other agricultural resources.

5. Tu Bishvat reflects a concern about future generations. In ancient times it was a custom to plant a cedar sapling on the birth of a boy and a cypress sapling on the birth of a girl. The cedar symbolized strength and stature of a man, while the cypress signified the fragrance and gentleness of a woman. When the children were old enough, it was their task to care for the trees that were planted in their honor. It was hoped that branches from both types of trees would form part of the chupah (bridal canopy) when the children married. Another example of the Jewish concern for the future that is expressed through the planting of trees is in the following story:

            Choni (the rainmaker) was walking along a road when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How many years will it take for this tree to yield fruit?” The man answered that it would take seventy years. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat of its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planned for me. So I will do the same for my children.” 

     Veganism also reflects concern about the future since this diet puts a minimum of strain on the earth and its ecosystems and requires far less water, land, energy, and other scarce agricultural resources than animal-centered diets.

7. It is customary to recite Psalm 104, as well as other psalms, on Tu Bishvat. Psalm 104 indicates how God’s concern and care extends to all creatures, and illustrates that God created the entire earth as a unity, in ecological balance:…

 You [God] are the One Who sends forth springs into brooks, that they may run between mountains,To give drink to every beast of the fields; the creatures of the forest quench their thirst.Beside them dwell the fowl of the heavens;…You are the One Who waters the mountains from His upper chambers;…You are the One Who causes the grass to spring up for the cattle and herb, for the service of man, to bring forth bread from the earth….How manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom have You made them all; the earth is full of Your property….

     Veganism also reflects concern for animals and all of God’s creation, since for many people it is a refusal to take part in a system that involves the cruel treatment and slaughter of 9 billion farm animals in the United States alone annually, and, as indicated above, that puts so much stress on the earth and its resources.

8. Both Tu Bishvat and veganism are becoming increasingly popular today; Tu Bishvat because of an increasing interest in and concern about nature and environmental issues, and veganism because of increasing concern about health, the treatment of animals, and also the environment and the proper use of natural resources.

9. On Tu Bishvat, the sap begins to fill the trees and their lives are renewed for another year of blossom and fruit. A shift toward vegetarianism means, in a sense, that there is an increased feeling of concern for the earth and all its inhabitants, and there is a renewal of the world’s people’s concerns about more life-sustaining approaches.

     In 1993, over 1,670 scientists, including 104 Nobel laureates – a majority of the living recipients of the prize in the sciences – signed a “World Scientists’ Warning To Humanity.” Their introduction stated: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

      The scientists’ analysis discussed threats to the atmosphere, water resources, oceans, soil, living species, and forests. Their warning: “we the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided With the world’s ecosystems threatened as never before, it is important that Jews increasingly discover the important ecological messages of Tu Bishvat. Similarly, it is also urgent that Jews and others recognize that a shift toward veganism, the diet most consistent with Tu Bishvat, is not only an important individual choice today, but increasingly it is a Jewish imperative since the realities of modern intensive livestock agriculture and the consumption of animal products are inconsistent with many basic Jewish values, as well as a societal imperative, necessary for economic and ecological stability.

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Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 250 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.org/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” His latest project involves working to restore the ancient Jewish holiday “New Year for Animals” and to transform it into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals and how far current realities are from these teachings.

 

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