■ REGULAR READERS of The Jerusalem Post may have last Friday read the review of the latest book by Richard Schwartz, PhD, Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism.
Just in time for Tu Bishvat which is a celebration of nature and its bounty, Schwartz has initiated an international campaign to “Celebrate Tu Bishvat as if Global Survival Matters.”
A fervent vegan, Schwartz believes that Tu Bishvat, the most vegan and the most environmental Jewish holiday, should become a Jewish Earth Day and that Tu Bishvat Seders should be used, among other things, to increase awareness that the world is approaching a climate catastrophe. He advocates that Jewish values should be applied in efforts to stabilize the climate of the world.Schwartz contends that many recent climate events are wake-up calls to the urgency of immediate responses.
He cites 2020 and 2016 as the hottest years in recorded history, noting that they occurred in so short a period of time. Within this context he also makes the point that glaciers worldwide, polar ice caps and permafrost are rapidly melting, elevating the seas to the extent that there is already “sunny day flooding” in some coastal cities. There has been a significant increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods and other climate events.The urgency of immediate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is reinforced by the warning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 that the world may have only until 2030 to make “unprecedented changes,” in order to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe.
Schwartz believes that Judaism’s eternal values should be applied to reducing climate threats. He quotes Genesis 2:15 in which God puts Adam into the Garden of Eden to work the land and to guard it. Again referring to the Bible, he presents the sages’ interpretation of Deuteronomy 20:19-20 in which the Children of Israel are told that when they lay siege to a city, they should not destroy fruit-bearing trees, so that they may eat of the fruit.
On Wednesday evening, January 27 [and January a“28] , Schwartz is scheduled to facilitate four Tu Bishvat Seders: one at his retirement village in Shoresh; one at his former synagogue in Staten Island; one for Israelis, in conjunction with the Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society; and one for American Jews.He has compiled a series of quotations from the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish sources, which he has used in facilitating previous Tu Bishvat Seders in the US and Israel. He has contacted many rabbis and other influential Jews, suggesting that they facilitate a Tu Bishvat Seder or other events related to the holiday.
The restoration of Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, as an active holiday, by the kabbalists in Safed in the 16th century, after it had fallen into general disuse after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, can serve as a model for the restoration of another Jewish holiday, the New Year for Animals, says Schwartz.Initially introduced for tithing for animal sacrifices in Temple days, the ancient holiday, Schwartz believes, should be restored and transformed into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s powerful teachings on compassion to animals and how far current realities for animals are from these teachings.
Among the rabbis who responded to Schwartz was Rabbi David Rosen, who is renowned for his international interfaith work. Rosen is also a vegetarian, who refrains not only from eating meat or its derivatives, but also from wearing leather, including shoes.Rosen’s response, in which he also quoted Genesis, was: “The issue of global survival has become more urgent today than ever before, as the threat of climate change and environmental degradation threaten our very existence as never before. The Jewish celebration of Tu Bishvat, in which we give special thanks for Creation itself and the seasons which nurture life on this planet, is thus of added importance in our times, in order to enhance our appreciation of the Divine Creation and our duty to nurture, protect and conserve it.”