The Environmentalist Hijacking of Tu b'Shvat

This Wednesday is Tu b’Shvat (i.e., the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat), a minor Jewish holiday often referred to as the “new year of trees.” Originally, the date simply marked the beginning of a new cycle for the tithing of fruit. In the 16th century, kabbalists invested the day with mystical significance and, in the 19th, Zionists made it into a celebration of the land of Israel. Its most recent reinvention, as Tevi Troy explains, is its most radical yet:

In recent decades, [Tu b’Shvat] has moved from the periphery of special Jewish days to much closer to the center. It serves as a kind of Jewish Earth Day—a rallying point for the marriage between Green sensibilities and Jewish identity. Indeed, the takeover of Tu b’Shvat by the environmental movement is now so all-encompassing that it threatens to become the only thing for which this special day—which has existed for two millennia—is known. . . .

From a religious standpoint, bringing ancient rites into a modern context may delight many Jews today and make the religion relevant to current sensibilities. But while putting a contemporary accent on an ancient ritual might be fine, problems arise when the accent takes precedence over the ritual. Many Tu b’Shvat programs this year and in the foreseeable future will focus on “sustainability” in the environmental context, but too little attention is being paid to the fact that Judaism itself has a sustainability problem. . . .

Ultimately, the way to keep Jews in the fold is to have them doing Jewish things. If one just wanted to help the environment, one could join an environmental group. Keeping Jews engaged on a religious level requires the maintenance of something that is authentically Jewish, not something that has been grafted on. Judaism . . . has withstood intellectual assaults dating back to the ancient Greeks by sticking to its traditions. In doing so, again and again, Judaism has outlived many an ancient civilization.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewry, Environmentalism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Tu b'Shvat

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy