Tu b’Shvat and the Jewish Love Affair with Fruit, Flower, and Foliage

Jan. 25 2016

Today is the minor Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shvat, or the “new year of the trees.” Having originated as a financial deadline on the ancient calendar of tithe-collection, it has, over the years—particularly in the hands of 17th-century Jewish mystics—morphed into a more general celebration of trees and their fruit. Alan Zelenetz explains why these plants deserve special consideration (2014):

[The book of Deuteronomy] offers one of the most celebrated examples of the Torah’s ethical and ecological sensitivity, “Do not destroy [fruit-bearing] trees by wielding an ax against them, for from them you will eat, do not cut them down.” Based on this proscription, Judaism derives an overriding moral principle known as bal tashḥit, prohibiting any random destruction or wanton waste in all walks of life. . . .

[The] Jewish love affair with fruit, flower, and foliage has, indeed, been an eternal one. We can already discern the strains of a love song in talmudic times when the sages teach how to bless the trees “who” share our lives: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you? Your fruit is already sweet. Your shade is plentiful. . . . May it be God’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds be like you.” . . .

[I]n Jewish thought and practice a tree is no simple metaphor. The trees of Tu b’Shvat are at the essence of our understanding the interrelatedness of God’s world. The Torah, in fact, makes the comparison over and over. In both the book of Psalms and the Talmud we find fruit trees and cedars breaking into songs of praise for God. And the prophet Isaiah declares explicitly, “For as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people.”

Read more at Seforim

More about: Environmentalism, Jewish holidays, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Tu b'Shvat


How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad