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

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

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy