The New Year of the Trees Celebrates Not Untrammeled Nature but the Human Perfection of Nature

The Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shvat is, strictly speaking, a tax deadline: fruit that ripen prior to this date are considered to be part of the previous year’s crop for the purposes of various tithes. But 17th-century kabbalists invested the day with mystical significance, and thereafter it became a date symbolizing Jews’ connection with the Land of Israel, before being repurposed again as the basis for a tenuous sort of Jewish environmentalism. This transformation of the date described in the Talmud as “the new year for the trees” may seem commonsensical, but Etan Golubtchik argues that in fact it is antithetical to the day’s meaning. As he explains, the idea of a human obligation to subdue and cultivate nature, rather than to leave it wild and untrammeled, is deeply rooted in Jewish theology, beginning with God’s commandment to Adam “to work and to guard” the Garden of Eden and further evidenced by the rabbis’ description of an encounter between the 1st-century sage Rabbi Akiva and the Roman provincial governor Turnus Rufus:

When Turnus Rufus challenged Akiva by asking why there is a commandment to circumcise one’s son if God’s creations are perfect, “Rabbi Akiva brought Turnus Rufus grains of wheat and some bread, and said, ‘These grains of wheat are God’s handiwork, and the bread is the handiwork of man. Is the latter not greater than the former?’” In both breadmaking and circumcision, man is expected to take the resources provided by nature and improve upon them. Here Akiva articulates a central tenet of Jewish philosophy: the natural environment made by God provides the resources for man to build upon. Man is expected to use these resources in order to take care of himself and those in need, as well as to create religious structures, like the tabernacle and Temple, in which to worship God.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Circumcision, Environmentalism, Jewish environmentalism, Judaism, Rabbi Akiva, Tu b'Shvat

 

As Vladimir Putin Sidles Up to the Mullahs, the Threat to the U.S. and Israel Grows

On Tuesday, Russia launched an Iranian surveillance satellite into space, which the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use to increase the precision of its military operations against its enemies. The launch is one of many indications that the longstanding alliance between Moscow and Tehran has been growing stronger and deeper since the Kremlin’s escalation in Ukraine in February. Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Katherine Lawlor write:

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Tehran has traditionally sought to purchase military technologies from Moscow rather than the inverse. The Kremlin fielding Iranian drones in Ukraine will showcase these platforms to other potential international buyers, further benefitting Iran. Furthermore, Russia has previously tried to limit Iranian influence in Syria but is now enabling its expansion.

Deepening Russo-Iranian ties will almost certainly threaten U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe. Iranian material support to Russia may help the Kremlin achieve some of its military objectives in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Russian support of Iran’s nascent military space program and air force could improve Iranian targeting and increase the threat it poses to the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East. Growing Iranian control and influence in Syria will enable the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [to use its forces in that country] to threaten U.S. military bases in the Middle East and our regional partners, such as Israel and Turkey, more effectively. Finally, Moscow and Tehran will likely leverage their deepening economic ties to mitigate U.S. sanctions.

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Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, U.S. Security, Vladimir Putin