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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden