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January 28, 1983 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-01-28

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64 Friday, January 28, 1983


Tu b'Shevat: Paying Tribute to the Environment


Jewish National Fund

NEW YORK — In an era
when environmental pro-
tection movements are
strong all over the world,
Jewish tradition sets aside a
special day for protecting
the environment. The 15th
day of the month of Shevat
(which is tomorrow), is the
new year for trees.
With its basis in Jewish
law, Tu b' Shevat carries
with it an array of interest-
ing customs and legends,
many of which underwent
changes in the Diaspora,
while maintaining the em-
phasis on nature and
safeguarding the environ-
The earliest Tu b'Shevat
customs were connected
with fruit-bearing trees and
the agricultural cycle. Dur-
ing the time of the Second
Temple (Fifth Century BCE
- First Century CE) it was
on Tu b'Shevat that people

brought their agricultural
tithe to the Temple. As
such, the day began to take
on semi-legalistic propor-
tions, as the laws of agricul-
tural offerings and of the
sabbatical year became
Later, the kabalists in
the ancient Israeli town
of Safed actually de-
veloped .a special seder
for Tu b'Shevat similar to
that held on Passover.
However, instead of
stressing the exodus-from
Egypt, the Tu b'Shevat
seder acknowledged the
great gift of nature and
the agricultural produce
of the season. Four cups
of wine were drunk — as
on Passover — and spe-
cial fruits and grains
were eaten, with appro-
priate blessings to ex-
press appreciation for
God's bounty in nature.
As Jews began returning
to the land of Israel after the

Tu b'Shevat — The
New Year of Trees

(Continued from Page 1)
the tree, with the tree itself
and also where trees should
and should not be planted.
We even have passages
which deal with the subject
of ecology and the use of
trees in preserving the
esthetics of a city. They
even deal with the question
of the damage that the roots
of a tree cause when it pene-
trates a neighbor's land. On
the other hand, they raise
the question of who owns
the fruit when a tree over-
hangs on a neighbor's area.
It is very interesting that
the series of benedictions
include a braha with the use
of the word "tree." It is
"boreh pri haetz," "blessed
be the fruit of the tree."
Jews had and continue to
have a great deal of respect
, for the land and the tree.
One of the most 'beautiful
customs in our tradition is
that when a boy was born, a
cedar tree was planted.
When a girl was born a cyp-
ress tree was planted. Then
when it came time for them
to be married, they would
take branches from both
trees, weave them together
and create the huppa (tradi-
tional marriage canopy). In.
a very real way, as the chil-
dren grew, the trees grew
and they saw the trees enter
their lives at the moment
that they began the process
of creating a family.
There are of course many
legends about trees in
Jewish literature. But, the
following is one of the most
In the order of creation,
trees were created on the

third day. Following that,
metal and its many uses
came into being. When
the trees contemplated
this, they suddenly be-
came alarmed- and saw
the possibility of the cre-
ation of an ax. They then
protested to God saying,
"Why did you create an
ax which will destroy
God replied, "In order for
an ax to function it must
have a handle of wood. If
you do not permit yourse-
lves to be used improperly,
you will not be destroyed."
This a very profound
thought. Trees, like all
forms of creation, have the
potential for good or for ill,
just as human beings do. It
is precisely their use that
will determine their out-
- Wood can be used as the
handle of a knife, which in
turn can be used to kill
someone or to perform heal-
ing surgery. A match has a
base of wood. It 'can be
utilized to begin a fire to
heat a building or to destroy
a building. A large piece of
wood can be used to make a
club to beat someone or to
create crutches to help sup-
port someone. All of these
are the potential of a -tree.
That is really the wonder of
the tree to which we pay
tribute on Tu b'Shevat.
It was best expressed by
Joyce Kilmer who wrote the
famous words:
Poems are created by fools
like you and me,
But only God can create a

beginning of the 20th Cen-
tury, Tu b'Shevat began to
take on more significance.
Trees helped, and still do
help, to give new life to the
barren wastes of the ancient
The -Jewish National
Fund, the agency responsi-
ble for afforestation, land
reclamation and site de-
velopment in the land of Is-
rael, began using trees from
its inception 82 years ago to
halt erosion, drain swamps,
cool the hot desert air and
beautify the landscape.
Some of the earliest wood-
lands which were planted in
Israel have grown into
mighty forests. More than
150 million trees have been
planted, covering almost
150,000 acres. About 50,000
visitors to Israel each year
make a stop at one of the
JNF "Plant a Tree With
Your Own Hands" centers,
adding their part to the
country's tree-planting ef-
There is today a re-
search arm which sup-
ports all of these efforts
in support of Israel's
trees. Already the re-
search is paying off by
increasing the number of
trees being planted in
desert areas previously
thought to be unsuitable
for -planting.
Scientists have also de-
veloped methods of support-
ing trees and agriculture in

the Arava and in the north-
western Negev, the latest
development area which is
on the new border with
Egypt. And in Jerusalem, a
forest is planned to crown
the city in green — by sur-
rounding the capital with
A JNF master plan calls
for increasing Israel's for-
ests by 30 percent by the end
of the century.
To pay tribute to the
momentous achievements
of the JNF, Jewish children
all over Israel celebrate Tu
b'Shevat in another tradi-
tional way.
Each year the Education
Department of JNF pre-
pares Tu b'Shevat projects
for students. In addition to
colorful posters and study
materials, the department
provides a manual for
teachers to help them con-
vey to their students the
meaning of Tu b'Shevat and
some aspect of the history of
modern Israel and the JNF.

This year's Tu b'Shevat
project, "Forests and
Personalities," high-
lights some of the men
and women whose vital
contributions to the
new-born Jewish state
have been immortalized
through the establish-
ment of forests in their
names. Among the illus-
trious personalities fea-
tured are Albert Einstein,

A Jewish National Fund poster for Tu b`Shevat.
Henrietta Szold, Harry S. bration of Tu b'Shevat into
Truman and John F. the synagogues and.she has
encouraged all Jews to
, But Tu b'Shevat is not for celebrate the holiday by
children alone. Charlotte taking part in the time-
Jacobson, president of the honored traditions and by
JNF of America, has called planting trees in the land of
upon rabbis to bring cele- Israel through the JNF.

Bible, Talmud Deal With the Land

is just one of several allu-
The Bible considers the sions to a joyful concern for
care and cultivation of the the land and its productive
soil as the destiny and duty capacities.
"He that tilleth his land
of man. Adam is put into the
Garden of Eden so that he shall have plenty of bread"
may dress and keep it; then says the Book of Proverbs
he is expelled and exhorted (12:11). Concern for the
by God to till the ground land was so important that
the defeats of the ancient Is-
(Genesis 2:15, 3:23).
Scripture speaks also of raelites at the hands of their
the anticipated milennium enemies were directly at-
where "they shall beat their tributable to their neglect of
swords into plowshares and the Sabbath years (in which
their spears into pruning the land was to remain fal-
hooks; nation shall not lift . low, thus replenishing it-
up sword against nation, self).
Love for the land is
neither shall they learn war
anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). This further shown by the
legendary instruction
given to Adam by the
archangel, Michael, for
the proper methods of
sowing, planting and
harvesting the soil of
Eden (Midrash).
The historian, Joseph
Flavius (38-100 CE) pro-_
vides a glimpse of the abun-
dance of the Holy Land in
his "Contra Apionem"
(1:22): "The inhabitants of
Samaria and Idumea devote
great labor to the cultiva-
tion of the soil. As a result,
the land has large planta-
tions of olive trees, of wheat
barley and other cereals,
and an abundance of wine,
dates, figs and other fruit. It
is well adapted for agricul-
ture and commerce.
"We neither inhabit a
maritime country nor do we
delight in merchandise;
having a fruitful country for
our habitation, we take
pains to cultivate it prop-
erly. Galilee is exceedingly
fertile, full of trees of all

sorts, no part of it lying idle,
its many valleys, full of
people owing to the richness
of the soil therein."
Consequently, the. in-
habitants took to agricul-
tural pursuits and the sac-
red literature abounds with
aphorisms extolling the vir-
tues of farming. Some typi-
cal examples are:
"Hate not toilsome oc-
cupation and husbandry
for it is appointed by the
Most High" (Ecclesias-
tes 7:15) and "Box down
your back with husban-
dry and labor in the til-
lage of the ground so that
ye may offer blessing and
thanksgiving unto the
Lord for His bounty"
The Talmud relates that
many students were exemp-
ted from hearing the lec
tures in academies in order
to sow and harvest in the
fields during the appropri-
ate seasons. The unbridled
joy of the harvest and vin-
tage filled the land with
songs and dancing (Judges
9:27) and proof that the He-
brews were successful ag-
riculturists may be seen
from the remark that, King
Solomon annually sent
some 40,000 Kor (approx-
imately 440,000 bushels) of
wheat and barley in addi-
tion to some 340,000 gallons
of oil (olive, that is) to King
Hiram of Tyre (II
Chronicles 2:9).
Such bounty was a direct
result of the zeal and dedi-
cation of the farmer. The
Talmud reflects this when it
states, "In time to come, all

handicraftsmen will turn to
the working of the soil; for
the soil is the surest source
of sustenance to those that
work it; and such occupa-
tion brings with it,
moreover health of body and
ease of mind" (Yebamoth
The physical aspects of
the land are discussed at
length. Stones, for instance,
showed the future fertility
of the soil. Hard and flint-
like stones meant the soil
was good while stones
which were clay-like de-
noted poor land. Land with
thorn-bushes on it meant
soil good for wheat while
lots of weeds indicated land
good for barley production.
A southern exposure
was beneficial but the
soil needed irrigation
(Joshua 15:19). Unlike
Egyptian farmland (de-
pendent on the Nile River
for its water), the soil of
Canaan was irrigated by
the "first rains and the
latter rains." These
loomed so important that
the formula asking for
rain became a permanent
part of the liturgy.
One was prohibited from
sowing a field with a "ming-
led" seed (Leviticus 19:19).
This was intended to pre-
vent a single harvest from
exhausting the soil of its
fertile chemical con- .
stituents. Other laws re-
served the corners of the
harvest field for the poor
and the stranger (Leviticus
19:9) as well as that of the
forgotten sheaf which must
remain on the ground.

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