Trees, Earth, and Torah - A Tu B'Shvat Anthology

edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow

(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999)

A review essay by Richard H. Schwartz

Since Tu B'Shvat is arguably the most vegetarian of Jewish holidays because of its many connections to vegetarian themes and concepts, vegetarians should joyfully welcome the publication of this anthology with its abundance of material that should contribute to the increasing popularity of this mid-winter holiday. All who are looking for ways to apply new, creative approaches to ancient festivals should also be pleased.

Among the following valuable and interesting features the book contains are:

1) An introductory essay by Arthur Waskow that traces Tu B'Shvat's growth throughout history from its original status as a day that separated trees in terms of when tithings were due, through the establishment of the Tu B'Shvat seder by the kabbalists of Sefat in the sixteenth century, through the associations with tree-planting of nineteenth century Zionists, to recent adaptations by modern environmentalists;

2) Quotations related to trees and other Tu B'Shvat-related concepts from the Torah and other Jewish sources;

3) Material related to rabbinic dicussions related to Tu B'Shvat, including a recently discovered medieval prayer, "Shmoneh Esrei for the New Year for Trees," and insightful essays on bal tashchit, the mandate to not waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, based on a Torah verse not to destroy fruit-bearing trees in wartime, by Rabbi Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, and by Eilon Schwartz, Director of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Israel.

4) Seven items relating kabbalah and hasidism to Tu B'Shvat, including a translation of "Peri Eitz Hadar," a kabbalistic Tu B'Shvat seder.

5) Five items relating Tu B'Shvat to Zionism and the land of Israel, including an extensive analysis of how the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael) used tree plantings on Tu B'Shvat to educate young Israelis on love of the land of Israel and nature.

6) Thirteen wide-ranging items on connections between Tu B'Shvat themes and "eco-Judaism' and current environmental problems, including essays relating the holiday to recent efforts to save the Redwood forests and an analysis of current environmental threats by Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological seminaryt.

7) Much wonderful material to help celebrate Tu B'Shvat today, including blessings for the seder, suggestions for cooking up a Tu B'Shvat seder, suggestions to involve children in the Tu B'Shvat seder and other holiday-related activities, suggestions about planting and taking care of trees, suggestions about new Tu B'Shvat traditions, recipes, and songs.

8) An article co-authored by Jonathan Wolf and this author on "Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Tu B'Shvat," which discusses aspects of "the most vegetarian holiday".

9) Sources for Learning and Doing ("Seeds"), including a listing of "Environmental Organizations, Publications, and Videos," a discussion of several Tu B'Shvat seder Haggadot, and sources for information about tree planting.

This brief summary can only give a taste of the many "fruity" delights in this book, and I regret having to leave out mention of many significant themes and distinguished authors. Because of its many environmental and vegetarian connections, I hope that this wonderful anthology will be widely read and discussed so that it will meet its potential to play a major role in the expansion and enhancement of an increasingly popular Tu B'Shvat.

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