Jews as Tree-Huggers


If not for the trees, human life could not exist. 
Midrash Sifre (Deuteronomy) 20:19

Our ancestors understood that human life depends on trees. They understood this so deeply that they wrote about trees extensively  and created a holiday to mark their new year. Tu B’Shevat, a minor Jewish holiday, was originally established for the purpose of tithing where every year, one-tenth of the harvest was offered to the temple to support the poor and priests. In the 16th century, the Kabbalists in Tzfat revived Tu B’Shvat by instituting a seder meal that celebrated the tree’s life giving properties and as a symbol of G!d’s presence on earth. During the 19th and 20th centuries, trees became a powerful symbol of nation-building for Zionists in Israel and in the diaspora to participate in creating the state of Israel.

In the 21st century, Tu B’Shvat stands as one of the most important and relevant Jewish holidays. The new year of the trees offers us an annual opportunity to deepen our connection to trees and forests.  Nurturing our relationship to trees is essential if we are to rebalance our planet and protect the biosphere. Our survival, at least in part, depends on the health, vitality and abundance of trees.


We need trees to clean the air, capture excessive carbon dioxide, beautify the concrete jungle, feed us, house us and inspire us.  Tu B’Shevat gives us as Jews permission and encouragement to celebrate and honour our tree friends, to return to our tree-hugging roots with pride and hope. 


Shoresh is gearing up for some serious tree loving this Tu B’Shevat. We have an amazing roster of events AND we’ve created this FREE Tu B’Shvat Resource Sheet.  We are also beginning the long (100-year) journey of reforesting 20-acres  of grasslands into forest at Bela Farm. Our goal is to plant 16,000 native trees to honour the memories and lifecycle events of our community members, sequester carbon to help mitigate global climate change, and demonstrate our long-term commitment to providing beautiful forested spaces for all future generations to wander through. When we learned that it would take 100 years to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we recalled the wisdom of this Talmudic story:

Once Honi was walking along the road when he saw a man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked, “How long before it will bear fruit?”  The man answered, “seventy years.”  Honi asked, “Are you sure you will be here in seventy years to eat from its fruit?”  The man replied, “I found this world filled with carob trees.  Just as my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for my children.”
Babylonian Talmud Taanit 23a

While this is a long-term and slow-growing project, our planet URGENTLY needs us to plant trees today. As Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say, “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.”

The time to plant is NOW. Join us on the journey by making a donation to our reforestation project this Tu B’Shvat today.

Happy Chag Ha’Ilanot!

PS-for more about Jews and trees, check out this great sourcesheet by our friends at the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

© 2018 Shoresh.