jewish environmentalism and tu b’sh’vat

a thought regarding the history of Jewish environmentalism

In Jan­u­ary of 1970 I need­ed to make (what for me then was) a sig­nif­i­cant per­son­al deci­sion. I was born on Jan­u­ary 22 on the Gre­go­ri­an cal­en­dar. How­ev­er, the year I was born, that date cor­re­spond­ed with Rosh Jodesh Sh’­vat. I noticed then, that in 1970 Jan­u­ary 22 would coin­cide with Tu b’Sh’­vat. I had become more deeply aware of how the Jew­ish luni/solar cal­en­dar func­tioned and want­ed to observe my birth­day’s anniver­sary (by thank­ing my moth­er on her birthing-date). I need­ed to choose between two sig­nif­i­cant dates: Gre­go­ri­an = Tu b’Sh’­vat or Jew­ish = Rosh Jodesh Sh’­vat. The bit that clinched my deci­sion was when I learned that my broth­er, who had been born four years lat­er (and two weeks ear­li­er accord­ing to the Gre­go­ri­an cal­en­dar) shared the same birth date on the Jew­ish cal­en­dar. Ever since then, when some­one who is not an offi­cial of some kind asks when I was born, I tell them Rosh Jodesh Sh’­vat.

brothers & mother

broth­ers and moth­er, approx­i­mate­ly 6 months before Jan­u­ary 22, 1970

leafleting the jews

I have writ­ten else­where about leaflet­ing. That year, on Jan­u­ary 19, 1970, the Jew­ish Rad­i­cal Com­mu­ni­ty [of Los Ange­les] issued its sec­ond leaflet (for that year or ever?):


jew­ish rad­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty leaflet; jan­u­ary 19, 1970




Tu B’Sh­vat 5730 ……………………………Jan­u­ary 22, 1970


A human being who is out of touch with the land is deprived of an impor­tant spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion. The agrar­i­an soci­ety described in the bible had a deep respect for the fruits of the earth and were as del­i­cate as pos­si­ble in their use of the land. They let their fields go unused one year in sev­en so the soil could be replen­ished; they refrained from eat­ing the fruit of imma­ture trees; they avoid­ed graz­ing sheep in order to pro­tect grass­lands; they for­bade their sol­diers to plun­der the fruit trees of con­quered lands.


I created all my beautiful and glorious works for your sake. Take heed not to corrupt and destroy my world.

Eccle­si­astes Rab­bah 7:13


We no longer live in a pri­mar­i­ly agrar­i­an soci­ety, but a feel­ing of respect for the earth­’s boun­ty is the log­i­cal appli­ca­tion of bib­li­cal vers­es. If we are to pro­tect nat­ur­al resources for future gen­er­a­tions, we must have as our motive sus­te­nance in con­cert with nature not prof­it, exploita­tion and plun­der of nat­ur­al wealth and beau­ty.


Cor­po­rate farm­ers use dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals on crops, ren­der­ing them unfit or bare­ly fit for human con­sump­tion in order to max­i­mize yields, the sur­plus of which is buried under the ground “for lack of a good mar­ket,” while mil­lions starve. We allow the cor­po­rate states to rape the earth for the enrich­ment of their rul­ing class­es. One exam­ple with which we as Jews and South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans have con­tact is the net­work of oil monop­o­lies. Aside from their actions in the Mid­dle East as impe­ri­al­ist inter­est, here in the U.S. they pol­lute the oceans with off­shore drilling, and encour­age the pol­lu­tion of the cities, the air and our lives with their involve­ment in the auto­mo­tive indus­try.


The land is raped by the greed of the pow­er­ful. Out of respect for our tra­di­tion, Jews must be aware of mod­ern insen­si­tiv­i­ty to the ecol­o­gy and the “own­er­ship rights” which vio­late the nature ben­e­fit which was meant to exist between men and the land.


And they shall build houses and inhabit them;
And they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit
They shall not plant and another eat;
For the days of a tree shall the days of My people be,
And My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Isa­iah 65:21–22

buttons and trees

Very few lapel but­tons exist that refer to Tu b’Sh’­vat direct­ly. While at one time the Zion­ist youth move­ments in Los Ange­les would use the oppor­tu­ni­ty to plant trees in recent­ly burnt areas of Grif­fith Park in con­junc­tion with the Jew­ish Nation­al Fund, the annu­al JNF but­ton (with its image of or sug­ges­tion of tree plant­i­ng) appears at the time of Yom haAtaz­maut. The fol­low­ing but­ton is from the Bal­ti­more Hebrew Con­gre­ga­tion, while it explic­it­ly men­tions plant­i­ng a tree in 1991 sim­i­lar­ly makes no sug­ges­tion that it is asso­ci­at­ed with Tu b’Sh’­vat.

i plant­ed a tree at bhc 1991

Date: 1991
Size: 5.71
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text Sponosred • by • the • BHC • Sis­ter­hood •

a tree

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

We broth­ers took anoth­er pho­to with our moth­er a month before she died.

broth­ers and moth­er, approx­i­mately a month before her death

Now, as I pre­pare this post, 43 years after we first pre­pared the leaflet (it is in Jay’s print­ing), we broth­ers sit beside each oth­er in his home on Kib­butz Hat­zor-Ash­dod, review­ing pho­tos of the two of us and of our moth­er (and oth­er mem­bers of the fam­i­ly). And we con­tin­ue to share (among many oth­ers) com­mon ideas about envi­ron­men­tal­ism, pol­i­tics and Jew­ish life. And I won­der, when did the Jew­ish envi­ron­men­tal move­ment begin.

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