Tu Bishvat shopping at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Tu Bishvat, or the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, which falls this year on January 31, is a celebration of God’s creation. Though the day is celebrated by eating fruit, particularly those mentioned by the Torah in connection with the Land of Israel, Tu Bishvat is also a day conducive to an extended reflection on man’s relationship with the environment.
The Jewish people has many holidays that celebrate the land, including Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
Jewish tradition dictates that mankind has a moral obligation to protect the earth, as it says in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve it and to guard and protect it.” We are expected to take care of what God has given us.
But despite the ample sources in Jewish tradition that urge us to behave responsibly with the Earth, Jews, regardless of denomination or affiliation, don’t seem to be particularly outstanding in their environmental consciousness.
This sad reality was pointed out by Yosef I. Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, in an article that appeared this weekend in The Jerusalem Post Magazine
titled “The – urgent – environmental agenda for the Jewish people.”
Abramowitz pointed out, for instance, that in the sunny Jewish state, which could easily use clean solar power much more, 97% of electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels.
And this did not happen by chance. Too often politicians side with business interests over the health and well-being of the citizens they are supposed to represent. While huge natural gas rigs are being erected off the shore, precious little is being done to support solar energy and other forms of sustainable energy, even though solar energy could bring more jobs to Israel, be cheaper and encourage economic development and investment. The environmental benefits, including reduced health costs, fewer work days lost to sickness, and longer and healthier lives, go without saying.
The powerful automobile importers’ lobby blocks tax benefits and other government incentives to encourage the sale of cars that pollute less.
The Manufacturers Association opposes any tax on Israel’s polluting power plants.
Abramowitz is right when he says that we, as Jews, live a hypocrisy.
The Tu Bishvat Seder is full of themes of environmental consciousness and being attuned to nature. But the Seder will inevitably be desecrated by the use of non-biodegradable plastic plates, cups and other utensils. Jews who come to Israel from abroad to plant a tree generate along the way 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the round-trip airplane flight.
Jews donate money to Israel from money they earned by investing in the stocks and bonds of companies that hurt the environment.
Israelis eat far too much beef, the production of which is one of the most environmentally destructive industries in the world.
Jews might check a particular food item to see whether it has kosher supervision, but they would never dream of looking for palm oil, the production of which is one of the main causes of deforestation on the planet.
Abramowitz envisions a day when anyone who drives a combustion engine car in the Jewish community will be seen as committing a desecration of the name of God; when no one would dream of serving beef at a bar or bat mitzva or a wedding; when Jews encourage the entire world to keep the Shabbat and thus lead the way in cutting down worldwide carbon pollution by one-seventh.
The last thing we want to do is deter someone from dreaming. But even more modest goals can be achieved, such as improving public transportation so as to reduce the number of cars on the road; introducing more solar powered panels that will allow a reduction of the amount of electricity generated by fossil fuels; and building in a way that protects open spaces.
Tu Bishvat provides an opportunity to reexamine our environment policies to see how they hold up to the demands of Jewish tradition.
Can we honestly say that we are adequately safeguarding God’s wondrous gift to mankind?