Friday, February 3, 2012

Tu B'Shvat and Ecological Activism

The Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat falls out this year on Wednesday, February 8th. On the Jewish calendar, it always falls on the 15th day of the month of Shevat (from which the holiday derives its name).

Tu B'Shevat is a minor festival that is considered something of a Jewish version of Arbor Day. Having its roots in ancient Temple practices, Tu B'Shevat allows Jews to celebrate nature and explore the environmental aspects of their tradition. One of the often quoted texts that demonstrates Judaism's advocacy of responsible stewardship of the environment is an ancient rabbinic teaching that states:
"When God led Adam around the Garden of Eden, God said, 'Look at My works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world--for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you'" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.13).
The traditions of Tu B'Shevat include planting trees. Tu B'Shevat is considered the "New Year for Trees" by the Jewish tradition because it is the season in which the trees in Israel start to emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit bearing cycle.

Another Tu B'Shevat tradition is having a Feast of Fruits, a formal meal similar to a Passover seder. This Tu B'Shevat seder was created by 16th century kabbalists of the city of Safed. Passages from the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic literature would be read while five fruits and two grains associated with the land of Israel would be eaten. Four cups of wine would also be drunk, a mixture of red and white wines to represent the four different seasons.

With the increased concern for the environment and the planet's ecology within each of our design disciplines, Tu B'Shevat can take on additional meaning. We can remember that environmental protection has always been an element in Jewish tradition. Tu B'Shevat can serve as a reminder to us to make sure that our building, urban, and landscape designs do the utmost to protect the natural world that we live in.

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