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Tu B'Shvat and Vegetarianism
By Richard H. Schwartz
Tu B'Shvat is arguably the most vegetarian of Jewish holidays,
because of its many connections to vegetarian themes and concepts:
1. The Tu B'Shvat Seder in which fruits and nuts are eaten, along
singing of songs and the recitation of biblical verses related to
fruits, is the only sacred meal where only vegetarian, actually
foods, are eaten. This is consistent with the diet in the Garden of
as indicated by God's first, completely vegetarian, dietary law:
And God said: "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding
seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree
that has seed-yielding fruit--to you it shall be for food."
2. The Talmud refers to Tu B'Shvat as the New Year for Trees. It is
considered to be the date on which the fate of trees is decided for
the coming year. In recent years, one of the prime ways of
celebrating Tu B'Shvat, especially in Israel, is through the planting
Vegetarianism also reflects a concern for trees. One of the
prime reasons for the destruction of tropical rain forests today is to
create pasture land and areas to grow feed crops for cattle. To save
estimated 5 cents on each imported fast food hamburger, we are
forest areas in countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica, where at
of the world's species of plants and animals live, and threatening the
stability of the world's climate. It has been estimated that every
vegetarian saves an acre of forest per year.
3. Both Tu B'Shvat and vegetarianism are connected to today's
environmental concerns. Many contemporary Jews look on Tu B'Shvat as
a Jewish earth day, and use Tu B'Shvat seders as a chance to discuss
how Jewish values can be applied to reduce many of today's ecological
When God created the world, he was able to say, "It is very good"
(Genesis 1:31). Everything was in harmony as God had planned, the
were clean, the air was pure. But what must God think about the world
What must God think when the rain he sends to nourish our crops
is often acid rain due to the many chemicals poured into the air by
our industries? when the ozone layer that He provided to separate the
heavens from the earth is being depleted at such a rapid rate? when
the abundance of species of plants and animals that He created are
becoming extinct in tropical rain forests and other threatened
habitats, before we are even been able to catalog them? when the
fertile soil that He provided is rapidly being depleted and eroded?
when the climatic conditions that He designed to meet our needs are
threatened by global warming?
Vegetarianism is consistent with this important Jewish
environmental concern, since modern intensive livestock agriculture
contributes to many current environmental problems, including soil
erosion and depletion, air and water pollution, the destruction of
habitats, and potential global warming.
4. Tu B'Shvat and vegetarianism both reflect the Torah mandate that
not to waste or destroy unnecessarily anything of value. It is
that this prohibition, called bal tashchit ("thou shalt not
based on concern for fruit-bearing trees, as indicated in Torah
that forbids the destruction of fruit bearing trees in wartime (Deut.
The prohibition of bal tashchit (destroying with no need) is consistent with vegetarianism, since, compared
to plant-based diets, animal-centered diets require far more land,
water, energy, and other agricultural resources.
5. Tu B'Shvat reflects a concern about future generations. In
it was a custom to plant a cedar sapling on the birth of a boy and a
sapling on the birth of a girl. The cedar symbolized strength and
of a man, while the cypress signified the fragrance and gentleness of
woman. When the children were old enough, it was their task to care
trees that were planted in their honor. It was hoped that branches
both types of trees would form part of the chupah (bridal canopy)
Vegetarianism also reflects concern about the future since this
diet puts a minimum of strain on the earth and its ecosystems and
requires far less water, land, energy, and other scarce agricultural
resources than animal-centered diets.
7. It is customary to recite Psalm 104, as well as other psalms, on
Tu B'Shvat. Psalm 104 indicates how God's concern and care extends
creatures, and illustrates that God created the entire earth as a
...Thou [God] art the One Who sends forth springs into
brooks, that they may run between mountains,
To give drink to every beast of the fields; the creatures
of the forest quench their thirst.
Beside them dwell the fowl of the heavens;...
Thou art He Who waters the mountains from His upper
Thou art He Who causes the grass to spring up for the
cattle and herb, for the service of man, to bring forth
bread from the earth....
How manifold art Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou
made them all; the earth is full of Thy property....
Vegetarianism also reflects concern for animals and all of God's
creation, since for many people it is a refusal to take part in a
system that involves the cruel treatment and slaughter of 9 billion
farm animals in the United States alone annually, and, as indicated
above, that puts so much stress on the earth and its resources.
8.. Both Tu B'Shvat and vegetarianism are becoming increasingly
popular today; Tu B'Shvat because of an increasing interest in and
concern about nature and environmental issues, and vegetarianism
because of increasing concern about health, the treatment of animals,
and also the environment and the proper use of natural resources.
With the world's ecosystems threatened as never before, it is
important that Jews increasingly discover the important ecological
messages of Tu B'Shvat. Similarly, it is also urgent that Jews and
others recognize that a shift toward vegetarianism, the diet most
consistent with Tu B'Shvat, is not only an important individual choice
today, but increasingly it is a Jewish imperative since the realities
modern intensive livestock agriculture and the consumption of animal
products are inconsistent with many basic Jewish values, as well as a
societal imperative, necessary for economic and ecological stability.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph. D. is
Professor, Emeritus, Mathematics, at the
College of Staten Island
and author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism"
from the Febuary 2001 Edition Jewish Magazine