To Plant or Not to Plant

While planning tonight’s Tu Bishvat Seder at the Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House,  I’ve been scouring Jewish environmental resources and looking around for the most sustainable way to purchase fruits and nuts which are most certainly not locally grown in New England. A friend also planning the Seder has been looking around for seeds for the traditional American Tu Bishvat parsley planting. While I was certainly aware of the current Shmitta year in Israel, it has only recently come to our attention that this could create a potential question around whether or not to plant parsley at our Seder.

In lieu of the traditional tree-planting, the JNF has opted for other ways to celebrate the holiday in Israel, from a festival to hiking and bird-watching tours. In response to a question written in to the Jerusalem Post’s Ask the Rabbi column about whether a youth group could plant trees on the holiday, the answer was no. If the holiday traditionally marked the paying of taxes on fruit trees, how is the holiday different this year, since fruit trees are perennials and produce fruit without annual planting?

Clearly we are not in Israel, and thus unlikely bound by any restriction on planting. Yet, what does this mean for the way this holiday should be celebrated? And more indirectly, how does giving the land a rest relate to those of us who are not directly involved in agriculture in our daily lives? Should we change what we are eating on the holiday? On other days? How might we interpret this restriction more symbolically?

Print This Post Print This Post

8 Responses to “To Plant or Not to Plant”

  1. Leah Koenig Says:

    I think it’s interesting that JNF is not doing tree-planting in Israel because of the shemitah year. Are they not planting trees at all this year?

  2. Tzimmes-Maker Says:

    So, I’m actually not sure about that, but this post on Green Prophet (which I’m planning to post about since I don’t think anybody has yet) says they’re getting around it by having people donate for trees online that they will be planting next year:

  3. chanie Says:

    i think they aren’t planting any trees this year. many municipalities aren’t either, and made sure that the flowers etc in public areas were in before the start of the jewish new year.

    i think paying attention to some of the bigger issues that shmitta raises speaks to me more than focusing on the restrictions. last night here at our synagogue in israel, the tu b’shvat program was a speaker and discussion about global warming and reducing our carbon footprint – both individually and as a community. at a rosh chodesh group we discussed what gardens and outdoor space mean in different contexts, and how we would spend a sabbatical year, free from our work responsibilities.

    some other issues might be – what does it mean to let the land rest? what does it mean for the farmer/worker to rest? what does it mean to own the land and take responsibility for caring for it, but to return it? what does it mean that what grows is holy and that we should not be wasteful or use it in an inappropriate way? what can we do to think about poverty and erasing economic disparities – opening our fields to the poor to pick and forgiving loans being important aspects of shmita. also – biblical jewish slaves go free ‘in their seventh year of service’, their own personal shmitta – but if they choose to stay on working, must go free during the yovel year – 7 shmitta cycles. how can we think about getting rid of modern slavery?

    i’m sure there is more – my husband developed a whole program for the school he teaches in where each motnh, they focus on a different value related to shmitta. though the press is mostly about planting or not and how people are dealing with vegetables, many of us here are focusing on some of the other aspects of shmita too.for example, there is a rabbi who is working on a program to help train people who have loans they can’t repay to get back on their feet financially. and i think they are even more relevant outside of israel where the specific restrictions aren’t relevant on a practical level.

    sorry for the long post! we’ve been thinking a lot about this over here at our house! :-)

  4. Tzimmes-Maker Says:


    Thanks for those thoughts- those are all really interesting thoughts. The whole issue of foreign debt relief which has been pushed by some groups specifically this year connected to shmitta to the US government and its power over the G8 is pretty interesting. It also makes me think about all of the mortgage foreclosures that are happening in the U.S.- and wouldn’t it be nice if certain other debts, especially ones incurred in a potentially unfair manner could be forgiven as well…taking us even farther from resting the natural environment or agriculture. Although I was reading something about the rules of shmitta recently that said that certain debts could not be relieved and they would be given over to the bank to enforce repayment.

  5. Savtah Sandy Says:

    What a wonderful response. Would that the points you raised regarding ‘agricultural shmitta’ as well as ‘personal shmitta’ be considered the world over. Can you post, a place/website where your husband’s lessions might be available?

  6. heey Says:

    i luv it

  7. heey Says:

    its soo so kool i luv it soo much

Leave a Reply