By Cantor Michael McCloskey

Cantor-Educator, Temple Emeth

Adonai Elohim planted a garden in Eden toward the East, and the human which He formed, He placed in the garden. Adonai Elohim caused every variety of tree that was pleasant to behold and good for eating to sprout from the soil…He took the human being and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and to care for it.

                                    – Bereshit 2:8, 2:16

According to the Bible, one of the first Divine acts was to plant a garden, cultivate plants, and provide a caretaker to nurture and tend it in the form of the human being. This is a profound statement regarding the importance of environmental stewardship in our rich religious and cultural tradition. Humanity’s primal relationship and understanding of the Ultimate is not in a temple or some sort of grand stone edifice, but is within the context of tilling the land. 

This Jewish environmental ethos is powerfully expressed in the rituals of Tu B’Shevat, the new year of the trees. This festival is a powerful reminder of the Jewish values of bal taschit, conscious consuming, and tsa-ar ba-aley chayyim, treating all living things with compassion.

created at: 2013-01-14There are many ways to practice these commandments with the greater Boston community. Ganei Beantown runs educational workshops on sustainability from a Jewish perspective for young adults, puts together a yearly Boston Jewish Food Conference, which explores Jewish agriculture, health, labor issues, eco-kashrut, and local food history, a yearly Sukkot Harvest festival, and helps synagogues develop community gardens.

This year’s Boston Jewish Food Conference will be held in early March. You can join a CSA farm-share, in which for a yearly fee you receive local produce according to its growing season. This program cuts out the middleman and directly benefits the farmers and our community, reminding us of our connection and responsibility as stewards of our planet.

You can dine at restaurants that purchase their produce, eggs, etc. from local farms. Many restaurants in Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Roslindale, and West Roxbury, purchase these goods directly from Allandale Farm. One can also purchase meat from Empire Kosher, which raises its chickens humanely (they are free to range in large open spaces rather than in very small pens or cages), feeds them a 100% vegetarian diet, and does not inject them with antibiotics.  Moreover, this company embraces fair labor practices and pays their workers substantially more than living wage. 

May the new year for trees be a year of increased environmental awareness and sustainability for us!

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