Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Some Jews go to great lengths to protect fruit trees
From the NY Times:
In certain Orthodox Jewish communities, from Borough Park to Monsey, N.Y., rabbis say, there is a strong aversion to chopping down fruit trees, which results from some combination of biblical verses, Jewish law and mystical documents that prohibit destroying them wantonly. In New York City, where space is tight and the option to build out in another direction generally does not exist, that means friendly neighborhood foliage can present an especially hard challenge.
“It’s an extraordinary reminder of the kind of spiritual consciousness people need to be able to sustain, particularly in urban settings,” said Rabbi Saul J. Berman, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University. “You see this tree and the way it’s being guarded, and suddenly you realize there’s something going on here besides just human needs.”
Interpretations may vary, but several rabbis, including Rabbi Berman, Rabbi Mayer Schiller and Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, who has written more than two dozen books on Jewish law and tradition, say this practice emerged from a passage in Deuteronomy: Even in wartime, one should not chop down your enemies’ fruit trees. There are also Talmudic sources, some said. And a mystical document called the Will of Rabbi Yehudah HaChosid, which dates back nearly 1,000 years and tends to hold more sway in Hasidic communities, took it further.
“He very cryptically asserted that it’s really dangerous to cut down a fruit-bearing tree because you’re tampering with God’s property,” Rabbi Berman said. “And if you want to tamper with God’s property, be cautious.”