Many countries have Arbor Days. It was started in America in 1883 in the state of Nebraska when over a million trees were planted, but it was not made a national holiday until 1970. Some countries celebrate a week-long emphasis, such as Japan’s “Greening Week,” Korea’s “Tree-loving Week,” and Yugoslavia’s “Reforestation Week.” Even Iceland celebrates “Students’ Afforestation Day.” For Israel, the fifteenth of Shvat was chosen because it is when the trees in the Holy Land stop absorbing water from the ground and start drawing nourishment from their sap, which produces the blooms and eventually the fruit. So, every fruit before that date is considered as coming from the previous year.
Few people realize that it was God who first honored trees, giving the Israelites specific instructions in the Torah (Gen.-Deut.) concerning their care (e.g., Deut.20:19–20). God’s law, in fact, promoted a respect for all His creation. It is said that followers of the Torah cannot help but gain a highly developed environmental consciousness. Because the Jewish sages felt this was so important, they expanded on God’s law and created many additional environmental laws. Rabbinic laws cover even noise pollution, odors, and whatever is considered invasion of privacy. For instance, tanning of animal skins—which smells badly—had to be done within a certain radius of others’ property.
There were special laws regarding Jerusalem. No dung hills or kilns were allowed to pollute the air of the holy city. It is too bad those laws are not taken seriously today, as many Jewish citizens have decried the filth allowed in God’s city. On aish.com, Rabbi Freundel writes, “Maintaining an environmentally sound quality of life is an imperative, and damaging that quality of life is treated in Jewish law as a tort—a physical injury against one's neighbor.”
Today, the holiday is celebrated by planting trees and eating the seven species of the Land: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut. 8:8). Try out this unique recipe from aish.com on your national Arbor Day, and remember that respect for trees started in the Bible. (Check out our November 2007 Israel Teaching Letter, “Israel: God’s Oaks of Righteousness,” for more information on this holiday.)
Warm Casserole of Dried Fruits
2 c. each: pitted prunes, dried pear or peach halves, and figs
1 c. golden raisins
5 3/4 c. white grape juice
2 bananas, sliced
1 1/2 c. orange juice
2 T. honey
Pinch ground ginger
To remove sulfur dioxide and/or oil coatings from non-organic fruit, immerse it in boiling water for one minute, rinse, pat dry, and snip off the tips of the figs. Place in a very large bowl and cover with grape juice. Add ginger (or a cinnamon stick). Place a heavy plate on top and press down to immerse the fruit. Let stand overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 oF.(177oC) Transfer fruit and juice to a covered casserole and arrange sliced bananas on top. Mix orange juice and honey and pour over the top. Bake for one hour. Serve warm for breakfast or for dessert with sorbet. Serves 8.
By Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor
Photo Credit: israelimages.com/Cathy Raff
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