To the Editor:
Kudos to Tevi Troy for describing how leftist Jews “superimpose” their political beliefs onto Jewish festivals such as Tu B’Shvat [“I Think That I Shall Never See a Jew As Lovely As a Tree,” February].
Although it was a much-needed piece, Mr. Troy gave the most prominent Jewish environmental groups a free pass. He wrote that his “point is not that these individual environmental programs are bad or problematic in and of themselves.” In fact, many of the environmental programs advanced in lieu of historically and textually based Tu B’Shvat observance actually violate Jewish law and undermine historically important Jewish ideals, such as feeding the hungry. For example, Hazon seems to forget that motzi shem ra (the prohibition on spreading malicious lies) can protect men and women who work for and own businesses that make and sell plastics. Without basis, Hazon’s Jewish-food guide alleges that “the long term negative health and socioeconomic effects of plastic at the local and global scales far outweigh the benefits realized by the use of plastics,” and it incorrectly claims that chemicals such as BPA are dangerous because they are “incorporated into your body” when you eat or drink things that are stored in plastic.
Jewish environmental activists also regularly trample on the good name of one of my mentors, Dr. Norman Borlaug, who founded the green revolution. Dr. Borlaug, who was not Jewish, is among the holiest men ever, for having saved over a billion people from starvation through his work advancing agricultural technology. He explained to me that there isn’t enough land to feed the world today, let alone tomorrow’s multitudes, and we cannot rely on “organic” food, as groups like Hazon wish.
New York City
Tevi Troy writes:
Thanks to Jeff Stier for his kind words about the necessity of my piece. As he correctly notes, my essay was intended to bring together evidence of a broad phenomenon that has gone largely unexplored. Mr. Stier’s comments demonstrate that more deserves to be written—and debated—on this subject. We need a deeper discussion about the way in which Tu B’Shvat has been seized by those with a political agenda to advance ideological rather than religious ends. That said, if a shul wants to hold an event where congregants pick up litter from a park, or plant trees on Tu B’Shvat, I don’t have any problem with those activities. In fact, I heartily endorse them, and I assume Mr. Stier would as well. The problem arises from injecting a political agenda into what is a religious occasion, something that is happening with too much frequency in modern American Judaism. I do not believe my article gave a “free pass.” I hope, instead, it serves as an invitation for readers to begin challenging the ideological forces exploiting Tu B’Shvat and to subject these forces to greater scrutiny.