web analytics
November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘trees’

Carmel Fire Aftermath: Mourning, Assessing, Finger Pointing

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

JERUSALEM – In the aftermath of the deadliest fire in Israel’s history, Israelis this week set to the task of burying the dead, cleaning up and figuring out what exactly went wrong – and who is to blame.

Even before the blaze in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa came under control Sunday afternoon, Israelis were asking why the country wasn’t better prepared for a wildfire of this magnitude. In all, 42 people were killed, about 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost.

The damage to northern Israel was estimated at about $75 million, including damage to towns and kibbutzim, destroyed forests and damaged roads. Yemin Orde, a village founded in 1953 that has served as a home and school to thousands of immigrant youths, most recently Ethiopians and Russians, was severely burned. In Kibbutz Ein Hod, 10 houses and an art gallery were destroyed.

On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved a $16.5 million aid package to assist damaged communities, and Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered that each person whose home suffered severe fire damage be given an immediate aid disbursement of about $700.

Calls came from many quarters for the resignation of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ministry is responsible for the state’s firefighting forces. Yishai is also accused of refusing fire truck donations from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Yishai said his ministry was not funded well enough to purchase needed equipment – in 2001, he noted, Ariel Sharon’s government voted to eliminate air support for fire fighting – and told Israel Radio that he was a target because of his Sephardic heritage.

Israel has 16 firefighters per 100,000 residents; by contrast, the United States, Japan and Greece have five to seven times that number per capital, The Associated Press reported. In total, Israel has 1,400 fire fighters.

A 14-year-old resident of the Druze village of Ussfiya was arrested Monday after admitting to starting the fire. The teen reportedly said he was smoking a nargila water pipe and threw a live coal into an open area before returning to school.

The arrest was announced hours after two teenage brothers from the same village arrested over the weekend on suspicion of negligence in starting the fire were released from detention by a Haifa court. The teens had been accused of lighting a bonfire near their home that sparked the blaze.

High winds and dry weather conditions provided fuel for the blaze, which began tearing through northern Israel on Dec. 2. Northern Israel is covered by fields and trees planted over the decades – many of them by pioneers during the British Mandate period. Others were planted by Diaspora Jews through the Jewish National Fund.

Meanwhile, numerous figures in the Arab world cited the fire as punishment from God for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its occupation of Arab lands. The Palestinian prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, said the fire was a “strike from Allah.”

The spiritual leader of the Israeli Orthodox Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, also said the fire was divine punishment, attributing the blaze to the sin of lack of observance of the Sabbath.

During the height of the blaze, Israeli’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Shlomo Amar, led thousands in prayer at the Western Wall. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger called on Israelis to give charity and read Psalms to bring about the fire’s end.

For its part, the Israeli government issued a rare call for international assistance. Among the countries that responded were Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Germany, Russia, France, Switzerland, Britain, Spain and the United States. The Palestinian Authority also sent 21 firefighters and four fire trucks to help battle the blaze.

Thirty-five firefighting airplanes came to Israel. New York sent a 747 loaded with Fire Troll 931, a fire retardant chemical, in a shipment organized by the New York City Fire Department and the office of the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Israel also rented the American Evergreen Boeing 747 Super Tanker, one of the most advanced firefighting planes in the world, loaded with 80,000 liters of water and fire retardant. It arrived early Sunday morning and had an immediate effect on helping douse the flames.

The deadliest incident came in the fire’s early hours when a bus carrying about three dozen cadets from the Israeli prisons service on their way to evacuate a prison threatened by the blaze became trapped between burning trees. Nearly all those aboard perished, and the bus was left a scorched shell.

Jewish communities in Denver and Winnipeg, Canada, also mourned the death of one of the bus passengers, Rabbi Uriel Malka, 32, who was working as a chaplain in the Israeli Prisons Service.

Malka, a father of five, worked as a Jewish Agency emissary for two years in Denver and then served as principal of the Ohr HaTorah Day School in Winnipeg. Malka had narrowly escaped death during combat in the Second Lebanon War.


It’s The Olive Trees, Stupid!

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

In case you didn’t notice, olive trees in Judea and Samaria are under attack. The alleged culprits are Jews living there. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry called it “terrorism.”

Will this “crime against humanity” be on the agenda of the UN? Will NGOs demand this “Holocaust of the trees” be prevented? Will the EU lavish funds to make up for the poor harvest, a result of intense heat waves and lack of rain? Will the International Court of Injustice condemn this as a “violation of international law”?

By the way, where are these fervent “guardians of the trees” when Jewish fields are torched and Jewish vineyards ripped up by Arabs, assisted by “peace activists”?

At any rate, to whom, precisely, do these endangered trees belong? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Palestinians claim them “for generations,” though there are no deeds, or indications of ownership, and most are recent plantings.

Maps of the disputed areas during the British Mandate show that Arabs have encroached on state land, planting and building; uncontested, they claim legal possession.

In recent decades this encroachment has become widespread, and planting olive trees has become one of the most widely used methods by Arabs to assert legal claims and acquire land rights.

Why olive trees? Olives are in high demand and the trees are easily maintained; they require no irrigation and little care, except for occasional pruning, which helps new growth the following year.

And pruning can, when convenient, look like destruction – perfect for making a case against “settlers” and garnering media attention and compensation.

Arabs also plant olive trees in disputed areas near Jewish communities, often with help from Peace Now and NGOs, to check the growth of settlements and provide cover for terrorists who seek to infiltrate and murder. In the struggle over property rights olive trees serve as signs of ownership, as boundary markers, and are valuable forward positions for asserting strategic advantage.

True, both sides play this game, as Jewish communities expand as well. Only one side, however, gets condemned, and the poor olive trees are caught in the middle. But the questions persist: Who has a right to plant, who has a right to harvest, and to whom do trees (whose lineage and ancestry cannot be traced) belong?

And, of course, who owns the land?

Arabs and much of the international community claim Jews have no right to live in areas conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. But when the UN in 1947 proposed dividing Palestine (a two-state solution), the idea was rejected by the Arabs. Five Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948; an armistice in 1949 left Israel in control of one part of what had been called Palestine, Jordan in control of Judea and Samaria, and Egypt in control of the Gaza Strip.

No one proposed a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel, nor did Palestinians consider themselves a distinct people.

Egypt never claimed the Gaza Strip, which is now the first Islamist state of Hamas, and Jordan relinquished its claims to the West Bank in 1988. Both countries have signed peace treaties with Israel. Legally, therefore, sovereignty over these areas should revert to their original status – part of “the Jewish National Home,” the State of Israel.

One of the few places in the world whose status is disputed and undetermined, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is embroiled in a struggle over political and national rights. It is important, however, not to forget the forest – Israel’s survival – for the trees, olives and others.

Metaphors for conflicting claims and sources of contention, olive trees can also nourish mutuality. Robert Serry’s exaggeration is one more indication of what is wrong with the UN and its hostility toward Israel – and an example of what, by encouraging extremism and misunderstanding, prevents true peace.

Moshe Dann is a writer living in Jerusalem.

Title: A Green Fantasy: Ruthie Discovers The Secret To Noah’s Ecosystem

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Title: A Green Fantasy: Ruthie Discovers The Secret To Noah’s Ecosystem

Author: Edna Chayen

Publisher: Mazo Publishers, Jerusalem



   Noah’s Ark. Do we believe it really happened or was it a kind of Biblical legend, allegory or parable? The author, an anthropologist as well as a barrister and criminologist, has done an amazing amount of research into ecology, and come up with a fascinating theory and a gripping children’s story of how it really might have been.


   Ruthie, aged ten, has chosen Noah’s Ark for her school project during the summer vacation, and has asked her 12-year-old brother Dan to help her. They also enlist the help of their cousin Jack, a university student who is studying Ecology. The more research they do, the more it becomes feasible as a complete, closed ecological system.


   They began with the dimensions of the Ark as stated in the Bible 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, which would make it longer than a football field. There could have been plants and trees growing inside it that, by giving out oxygen and taking up carbon dioxide, could re-oxygenate the air. Trees could also recycle the water.


   Throughout the book there are drawings (by Tzipi Stern) that show, for example, a map where Noah could have built the ark, how it floated above the mountain tops, the interior of the Ark with its ramps and pools of water; the construction of the ceiling and roof, and a cross-section inside it. The attractive cover, painted by the author, depicts one of the cages.


   There were so many points to consider, Ruthie decided that there had to be flowers, with small, live creatures on them – flies, ants, lady-birds, bees and butterflies. In fact, all the creatures had to be catered for and their varied requirements for heat or cold, light and shade, food and drink, to enable their survival in the Ark. Many solutions to the problems came to Ruthie in her dreams, when her sub-conscious took over from her daytime thoughts.


   Her school project becomes something of an obsession, much to her parents’ concern, but in the end, everyone – including her teacher – is impressed by both her work and her vivid imagination.


   This is a gripping children’s book from which even adults can consider the feasibility and possibility that Noah’s Ark may have existed just as the author has described it.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (That is, if you’re a tree!)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

                  From the very beginning of creation, the Holy One was

                  occupied with the planting of trees. As it is written:

                  “G-d planted a garden in Eden.” (Gen. 2:8)


                  Every year, on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, we celebrate a strange holiday – Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees.  The name is a short form of 15th Shevat – tet = 9 and vav = 6.  This year, Tu b’Shevat falls on 3rd February, one month before Purim.  It also has other names – Chag Hailanot – the Festival of the Trees; and Chag Haperot – the Festival of the Fruit. 
                  The month of Shevat marks the beginning of spring in Israel. In winter, there is usually heavy rain and some storms.  Vegetation is dormant. Except for the olive, the cypress, the carob and the pine, the trees are leafless, the fields newly ploughed and sown.  But with Shevat, nature rouses itself. Meadows are carpeted with blood-red anemones, cyclamens peep from rock crevices.  Trees begin to blossom. The almond (shaked) is the first, bedecking itself with rose-white flowers.
                  The Talmud and Midrash are emphatic about the value of trees.  “Man’s life depends on the tree”; “All the trees were created for the use and enjoyment of living beings”;  “It is forbidden to live in a city which has no gardens and greens.”  The Torah is compared to a tree: “For it is a tree of life….” Trees were given human characteristics:  the cedar symbolizing courage and strength; the olive – wisdom; the grapevine – joy and childbearing; the palm – beauty and stateliness.
                  Thus it is easy to understand the holiday of Tu b’Shevat, the day when trees are judged…. which trees will flourish and grow tall; which will wither and shrink; which to be struck by lightning and which to withstand all danger.  In the ancient Jewish calendar, the date was adopted for tree tithing.  Farmers were obliged to give a tenth of their produce to the government as fruit for the Temple.  Even today, we measure the age of the tree according to Tu b’Shevat and it is forbidden to eat its fruit until the tree’s fourth birthday.
                  The customs of Tu b’Shevat are few but delightful.  Holding a seder is not commanded in the Torah.  The idea began in Safed in the 1500’s as a celebration of the creation, and it is modeled after the Passover Seder. Fifteen kinds of fruit and nuts are eaten, and four cups of wine are drunk. Traditionally, the first cup is white wine, then white mixed with a bit of red, the third cup is red mixed with a bit of white and the fourth cup is pure red wine, symbolizing the four seasons.  The table is set with fruit, wine and a loaf of bread, and the blessing over fruit is recited at least four times. We read a selection of prayers, poems and blessings referring to trees and fruit and the earth’s fertility.

                  Tree planting ceremonies, especially by children, are traditional on Tu b’Shevat in Israel, where the soil is holy.  At the dawn of creation, G-d placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it.  We are therefore commanded to take care of the world and be its stewards.  Tu b’Shevat also reminds us of our responsibility to the environment – that we should cry out against the enormity of the destruction of rain forests and the degradation of G-d’s world.

Fruit Of The Land

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
“This week is Tu B’Shevat,” announced Rabbi Dayan. “We celebrate the ‘New Year’ of trees with produce of Eretz Yisrael. However, the Israeli Rabbinate does not take full responsibility for Terumos and Ma’asros to export produce. So, unless the produce is marked as tithed, it is proper to take Terumos and Ma’asros yourself.”
“But I thought that only applies in Israel,” commented Mr. Greenberg.
Rabbi Dayan answered, “Fruit grown in Israel is obligated in tithes even when eaten in America.”
Mr. Greenberg checked his fruit store for Israeli produce, and found Jaffa oranges, Israeli pomegranates and many more fruits and vegetables. He bought a bag of each and wondered, “What do I do now?” he wondered.
 Mr. Greenberg invited his knowledgeable neighbor, Mr. Weiss, to advise him.
“Tithing involves four steps,” explained Mr. Weiss. “First, cut off somewhat more than one percent of the produce. Second, designate a coin to redeem the Ma’aser Sheni. Take a quarter, since that allows you to redeem a few times.”
             Mr. Greenberg cut off a small piece of each type of produce and got a quarter. “Now what?”
“Third,” continued Mr. Levy, “recite the Terumos and Ma’asros text whereby you declare the various tithes, in a language you understand. Fourth, double wrap the 1+ percent that you cut and dispose of it, and destroy or discard the coin after a few uses.”
Mr. Greenberg recited the text, disposed of the fruit, which had been cut off, put away the quarter safely for additional redemptions, and thanked Mr. Weiss.
            “My pleasure,” smiled Mr. Weiss. “But I’ll take an orange, half a pomegranate,” and named some more of the produce. “Please hand them over.”
“Huh?” Mr. Greenberg looked at him blankly.
“You know I’m a Levi,” explained Mr. Weiss. “One of the tithes you just declared was Ma’aser Rishon given to the Levi. So I’d like 10 percent of each type “
            “Can you really collect 10 percent from everyone?” asked Mr. Greenberg.
“Why not?” retorted Mr. Weiss. “You declared Ma’aser Rishon and I’m a Levi, so you owe it to me or some other Levi.”
“Let’s check with Rabbi Dayan,” insisted Mr. Greenberg.”
 Mr. Greenberg, together with Mr. Weiss, called Rabbi Dayan. “Your question,” said Rabbi Dayan, “touches on the basics of Terumos and Ma’asros.
“The mitzvah of Terumos and Ma’asros has two parts. The first is to designate and declare Terumos and Ma’asros. Even nowadays we must do this and only after declaring tithes is the remaining fruit kosher.”
“The second part is to give the tithes to the relevant parties, the Kohen and the Levi.  The 1+ percent is the Kohen’s, but it must be eaten in purity. This is not possible nowadays, so we dispose of it respectfully.”
            “What about my 10 percent?” demanded Mr. Weiss.
“The Levi’s portion can be eaten nowadays. However, this brings us to the most fundamental principle of monetary law,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “That is: ‘One who demands of his friend has the burden of the proof.’ A person can demand money only if he can prove that he is definitely entitled to it.
“There is an element of doubt here. Tithes may have been taken by the Rabbinate, in which case the ‘tithing’ was superfluous. Mr. Greenberg declared Terumos and Ma’asros out of doubt, to make sure that the fruit would be kosher. However, when you demand that he hand over to you the 10 percent Levi portion, that’s a different story! This is now a monetary issue.

             “Demanding that Mr. Greenberg give you an orange places the burden of proof on you that Terumos and Ma’asros were not taken and that his tithing was meaningful. Otherwise, Mr. Greenberg can say, ‘Prove that I owe you this orange. Maybe it isn’t really Ma’aser.’ Furthermore, you have no proof of your lineage as a Levi, other than your own statement. Since no Levi can prove that he is definitely entitled to that orange of Ma’aser Rishon, Mr. Greenberg can retain possession of it and eat it.”


    Rabbi Meir Orlian is a Halacha writer for Machon L’Choshen Mishpat, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn. For more information visit www.machonmishpat.com.

Q & A: Tu B’Shevat

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

   QUESTION: Since on Tu B’Shevat we do not celebrate with a festive meal. Then how do we mark this date on our calendar? Additionally is one allowed to fast on this day?

M. Goldblum

(Via E-Mail)
   ANSWER: Before we answer your question we must first discuss the significance of this important date on our calendar.
   The first Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah states that there are four New Years (lit. “heads of the year”), namely, in Nissan, in Elul, in Tishrei and in Shevat. These new years, according to the Mishna, are regarded as the beginning of the year for the fulfillment of various precepts:
   “On the first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of cattle – R. Eleazar and R. Shimon [who dispute this statement] say it is on the first of Tishrei.
   “On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for years (such as the reckoning of dates for shetarot, or promissory notes), for Sabbatical years (the seven-year cycle of shemittah in Eretz Yisrael, when the earth lies fallow), for Jubilee years (the culmination of seven seven-year cycles, i.e., the 50th year), for planting (calculating the first three years when a newly planted tree is considered orlah and its fruit may not be eaten), and for [the tithe of] vegetables.
   “On the first of Shevat is the newyear for [tithing the fruit of] the tree, according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel [disagree and] say, ‘on the 15th of that month.’ “
   We can easily see that these various “calendar” years are intertwined with the laws of tithes which are stated in Parashat Korach (Numbers 18:21-32), Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 14:22-29) and Parashat Ki Tavo (ibid. 26:12‑15). Our sages expounded there from the laws regarding the various tithes: ma’aser rishon, the first tithe that is given to the Levites; ma’aser sheni, a second tithe set aside the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the shemittah cycle, and which had to be eaten in Jerusalem; and ma’aser ani, the tithe set aside for the poor during the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical cycle, replacing ma’aser sheni.
   Rambam (Hilchot Ma’aser Sheni 1:2 and Hilchot Terumot 5:11), based on Tractate Rosh Hashanah 14b (the baraita of R. Shimon b. Eleazar) and 15b (stating, “If the fruit of a tree blossoms before the 15th of Shevat …”), rules that we follow the view of Beit Hillel. In fact, the discussion in the Gemara (ibid.) sets the date of the 15th (tet vav or “tu“) of Shevat as the dividing line to determine for which year fruits of various trees are to be tithed.
   In Bnei Yissaschar, the Dinover Rebbe, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spero, derives from the wording of the Mishna “the New Year of the tree” (in the singular, as opposed to the plural used in the other cases) that on the 15th of Shevat every Jew should pray for a choice etrog that is beautiful to look at and in accordance with the most meticulous requirements (mehudar). He understands “the tree” to refer to one particular tree, the citron tree.
   As relates to fasting on Tu B’Shevat, we cite the Mechaber who states (Orach Chayyim 572:3 regarding the laws of fasting) that, “If a community desires to proclaim a public fast for a Monday and the Thursday and Monday that follows (Ta’anit B’Hav), and [one of] the fast day[s] would fall on Tu B’Shevat, the fast [schedule] is deferred to the following week in order that a fast not be decreed on Tu B’Shevat, which is the new year for the trees.”
   The Rema adds that if they have already started the fast [schedule], it is not canceled, as would be the case on rosh chodesh and chol hamo’ed.
   The Magen Avraham and the Ba’er Heitev both relate the incident when the Maharil had decreed that the community refrain from eating meat every Monday until Rosh Hashanah. That year, the 15th of Av (which is comparable in status to the 15th of Shevat) fell on a Monday, and the Maharil refused to eat meat.
   However, on the eve of Yom Kippur (when it is customary to eat two seudot with meat) and on the occasion of aseudat mitzvah he opined that it was permitted because of his [original] intention – he had not intended to include these days in his decree.
   This would conform with the view of the Rema (supra) who indicates the lesser status of Tu B’Shevat in regard to fasting. It is a progression from the preceding halacha (572:2) which states that if the community had already started a fast on rosh chodesh, Chanukah, Purim or chol hamo’ed, they are allowed to complete the fast – but they incur the obligation of another fast day for having fasted on that day.
   Magen Avraham explains that even though rosh chodesh is referred to as a “mo’ed” (a festival), it is not a yom mishteh ve’simcha (a day of feasting and rejoicing). The Yad Ephraim points out that Purim is indeed referred to as “yom mishteh ve’simcha” (Megillat Esther 9:17), but he notes that rosh chodesh is de’oraita (Biblical) while Purim is not.
   The day also seems to take on a festive status as regards the Tachanun prayer and nefilat appayim (lit. falling on one’s face during prostration), the Mechaber states (Orach Chayyim 131:6) that the custom is not to do so on Tu B’Shevat and other semi-holidays.
   (Note: The Talmud, Megilla 22b, refers to the custom of falling on the face when prostrating during the Tachanun prayer on a public fast day. Rav, who happened to be in a synagogue in Babylon on a public fast day, did not “fall on his face” when the rest of the congregation did so.)
   The Gemara assumes that the reason was that the floor of the synagogue was made of stone, and we are taught (Leviticus 26:1), “Ve’even maskit lo titnu be’artzechem le’hishtachavot ale’ha – You shall not place a stone covering in your land to prostrate yourselves upon it.” “Ale’ha” is understood to refer to a stone covering “in your land,” meaning wherever you live, but not in the Temple, where it is permitted.
   The Gemara also offers an alternative answer – that it is only full prostration with arms and legs extended that is prohibited everywhere but in the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, today we make sure that there is something, such as the arm, that separates between the face and [any] floor.)
   However as regards a seuda, there is no mention of a formal seuda in regard to Tu B’Shevat, just as there is none for rosh chodesh. But both Magen Avraham and Ba’er Heitev (loc. cit.) cite two interesting minhagim (customs). One is that on days when we do not say Tachanun Jews living in Austria did not eat lentils since these denote mourning.
   The other custom mentioned is that Ashkenazic Jews eat many kinds of fruits growing on trees. Of course, we have to be careful to recite the shehecheyanu blessing on new fruits in addition to the regular blessing we make before eating fruit (see Shevet Mussar quoting the testament of R. Eliezer Hagadol to his son).
   Although Ashkenazic Jews are mentioned specifically, the Sephardim also celebrate Tu B’Shevat. In fact, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, rosh kollel of Chazon Ovadyahu and the son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rishon LeTziyyon, devotes no less than nine paragraphs to the laws of Tu B’Shevat in his halachic work Yalkut Yosef.
   He notes (Hilchot Tu B’Shevat, Siman 4) the custom [of Sephardic Jews] to learn Mishna and Zohar on the night of Tu B’Shevat, including, of course, the laws pertaining to orlah, terumah (the first produce offered to the kohanim), and tithes.
   In Siman 6 he examines the situation when Tu B’Shevat occurs on the Sabbath, and the question when the new fruits are to be brought to say the shehecheyanu blessing over them. If the fruit is served after Kiddush, but before washing for the meal, there is a dispute among poskim whether the Grace After Meals serves as a substitute for the beracha acharona, the blessing that is normally said after eating fruit, based on the principle “safek berachot lehakel,” namely, when there is a doubt about the requirement for a blessing we tend to be lenient.
   He expresses the opinion that it is therefore proper to serve the new fruits during the meal, before Birkat Hamazon, so that the fruits are definitely included in the Grace After Meals.
   We have a glimpse of the importance of trees in our life when we read in Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 20:19) the admonition not to destroy fruit-bearing trees when we lay siege to a city. The phrase, “Ki ha’adam etz hasadeh” is taken to mean that we should not destroy trees because they do not attack us as people do, and also that man depends on the tree, “For man is the tree of the field.” All the commentators refer to man’s dependence on the fruit of the tree for his sustenance. The tree is considered as a source of life and we are anxious to preserve it.

   The Talmud (Ta’anit 7a) relates that when R. Zera was not feeling well enough to teach the law, R. Jeremiah asked him to expound something of an aggadic character. He replied by quoting R. Yochanan on the verse, “‘But is man a tree of the field?” Since it states, ‘From it you shall eat,’ and ‘it you shall not destroy,’ and states further [in the following verse], ‘It (a non fruit-bearing tree) you may destroy,’ we derive from the wording that only if a scholar (who is compared to a fruit-bearing tree) is worthy, should we eat (i.e., learn) from him…”



Rabbi Klass can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

Falling Trees And Exploding Pomegranates: Ori Gersht’s Beautiful Yet Tragic Metaphors

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Black Box: Ori GershtDecember 22, 2008 – April 12, 2009Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture GardenIndependence Avenue at Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DChttp://hirshhorn.si.edu/


The young couple sitting behind me in the small black box theater at the Hirshhorn Museum could not stop giggling at Ori Gersht’s film, “The Forest.” With each boom that broke the silence as another tree fell in the forest, the two young people mocked the posted sign outside the room, which offered context for the 13-minute film: “The well-known Zen koan ‘if a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?'” The viewers apparently did not read the entire posted note or they would have seen a completely different and less humorous side to the film by the Tel Aviv-born artist.

The plot of “Forest” might sound boring at first – sort of like Dr. Seuss’ “Lorax” minus the characters. Gersht focuses his camera on a series of falling trees set to a soundtrack that oscillates between bangs and utter silence. The film is almost exclusively shown from a high vantage point, and the falling trees often appear in an optical illusion to fall straight down as if a hole suddenly opened up beneath their roots.



Still from Ori Gersht’s “The Forest” (2006). Courtesy of the artist.


Several of the trees are so close to the camera that they become abstracted and could pass for giant human legs, and when Gersht does show the forest floor, the branches of the fallen trees reaching for the sky resemble writhing people or overturned bugs attempting to right themselves. Throughout the film, a stunning, almost supernatural, light lends the forest a mystical or magical atmosphere, which furthers a paradoxical blend of beauty and destruction.

The Hirshhorn note raises a number of questions about “Forest”: “Who or what is causing these trees to fall? Is this a statement about nature and inevitability, about proverbially missing the forest for the trees, a commentary about deforestation, or a metaphor for loss? Or is it perhaps an exercise in anticipation?”

No matter how “soothing” the forest seems, it is also “mysterious,” the note continues, and it draws from the artist’s own life. The 100-foot trees in “Forest” are deep in the Moskalova woods between Poland and Ukraine, where Gersht’s in-laws witnessed the Nazis killing their friends and neighbors while they were in hiding.

In that light, each tree that falls could be a person, and each severed small branch a child. After watching the film through several loops, I began to notice more and more variety in the trees. Some seemed to dive majestically while others toppled unawares. There were also many variations in the bark of the trees, almost like human skin, with hills and valleys and imperfections in the coloration. It is hard for me to imagine whether I would have so personified the trees in my head had I not known they were Holocaust references.

The other two viewers in the theater were either unaware or unimpressed by the interpretation, and this is hardly the first time audiences responded differently to the same work of art. Gersht might have even intended for the mixed metaphors.



Still from Ori Gersht’s “Pomegranate” (2006). Courtesy of the artist.


But the companion piece at the Hirshhorn, from the collection of The Jewish Museum, is much harder to interpret comically, though it is also a bit absurd. “Pomegranate” (2006) is a three-minute film, entirely set on a gray windowsill. A gourd and a cut-up cantaloupe sit on the sill, and a head of lettuce and a pomegranate dangle above tied by strings. The backdrop behind the lynched fruits is dark black, which evokes Dutch and Spanish “vanitas” or “memento mori” still-life paintings, meant to lead viewers to project themselves onto the fruit, which would surely decay and to meditate on their own emptiness and meaninglessness.

Gersht helps viewers out by hitting them over the head with his metaphor. After a few seconds, a bullet emerges from the right side of the frame and pierces the pomegranate. The fruit explodes dripping blood-like juice and seeds all over the other fruits and on the windowsill. Another film, in the Hirshhorn’s own collection, shows another explosion. The nearly four-and-a-half minute “Big Bang II” (2006) uses an annoying shrill sound to warn viewers something ominous is about to happen to the vase of flowers. Sure enough, a bullet pierces the vase, and the entire centerpiece explodes.



Still from Ori Gersht’s “Big Bang II” (2006).


In a great podcast interview with Hirshhorn staff, Gersht explained that the sound in “Big Bang” was a mixture of recordings of Israeli air raid and Holocaust memorial sirens. In fact, shortly after he got the recordings from a sound library, the second Lebanon war broke out, and the sirens could again be heard in Israel. The Hirshhorn website also credits the violence of the bullets piercing the vase and the pomegranate to “the experiences of the artist’s fear-filled childhood in Israel.”

It is refreshing to see such a major museum as the Hirshhorn acknowledge Israeli and religious aspects to artwork in its exhibits, especially as it downplayed any Jewish aspects to its show of Morris Louis’ works late in 2007. Gersht has also tackled Holocaust imagery in several others series, including “White Noise” (2000, not featured at the Hirshhorn), where he photographed a train journey from Krakow to Auschwitz, the same trip victims took in cattle cars.

Gersht explained in the podcast that he was struck by his ability to look out the windows, while the Holocaust victims had no such luxury, so he felt a desire to “somehow outlive the historical events.” He grew increasingly frustrated that he could not capture scenes that were passing by so quickly, but when he developed the photos he realized the abstraction made sense. He had been “dealing with a desperate attempt to capture the past,” though cameras can only capture the present.



Ori Gersht. “Ghost, Olive 17” (2007). C-print mounted on aluminum. 100 x 80 cm. Edition of 6.


Another series “Ghost” (2004), which also does not appear in the Hirshhorn show, featured photo shoots of ancient olive trees in Israel and Gaza. Gersht chose to take the pictures in the high heat of the middle of the day – when photographers are not advised to shoot because the contrast is so low – and he used very long exposures. The resulting images of the symbol of peace are eerily ghost-like and elusive.

Gersht’s theme of “tension between a disaster and tranquility” permeates many of his works. It is not insensitive to show beauty in forests that oversaw concentration camps. Gersht also sees themes of “registering and erasing, remembering and forgetting” in the forest’s ability to absorb collapsed trees and to fill in the gaps with new ones. The couple that giggled at the film might note that the trees were not falling for tragic reasons; they were all marked to be cut down by foresters, who merely sped up the process from a couple of years to a matter of days.

But Gersht manipulates the banality of the materials and the content, and in his hands they become symbols for much larger and much more personal issues and events. And that might be Gersht’s greatest achievement. Some artists feel they need to address tragedy in grandiose ways. Gersht sees microcosms of those events in everyday objects: flowers, trees, and pomegranates. Watching those objects explode as they are pierced by bullets, it is hard not to imagine with him.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

For more information on Ori Gersht and his work, visit the websites of his galleries: Mummery + Schnellle, Angles Gallery, and Noga Gallery.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts//2009/02/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: