Trees for Charlie: TuB’shvat – Let’s bridge the gap between faiths

Trees for Charlie: TuB’shvat – Let’s bridge the gap between faiths

By Rabbi Natan Levy

JSAF co-chair Rabbi Natan Levy
Rabbi Natan Levy

“After the Easter accords, there is a new type of hate,” Rev Gary Mason, a Methodist minister in East Belfast tells us, “hatred mostly left the pulpit, the workplace and the school curriculum.  But now our prejudices has got down deeper. It’s gone into the home, I call it  ‘the closed-curtain hatred,’ it’s what parents say to children ‘round the dinner table, and friends whisper to friends. And it’s the hardest hatred of all to heal, because you can only know it  ever went on when it finally breaks out in terrible ways.”

It hurts to admit this, but I am afraid  that we may have the problem of ‘closed-curtain hatred’ emerging between Jews and Muslims here in the UK. I can only speak for my Jewish community, though I hear things are just as bad, if not worse, in Muslim homes.

At the Shabbes table this week, as we speak of the horrors of Paris, a lovely friend, a pillar of the Edgware Jewish community, literally spits out in anger: “Muslims are animals!” Our children listen and learn.

 My twitter feed is awash with well-meaning, intelligent, Jewish colleagues, sending each other  certain types of articles that-whilst not Islamaphobic *per se*-urge for a just a  touch more precaution  around the local mosque, a little more wariness around the burka-clad areas of town. This is our closed-curtain problem. This is quickly becoming the legacy of Paris.

And the solution for at least the last 1,000 years to the closed-curtain problem has been for  Jews and Muslims to plant a tree together. Or at least learn together about planting trees. 

You see, in a rare moment of sacred scripture synchronicity, a midrash and a hadith both share a nearly identical, and absolutely radical,  teaching for the end of days.

“*If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone says to you that the Messiah has come [according to the hadith: the resurrection is at hand], stay and complete the planting, and then go out to greet the Messiah.**(Avot d’RabbiNatan, 31B & Hadith Musnad Ahmad, Number 12491, Sahih)*

Scholars can’t pinpoint whether this was a Jewish source that traveled the trade route to Mecca, or a hadith that made its way up  from the Saudi desert to the marketplaces and yeshivas along the Euphrates. But, what I like to envision, and what seems most straightforward in the oral aetiology, is that a Jew and a Muslim sat together, and one taught a wise saying whilst the other listened and passed on the tradition. 

Not just any tradition, but a wonderfully iconoclastic one. For the end of days is the end of doubt. Is Messiah coming with a cross? A crescent? A latke, in her hands? Everyone is running to find out the TRUTH.

But not this Jew and this Muslim. They, oddly, would rather we plant a tree first. Why remain with the sapling and the questions, even for a minute, than bask in the perfect answers of the messianic age?

Could it simply be that whilst the end of days will be good for one religion at the expense of all the others, a fruit tree does not play favourites with its fruit.  That’s  quite a cliché, but then again, so is the historical reality of an aphorism with its roots in an unlikely *chevruta* between a Jew and Muslim a millennium ago.

The solution to the closed-curtain problem is to stop waiting for *my* messiah, *my* jihad, *my* absolutism, and start planting trees that may not grow as I wish and start  learning a text that I may not agree with. Behind the curtain, I am always right, the stranger is always strange and
the messiah wears my team jersey.  In tree-planting,  we give up power and control, to embrace an uncertain future with the chance of shared fruit.

 If we could roll back a decade and replace every Jihadist ideology with a sapling whilst teaching this joint hadith/midrash, could we have averted Paris?  God knows.  At the very least, we would have opened our curtains a crack, out of curiosity if nothing else, to watch our trees grow.

February 4th is TuB’shvat, the Jewish commemoration of trees and fruit. Throughout February the Board of Deputies Grow Tatzmiach Project will send a free fruit-seedling  to anyone who asks.  Just call or e-mail me. There is only one caveat.  You must  plant that tree with at least one member of another faith.

 That’s it.  And if you wish to sponsor a tree or an entire forest, please contact me at the Board as well.  Messiah, resurrection, holy war,  perfect faith,  these are easy; planting saplings is where the hard work begins. 

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