Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tu B'Shevat Special: The Seven Species, the Orange, Rootedness and Exile

Why is the orange, the premier agricultural symbol of modern Zionism, not considered one of the traditional seven sacred species of the Land, as mentioned in the Torah?

See this fascinating new discussion of the meaning of those species, and the orange: The Seven Species and the Orange: Nostalgia and Jewish Identity, by Dr. Michal Oren of the Schechter Institute.

Nostalgia for an event or a place - real or imagined - serves as an aid for personal and collective identity building. However, it can also be a comfortable snare, for building an identity that empowers and motivates can, at the same time, provide an excuse for psychologically sinking into a sleepy passivity from which it is hard to rise. In national terms this is referred to by the twin concepts of 'diaspora exile' and 'national rebirth.'
The ideas of 'rootedness' and 'exile' (rootlessness) surface over and over again in Jewish history. The Land of Israel for the People of Israel in the Diaspora was an object of yearning not experienced firsthand, but imagined. The dialectic of rooted and rootless encouraged nostalgic rituals intended to strengthen identity and rootedness.

It is not surprising that trees, and chiefly tree planting, are used to symbolize rootedness, in contrast to the Wandering Jew motif. The tree, compared to man in various cultures and used metaphorically to denote the life cycle (birth, survival, death), also serves as a symbol for national interests. Specific tree types, whether common or rare, in any region, are chosen as symbols of consciousness formation along with associated ritual activity, such as partaking of the indigenous fruits of Israel on Tu B'shvat.

Eating fruits of the Land, as a metaphor for rootedness, has traced the strings of recollection from the present to an imagined glorified past and shaped the collective memory of Israel in exile. This worked two ways: on the one hand, fostering a sense of belonging and an eternal longing for the Land that promoted passivity; and prompting an awakening to ‘return' and national rebirth on the other.

In view of this, it is interesting to see if the ritual of ‘partaking of fruits of the Land' differed between ‘in the Land' and ‘in the Diaspora,' and to see which fruits were chosen to help shape memory and strengthen the collective, in exile and later in the Land.

Click here for the rest of the article

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