Ecological awareness at the tap of a finger

Ecological awareness at the tap of a finger

Tu B’Shevat 5772

Tu B’Shevat didn’t start as an environmental holiday. The day actually finds its origin in the biblical verse: “When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the Lord. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.” (Leviticus 19:23-25)

“But how,” our sages apparently asked, “do we know how old each tree is?” To answer that question, our ancestors apparently set a specific day as one collective day that would serve as the “birthday” for all trees. 

There are four new years. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the 15th of the month.

In other words, at first Tu B’Shevat was identified as important for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. We have a rich history in which layer upon layer of meaning is often placed upon specific days or events and, by the 1500s, the mystics of our tradition had developed a seder ritual that discussed the importance and spiritual significance of fruits and trees.

And so it was that Tu B’Shevat became the Jewish version of Arbor Day, a day committed to an environmental focus. That leads us to this month’s Chai Tech and some cross-platform environmental apps:

Good Guide ( This free app lets you shop green. Its database of over 120,000 products lets you find out what exactly you are buying when you go shopping. Each product is evaluated based upon health, environmental, and social performance ratings. You can scan barcodes while you shop, create your own filters to see if products meet your personal standards, and, in the process, help promote healthily social responsible products while avoiding those that perform poorly. This app is available in the iTunes App Store and Android Market. 

Light Bulb Finder ( is “a free mobile phone application that makes it easy to switch from conventional lightbulbs to energy-saving equivalents with the right fit, style and light quality.” The app, which is available in both the iTunes App Store and Android Market, lets you view bulb images, find out the cost, see what the savings will be, and determine the environmental impact of making the change. As part of the Greenfaith Certification Program, my synagogue changed all its bulbs and most of its thermostats. The savings, both in terms of cost and environmental impact, have been significant. Best of all, it was easy and relatively inexpensive to do.

Hootroot ( is a web-based app that lets you calculate the most environmentally conscious path from one place to another. Using the Google Maps’ database, it determines your path and offers it up in a manner similar to the maps app on iOS devices. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. [Humankind] will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation.” That’s where Project Noah can help. Project Noah is a “tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.” With this app everyone, from the novice to the environmental expert, can learn and document what they find in their natural environment. The app lets you spot something and upload a photograph of the plant or animal in question. It also offers a Location Based Field Guide so you can see what others have found in your area. And finally, it offers Field Missions that are designed for environmental labs, groups, and organizations. It is a great way to find, explore, and share the world around you. This app is available in the iTunes App Store and Android Market. 

Unfortunately, these great apps are not yet available to those who, like me, are currently using a Windows phone. Hopefully they soon will be, but until then you might check out:

Tree Hugger. This app has a clean, easy-to-use interface that breaks down environmental news into broad categories so that you can find the information you want quickly and easily.

Environmental News: This app grabs relevant environmental news from The New York Times, NPR, and other sources. While it does not offer original content, it does do the work of filtering out stories of interest for those of us who worry about the state of the environment. 

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