We always talk about religious beliefs that cause harm, but some beliefs are just downright silly. They don’t hurt anybody, but the lengths people go to in order to adhere to the rules is ridiculous.
Sheya Wieder owned a small old house on a large lot in Borough Park, Brooklyn, until about six years ago, he said, when he decided it was time to knock it down and build an upgrade. He was all set to go when it occurred to him that the big, shady tree, standing tall and proud right where his new stoop would go, might cause a problem…
“The rabbis wouldn’t let me take it down,” Mr. Wieder said. “They told me if there is any possibility, even if it costs you money, you should work around it.”
So he did.
“It cost me over $100,000 to save it,” Mr. Wieder said.
In certain Orthodox Jewish communities, from Borough Park to Monsey, N.Y., rabbis say, there is a strong aversion to chopping down fruit trees, which results from some combination of biblical verses, Jewish law and mystical documents that prohibit destroying them wantonly…
The belief stems from Deuteronomy 20:19:
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?
Of all the passages to take seriously, that’s the one they’re focusing on?
Can we at least admit there’s no war going on during which cities are being sieged and fruit trees must be spared? Wouldn’t that fact nullify the rule?
And if they’re taking Deuteronomy 20 that literally, we’re all screwed. Because this is what it says just a few lines before that in Deuteronomy 20:10-11:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
Oh shit! We’re all about to be enslaved by Orthodox Jews! BE AFRAID!