May 24, 2007 - The Green Torah2007-08-16 14:09:21
By MARK MIETKIEWICZ
You can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without finding out about some initiative to save the environment and care for the planet. Valuable advice but hardly new to our religion. Peek into a Torah and you can read what Judaism has known for thousands of years.
Having trouble coming up with some examples of that connection? Here are some from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life:
- Bal tashchit (do not waste) teaches us to conserve resources.
- Shiluach ha-keyn (chasing away the mother bird) teaches us to safeguard all species.
- Shmita (sabbatical year) teaches us that economic justice and ecological sustainability are intimately related.
- And Shabbat reminds us that we are but one strand in the web of creation.
The COEJL site suggests that finding God in nature is a deeply Jewish experience and not some "new age fad. ... Jewish liturgy is infused with descriptions and images of nature as an expression and embodiment of the Divine. Yet for more than a thousand years, Jews - even Judaism itself - have been distant from nature." The site has many suggestions about creating a "reconciliation" between Jews and nature. http://www.coejl.org/jewviro.php
Jewish tradition has continued to valued nature and the environment. Here are some post-Biblical sources:
- Look at My creations! See how beautiful and perfect they are! For your sake I created them all. Do not desolate and corrupt My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to set it right after you. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:1)
- If a man kills a tree before its time, it is as though he has murdered a soul. (Nahman of Bratslav) http://tinyurl.com/2x8oqx
- This prohibition does not apply to trees only. Rather, anyone who breaks utensils, tears garments, destroys buildings, stops up a stream, or ruins food with destructive intent transgresses the command "Do not destroy." (Maimonides' Laws of Kings 6:10) http://tinyurl.com/yq5oum
Let's look at one sign of the environmental times in a bit more depth. Although the ubiquity of blue boxes may be a relatively new phenomenon, Rabbi Binyomin Adilman explains that recycling has a basis in Jewish tradition. Rather than throw away articles that were used to perform mitzvot, Judaism has always encouraged their reuse. For example, a lulav isn't just thrown away but is kept to be use fuel to burn the chametz for Passover. An etrog is poked full of cloves and used as the fragrance during the Saturday night havdalah service. The Chupah from a wedding ceremony becomes the groom's talit. Even leftover challah is used to make a kugel for the following Shabbat. Rabbi Adilman suggests that using yahrzeit glasses as drinking glasses should not be considered macabre. Rather, it would be a wonderful way to encourage us to use these objects for another mitzvah as we fill them with a drink and "thank the Creator with an appropriate blessing!" http://tinyurl.com/25ayes
I was very impressed by MyJewishLearning.com's section on Nature & The Environment. To see how much you know, start off with the deceptively difficult quiz, and then read up on why the story of Genesis is "often blamed for the Western world's rapacious attitude toward the natural world." The Guided Learning section takes you through traditional teachings on nature and the environment and then looks at contemporary concerns. http://tinyurl.com/2fbv6b Now that you're motivated, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb has suggestions for Living an Environmentally Conscious Jewish Life. http://tinyurl.com/2f7pet
For more stimulating readings, check out How Green is Judaism http://tinyurl.com/28lcan and Jewish Environmental Values: The Dynamic Tension Between Nature and Human Needs. http://tinyurl.com/yqfrbc
Despite all these examples, Rabbi Yossi Ives points out a problem. He says that in the minds of many people environmentalism has been hijacked by "eco-fascists" and that animal welfare has been "discredited in the eyes of many Jews for its hostility to shechita. ... But these objections, while correct in my view, don't delegitimize the fundamental morality of environmental responsibility and compassion towards animals respectively." Some solutions: "Rabbis can raise the issue in sermons, communal organization could adopt environmentally friendly policies, Jewish charities can invest ethically and individual Jews can buy with a social and ecological conscience." http://tinyurl.com/2f2r9l
Next week, greening Israel.
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Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.