The Modern Environmental Movement:
by Preston Hunter
The modern environmental movement is a growing social force, akin in many ways to
traditional world religions, one of the oldest of which is Judaism. While some environmental
commentators call for an abandonment of traditional beliefs and practices in order to effectively respond to the current environmental crisis, this is unnecessary
for contemporary Jews. Within Judaism, traditional religious beliefs and practices
do not conflict with modern, scientifically sound environmental practices. In fact,
traditional Judaism espouses philosophies and practices that coincide remarkably well with
those prescribed by the modern environmental viewpoint.
Judaism is among the oldest surviving world religions, tracing its roots back some
4,000 years to Abraham the Semite described biblically as the father of the Hebrew
people, and 3,300 years ago to Moses, who brought forth the covenant (Torah) between
the Jews and their god. Additionally, Jewish scripture includes narratives of human involvement
with Yahweh (or Jehovah), the god of Abraham and Moses, stretching back to the dawn
of human society (Genesis chapters 1-10).
The next major world religion may be environmentalism. An infant compared to Judaism,
the modern environmental movement began thirty years ago with the publication of
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
, followed by other authors' books, all "sending the world very specific warnings
about the risks of postwar technologies" (De Steiguer 1993). These writers believed
that runaway use of technology was creating unpredicted environmental catastrophes
worldwide. They identified previously unrecognized environmental problems and warned that
these could result in irreparable damage to the ecosystem and the extinction of countless
species, possibly even our own.
Because the term "world religion"
has traditionally been applied to systems like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism,
and Buddhism, it may seem inappropriate to place environmentalism in this category.
Rather than focusing on revelation and scripture, environmentalism is a more secular, scientific, and political movement. Even so, in looking at today's environmental
crisis, leaders of the movement see its roots deep within the human spirit.1 In his landmark treatise on the "global ecological crisis" (Gore 1992, 1), Vice-president
Al Gore wrote: "The search for truths about this ungodly crisis and the search for
truths about myself have been the same search all along" (1992, 13).
Further indicating that the movement goes beyond purely empirical science, ecologist
Marianne Beasley spoke for many environmentalists when she said:
One cannot fulfill oneself spiritually unless one walks in harmony with the Earth.
Nor can one be a true creature of the Earth unless one reflects with one's spirit
and soul upon the meaning, the beauty, and loveliness, and essential unity of all
creation Our Planet Earth has much to teach us, can nourish us spiritually as well as physically.
Linked to the religious or spiritual side of the environmental movement are ecofeminism
and other movements "identified with the earth, Mother Earth, Mother Nature [and]
a reverence and concern for the earth, nature and our resources" (Wilde 1991). Some
movements favor creating an environmentally centered religion of a type similar to some
contemporary feminist theology, building "on a foundation of not only rejecting Christian
and Jewish thought but also seeking out the antithesis to those traditional world views" (1991).
Whether environmentalism somehow evolves into a world "religion" in the more traditional
sense rather than simply a world movement remains to be seen. Proponents of such
a radical form of the movement are, however, a minority. Most people concerned with
the environment are like most people in general: religion is part of their life, and
they have at least some connection to religion or long-established religious traditions
(Bowker 1986, 4).
Because most humans are "religious" (in degrees varying from nominally to intensely),
most of the world's major problems have "a deep religious root" (1986, 4). At the
same time, solutions to those same problems, including the current environmental
crisis, can also be found within human religion. Recognizing this, His Royal Highness The
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wrote in an open letter to Jews and Christians,
The importance of religion to the conservation of nature and the natural environment
is that it takes it out of the realm of human self-interest and gives nature a sacred
status as the creation of the Almighty . If the major faiths are to make a more positive contribution to the conservation of what is left of the natural world, it is essential
for them to think through how best humanity can meet the wishes of the Almighty in
respect of his creation . The Jewish and Christian scriptures have a great deal to say about the divine creation [and ecological issues] . The challenge to Jews and
Christians today is to bring human hubris under some sort of control based on
the sacredness of nature and taking into account the way God's creation actually
works . (Prince Philip, 1989, 4-5)
The question must be asked: Is Judaism up to the task? Can a religion centered on
the Law given to Moses over three thousand years ago actually be expected to address
modern environmental concerns? The challenge seems daunting when one considers that
modern environmental issues are, by definition, modern. Love, hate, marriage, death, sin,
happiness and similar phenomena normally addressed in religious tradition are perennial
issues--encountered by people of Moses' time and throughout Jewish history, as much
as by people today. Global warming and depletion of tropical rain forests are in a
completely different category, and one might not expect to find applicability to
these modern issues within ancient religion.
In Jewish belief God, is omnipotent and omniscient; his word in the Torah is eternal.
Thus it is not surprising to a faithful Jew that Jewish scripture deals with even
the most contemporary of environmental problems. Within the traditional Jewish canon
are answers to the questions modern Jews might ask when pondering the modern environmental
crisis. These answers are not derived from complex and questionable "wresting" of
obscure passages, but are plain, easily understood passages that are an integral
part of God's law for the Jews. The religion's environmental concern is genuine and longstanding
(Helfand 1983, 139). Judaism, born anciently in an entirely nontechnological world,
is ecologically sound by today's most exacting scientific standards. To be truly Jewish is to be green.
Issues Central to the Environmental Movement
While it is not my purpose to survey and define comprehensively the modern environmental
movement, I will define its central issues in order to make comparisons to the Jewish
environmental ethic. By examining Jewish teachings and practices as they pertain
to specific current environmental issues, I will illustrate Judaism's applicability
to the modern environmental crisis.
What issues are central to the modern environmental movement? This question cannot
be answered definitively. Lists vary according to the organization or expert consulted.
Most lists, however, contain many similar items. A current tract from the Earth Save
Foundation addresses the following issues: human health, rain forest depletion, topsoil
loss, desertification, dwindling freshwater supplies, pollution, energy, global warming,
and pesticides (Earth First 1992). Desertification, extinction of species and loss of bio-diversity, rain forest depletion, and our view of nonhuman species are
among the major issues covered by various prominent scientists in Soulé's Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and Diversity
(1986), considered by many to be the "Bible" of conservation biology. Learning to Listen to the Land
, another anthology written by leaders in the environmental movement, focuses on bio-diversity,
human overpopulation, and our relationship with nonhuman life as major issues (Willers
1991). Al Gore's comprehensive and prescriptive environmental book addresses desertification, the loss of species and genetic diversity, global warming and
air pollution, water pollution, human overpopulation and birth control, and rain
forest depletion (Gore, 1991). The range of topics covered in each of these sources
is similar, most issues being discussed (to varying degrees and in varying and forms) in most
Most of the issues described in this brief survey are of concern to everyone, but
when it comes to expanding knowledge and understanding, they become primarily the
realm of professional scientists. One of the issues -- humans' relationship to animals
and nature -- is more philosophical than scientific in nature. In identifying this topic
as an important, even central, issue of environmentalism, it is necessary to recognize
that the environmental movement transcends purely scientific considerations.
The topic of animal rights, mostly ignored fifteen years ago but now often emerging
in discussion and media (Regan 1986, ix), is frequently linked to the environmental
movement. This issue is sometimes frowned on or avoided by those who approach environmental concerns from a purely scientific standpoint. Biologists generally consider the
concerns of individual organisms subordinate to entire populations and eco-systems.
Indeed, many depend on experimentation with individual organisms (which animal rights
activists generally oppose) for their research. People who consider themselves environmentalists,
however, come from a broad cross-section of society, not just professional biologists
and scientists. The numerical majority of self-professed environmentalists are not professional scientists; they are individuals concerned about environmental
issues for personal, spiritual, and moral -- as well as scientific -- reasons.
A popular view among many who deem themselves environmentalists is that humankind
can't cure the environmental crisis without changing its view of the natural world.
Sometimes termed "deep environmentalism," this philosophy proposes that a) we must
recognize the intrinsic value of every form of life, apart from its value to humans, b)
animals inherently possess rights equal or similar to those of humans, and c) environmental
problems such as extinction and the loss of natural habitat are caused by human unwillingness to grant animals these rights (Naess 1986, 507-509; Robinson & Bolen 1989,
It must be understood that all these issues are interrelated and form a larger whole.
Some are symptoms; others are causes. Environmentalists are united in the view that
humans are the chief cause of the environmental crisis. Furthermore, environmentalists agree nearly unanimously that the human species is causing these monumental problems
for two reasons: (1) there are too many humans (overpopulation), and (2) human use
of and interaction with the natural world2 is abusive and excessive.3
Jewish perspectives on only some of these central concerns of the environmental movement
will be examined here. Yet with only a brief examination, it becomes evident that
these issues, "modern" though they may seem, are addressed impressively in traditional Jewish scripture, thought, and practice. The issues to be focused on here are deforestation,
water pollution, and general respect for nature, more specifically, animal rights.
Sources of Jewish Teaching
Before I examine Jewish beliefs and practices, it will be useful to identify briefly
their three main sources. The primary source is the Hebrew Bible (which Christians
refer to as the Old Testament). The Bible (or Tanakh, in Hebrew) is the "sacred scripture" of the Jews and "the source of all Jewish teaching" (Jacobs 1984, 56). However,
Jews believe the Bible can not be fully understood without interpretation.
After the last books of the Bible were written (about 400 B.C.E.), a scholarly class
of Jews produced Bible-based commentary and laws which were considered sacred and
binding. Around 200 C.E., a collection was produced of all the laws and practices
that had been developed up to that time. Edited by Rabbi Judah the Prince, this became known
as the Mishnah. Around 500 C.E. the Babylonian Gemara, a collection of scholarly
commentary and discussion about the Mishnah, was first published. The Mishnah, combined
with its commentary the Gemara, are known as the Talmud -- the second source of Jewish
The Talmud is a "sacred work, second only to the Bible itself; indeed, in a sense,
[it is] more significant since it [provides] the final authority for Jewish observances"
(1984, 64). In practice the Talmud, like the Bible, is Jewish scripture. The word
(Hebrew for "law") is used to mean "Jewish scripture" and refers to the combination
of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. Torah
is also the word used for the first five books of the Bible -- those attributed to
Moses and counted as the most holy part of the Bible.
Much of the Jewish environmental ethic can be traced to Talmudic commentary on biblical
passages. Because of the addition of the Talmud to official Jewish canon, there are
many more clearly environmental commandments and writings in Jewish scripture than
there are in Christian scripture (even though both religions have the Old Testament
Post-Talmudic rabbinical codes and commentary make up the third source of Jewish teaching.
Because the Talmud is difficult to understand, Jewish religious leaders and scholars
have produced commentary on it since it was published. Most published versions of the Talmud feature the original Talmudic writings surrounded by subsequent scholarly
explanation. Books containing rabbinical commentary, many of them providing codes
which explain more clearly how a Jew should live in accordance with the Torah, have
been published separately. The most important of these is the sixteenth century Shulhan Arukh
("Arranged Table"). Jewish writings in this class continue to be produced to this
Examining Jewish Environmental Ethic
In examining the Jewish environmental ethic, it is important not to use the Bible
as a primary source. It is not my purpose here to interpret the Bible and explain
its environmental implications. I will not prescribe how Jews should understand the
Bible and Talmud. I will instead describe how Jews have traditionally interpreted their scriptural
cannon, as exhibited by Jewish writings, traditions, laws, and practices. This is
the "Jewish environmental ethic."
Central to the Jewish treatment of deforestation is the principle of bal tashit. bal tashit is a Hebrew term meaning "thou shalt not destroy" (Singer 1905, 240) or "you shall
not wantonly destroy" (Helfand 1983, 139). The origins of bal tashit are in the Bible4: the biblical injunction refers specifically to cutting down trees when waging
war against enemies, but in subsequent interpretation the rabbis have said this is
because the Bible was citing the "most likely situation under which such destruction
might occur" (1983, 140). The rabbis called bal tashit "an admonition against any kind of waste or willful destruction" (Singer 1905, 240),
clearly giving it wide environmental application. Indeed, "the verse has become
the locus classicus for conserving all that has been created, so that the very phrase
"bal tashchit"5 is inculcated into small children to teach them not to destroy or waste even those
things they do not need" (Solomon 1989, 14). Teaching his son about bal tashit, the Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Barcelona (c. 1300) told his son that if anything can
be saved, "even a grain of mustard," then no effort should be spared to do so (1989,
Extrabiblical scripture referring to bal tashit is found in the Talmud,6 where bal
tashit is applied to "numerous non-military situations" and in the eleventh-century
code of Maimonides, who said the penalty of flogging should be imposed not only for
cutting down trees during siege but "whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive
intent" (Helfand 1986, 44).
In this modern era, bal tashit applies to anyone "burning down forests, destroying
animal life and natural vegetation, or wantonly harming the ecology" (Wigoder 1989,
101). The rapid destruction of forests, whether rain forests in Brazil or old growth
forests in Oregon and Washington, is the antithesis of this Jewish ideal. Jewish law
makes some specific and strict allowances for cutting trees in some instances,7 but
the deforestation happening today is done mostly to satisfy greed and to graze more
cattle in order to supply hamburger to wealthy nations.8 Humankind is ethically responsible
for this destruction, whether contributing to it directly or indirectly (Helfand
1986, 44-45). The Talmud characterizes such "wanton exploitation" and destruction
as idolatry (Cohen 1991, 77). A Jewish conservation ethic should extend to such tree-saving
practices as conserving paper and eating less (or no) beef.
Today, Jewish scripture and tradition pertaining to forest protection are yielding
fruit in cogent ways. A Jewish denomination9 in Britain, for instance, passed a resolution
based on bal tashit in 1988 and has followed up with paper recycling programs, encouragement of the use of "environment-friendly commodities," and the establishment
of a Biblical Garden in London to help "focus the minds of children [and] numerous
visitors on biblical attitudes to nature" (Rose 1989, 67).
Jewish "religion schools and synagogue adult education units" have begun emphasizing
forestation and environmental topics, linking these issues to "the agricultural base
of the festivals of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Succot (Tabernacles),
as well as the special tree-planting day of Tu Bishevat, always a favorite with Jewish
children" (1989, 68).
Forests in the modern Jewish state of Israel,10 growing out of what was until recently
"dry sand" and "barren desert," are one of the most visible manifestations of Israeli
commitment to trees and forests (Jacobs 1984, 161). Israel's heavy investment in
the most advanced forestry technologies available, coupled with help from Jews worldwide
through the National Jewish Fund, have resulted in the planting of "170 million trees
in Israel over the last forty years" (Rose 1989, 68). Israel's forests--grown from technology, sacrifice, and Jewish ideal--stand in miraculous contrast to the deforestation
Water is indispensable to the continuation of human and nonhuman life. The healthy
functioning of human societies and natural eco-systems requires water that is plentiful
and clean. Yet today, water supplies throughout the world are both threatened and
threatening (such as with acid rain). A recent statement in the Jewish journal Tikkun
recognizes the problem: "Global water pollution needs to be halted and water quality
restored" (Merchant 1991, 66).
Judaism has traditionally recognized the importance of water; water has been used
in ceremony and celebrated. Jews are commanded to thank God for the rainbows and
electrical storms they witness (Helfand 1986, 41). In the Talmudic period, "water"
was symbolic for the divine teachings (Singer 1905, "Water"). The ancient Simhat Bet ha-Shoevah ("The Festival of the Water-Drawing") illustrates Jewish thanksgiving to God for
life-giving water and reverence to the water itself. Its ceremonies, described in
the Mishnah (Sukkah 5), involved pouring water in offering to God and "joyful dancing
and singing" (Cohn-Sherbok 1992, 507).11 The water to be offered to God was
drawn from the Pool of Siloam in a golden ewer of the capacity of three logs. It was
borne in solemn procession to the water-gate of the Temple, where the train halted
while the Shofar was blown "teki 'ah, teru 'ah, teki 'ah." The procession then ascended the "kebesh," or slanting bridge to the altar, toward the left, where stood on the
east side of the altar a silver bowl for the water. (Singer 1905, 476-477)
"Simhat Bet ha-Shoevah" was one of the most popular celebrations in the days of the temple. Symbolic prayers
for rain, showing recognition of rain's value and its source (God), were probably
part of the tradition (Singer 1905).
So valuable is water that "several laws were instituted by the rabbis to safeguard"
it from pollution (Solomon 1899, 16). Here is a typical law:
If one is digging out caves for the public he may wash his hands, face and feet; but
if his feet are dirty with mud or excrement it is forbidden. [If he is digging] a
well or a ditch [for drinking water], then [whether his feet are clean or dirty]
he may not wash them. (1989, 16)
The Talmud says that the destruction (i.e., pollution) of water can be a violation
of bal tashit
(Helfand 1986, 44) and allows for "claim[ing] damages or obtain[ing] an appropriate
injunction to remove the nuisance where the purity of one's water supply is endangered
by a neighbor's drainage or similar works" (Solomon, 1989, 16). Echoing these ancient laws is modern Israel's "prohibition on the transport of hazardous substances in
roads adjacent to the Sea of Galilee" (Rose 1989, 68).
An even bigger modern incarnation of Jewish concern for clean water is the Ministry
of the Environment in Israel. This ministry was established in 1989 to "deal with
a massive range of environmental issues, to protect natural resources and to control
pollution in the air, earth and water, and sewage and waste disposal . Emphasis is on
the quality of air, drinking water [and] coastal amenities" (1989, 69).
Israel is a pioneer in water conservation and reuse--"the most ambitious water reuse
effort in the world." Between 1989 and 1991, Jerusalem achieved a 14 percent drop
in per capita water use through "water-saving devices, leak detection and repair,
and more efficient irrigation of parks." Perhaps most amazing is Israel's intensive use
of "drip irrigation," a technology developed by this nation. Drip irrigation and
other "microirrigation techniques" apply water directly to plant roots, along with
nutrients, in precisely measured, monitored, and controlled amounts. "Drip systems often achieve
efficiencies in the range of 95 percent," and Israel now has "around half its total
irrigated land under drip, which has helped its farmers reduce their water use on
each irrigated hectare by one third even while increasing crop yields." The initial
investment for using this technology is extremely expensive,12 an illustration of Israeli commitment to environmentally sound water conservation
(Postel 1993, 29-36).
Animal Rights and General Respect for Nature
Respecting nature is a part of Judaism. Jewish commentator Jonathan Helfand wrote
that although "the God of Genesis told man to subdue and master the earth in both
content and spirit the Jewish tradition negates the arrogant proposal that the earth
is man's unqualified dominion . As part of the divine plan of creation himself, man has
the obligation to respect his inanimate and animate counterparts in the world" (1986,
Although "Judaism consistently values human life more than animal life" (Solomon 1989,
17), all living things are to be respected. The Midrash says
Even things which one regards as superfluous in the world, such as flies, fleas, and
mosquitoes, are included in the creation of the world, and the Holy One Blessed be
He conveys His message with everything, even by means of a snake, even by means of
a mosquito, even by means of a frog. ("Biology," Encyclopedia Judaica
, year and author unknown, 1027)
Though we might not appreciate the need for certain animals--and some may even bother
us--the Talmud declares that God "created nothing without a purpose" ("Biology," Encyclopedia Judaica
Jewish respect for animals is embodied in this aggadic13 saying about Moses:
While our teacher Moses was tending the sheep of Jethro in the wilderness a kid ran
away from him. He ran after it until it reached Hasuah. Upon reaching Hasuah it came
upon a pool of water [whereupon] the kid stopped to drink. When Moses reached it
he said, "I did not know that you were running because [you were] thirsty. You must be tired."
He placed it on his shoulder and began to walk. The Holy One, blessed be He, said,
"You are compassionate in leading the flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd my flock, Israel." (Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 2:2, quoted in Bleich
Although he created animals for human use, the god of Judaism "at the same time laid
upon [humankind] the obligation to respect and consider the feelings and needs of
these lower creatures" (Revel, year unknown, 330). Laws governing animals and commanding
Jews to respect them include Biblical prohibitions against acts such as having animals
work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), muzzling animals while threshing (Deuteronomy
25:4), and yoking animals of two different species together. Rabbi Ibn Ezra explained
that God gave this last commandment so that a stronger-pulling species wouldn't cause
stress or discomfort to weaker ones. Another Biblical passage commands: if a "passing
wayfarer sees an animal staggering under a burden too heavy for it [he] must stop
and unload it, even though it belongs to his enemy (Exodus 23:5, as discussed by Revel,
year unknown, 330).
Jewish treatment of animals shows compassion by following other Biblical prohibitions
against "taking the young before sending away the mother bird (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)
and killing an animal and its young on the same day (Leviticus 22:28)" (Jacobs, 1984,
175-176). The medieval commentator Nahmanides explained that these injunctions, in
addition to being compassionate, are meant to help preserve species from extinction.
This idea was echoed by the Sefer Ha-hinukh, which further states that "there is
divine providence for each species and that God desires them to be perpetuated" (Helfand
Post-biblical Jewish scripture requires feeding one's cattle before oneself (Bleich
1986, 63; Revel, 330) and eases Sabbath laws to allow rescuing injured animals or
milking cows ("to ease their distress") on the Sabbath (Solomon 1989, 11). Force-feeding
geese to increase the size or quality of their liver (Jacobs 1984, 176) and killing
animals for pet food (Bleich 1986, 75) are unnecessary and cruel according to the
rabbinic writings, and are therefore prohibited.
Jews are famous for , the extensive code of laws dictating the preparation of "kosher"14
food. An important element of kashrut is shehitah, the proper killing of animals
in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain possible. To qualify as kosher,
animals are killed "by a skilled and learned person who [knows] all the laws, never by
a brutal slaughterer performing the task solely for the money" (Jacobs 1984, 133).
A faithful Jew will not eat meat prepared any other way.
The rules for shehitah killing are detailed and many. Though not found in the Bible
itself, these rules are in the sacred Talmud, which says they "were given by God
to Moses at Sinai" (1984, 134-145). The rules of shehitah require humane treatment
of animals before and during killing. For instance, knives used for killing must be finely
sharpened, and even a tiny nick in a knife would mean animals killed by it aren't
kosher, because it might tear while severing the animal's windpipe (1984, 135).
Jews recognize that even the most careful killing involves some cruelty, and for this
reason many Jewish sects in the past have been vegetarians (Revel, 330), while today
vegetarianism among Jews is increasingly popular (Solomon 1989, 12). Nevertheless,
mainstream Judaism allows meat consumption as long as it inflicts minimal cruelty to
animals. This minimum is achieved through shehitah, which "distinguished medical
authorities have testified involves an almost immediate cessation of consciousness
on the part of the animal, so that it is the most painless method of killing . One expert
declared that he wished his own end might be as painless as that of an animal killed
by shehitah" (Jacobs 1984, 135).
The combination of ancient Jewish teachings with modern environmental and animal rights
issues has given rise to such organizations as the Society for the Protection of
Nature and the Society for Animal Welfare (both in Israel), as well as the worldwide
Jewish Vegetarian Society. The Jewish Vegetarian Society, which claims "some prominent
rabbis as members," cites Genesis, particularly verse 29 of the first chapter which
says that fruits, grains, and vegetables "to you shall be for food" (Rose 1989, 66-67).15
The discussion of these three environmental issues in light of Jewish thought and
law illustrates that traditional Judaism includes a concern for the environment and
the instruction necessary to inspire Jews to live in an environmentally conscious
manner. The consistent cohesion between Judaism and the modern environmental movement is remarkable.
Judaism teaches that "the environment, like man, has certain unalienable rights, and
these rights are endowed to it by the Creator--and as a result they may not be summarily
dismissed or violated" (Helfand 1986, 48). Jewish writer Jeremy Cohen said, "Responsible interaction with the environment offers men and women the deepest personal and
spiritual fulfillment, while environmental irresponsibility will lead to their physical
and spiritual demise. Judaism's environmental consciousness originated long before
the ecological "cause célèbre"
of our generation and, I should hope, will long outlive it. Like so much else in
the rabbinic ethos, it calls upon human beings to be mindful of whence they have
come, where they are going, and before whom they will have to account for their actions"
(Cohen 1991, 77).
In addition to the strong environmental ethic within Judaism, the more general, spiritual
side of the religion contributes inestimably to not only the wellness of individual
Jews, but the wellness of the environment as well. Michael Lerner, editor of the
Jewish journal Tikkun
, said, "Environmentalists cannot afford to simply address environmental issues--they
need to look at the issues that have led to" the current crisis (Lerner 1991, 50).
Lerner insists that for the environmental movement to be successful, it must "speak
to people's fundamental spiritual and ethical concerns." It must deal "with the pain
in people's lives and the collapse of their spiritual and ethical environment [as
a] prerequisite for engaging them in the struggle to save the physical environment"
(1991, 50). Judaism provides this synthesis; within it are both the prerequisites for dealing
with the "spiritual and ethical environment," as well as guidance for the applied,
Today Jews recognize and are concerned about environmental problems. Even orthodox
rabbis increasingly devote their sermons to environmental issues (Rose 1989, 67).
Furthermore, "Jewish individuals and groups are much involved with national bodies
like Friends of the Earth" (1989, 68). Many Jews realize that secular though these problems
seem, our solutions must "be based on religious and moral values" (1989, 69).
Judaism's applicability to the modern environmental movement illustrates that Judaism,
though ancient, is nevertheless a contemporary, living religion, applicable to Jews
today and tomorrow as much as it was when Moses descended Mt. Sinai. Jews can best
answer the problems of the current environmental crisis by living the religion that
has been handed down to them for millennia. People in general could live lifestyles
more conducive to the continued health of the earth, the environment, and our own
species by adopting similar practices.
- Examples abound within such books as Bill Willers, ed., Learning to Listen to the Land
(Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1991); Michael E. Soulé, ed., Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and Diversity
(Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1986); Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural
(San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1970); Barry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North America
(New York: Random House, Inc., 1992).
- Concerning the use of the term "natural world": "Natural resources" is a traditionally used term, but many environmentalists increasingly reject the idea that plants and animals should be considered nothing but "resources" for humans.
- Wilde mentions notable examples of books that pioneered identification of the threats that human actions posed to the environment, as well as the idea that human overpopulation is one of the earth's most pressing problems These include Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb
(1968), The Closing Circle
(1971) by Barry Commoner, and Limits to Growth
(1972), written by a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Deuteronomy 20:19: "When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field [is] man's [life]) to employ [them] in the siege."
- Bal tashchit vs. bal tashit : Hebrew to English translations are not entirely standardized.
- While there is a Palestinian Talmud (first published around 400 C.E.), distinct from the Babylonian Talmud, we can follow convention and refer to the much more widely used Babylonian version as simply "the Talmud."
- "A tree which extends into the public road may be cut to allow a camel and its rider to pass beneath. (B.B. ii. 14)" (Singer, 1905, "Trees, Laws Concerning.")
- EarthSave Foundation, "What's the Beef & Who Pays?": "Since 1960 more than 25% of Central American rainforests have been cleared to create pastureland for cattle.
By the 1970s, two thirds of all the agricultural land in Central America was utilized for livestock, which was destined for export to North America. Cattle ranching has destroyed more rainforest in Central America than any other activity. For every quarter-pound hamburger that comes from a steer raised in Central or South America, approximately 165 pounds of living matter have been destroyed While peasant agriculture can often sustain a hundred people per square mile, the average rainforest cattle ranch 'employs one person per 2,000 head of cattle and this amounts at best to one person per twelve square miles.'"
- "The Reform Synagogues, a progressive group representing about 15 per cent of British
- It must be pointed out that today, "Israel" and "Judaism" are by no means synonymous.
Israel is a secular state. To add, however, "and Judaism is a religion," is far too simplistic. According to an old joke, ask three Jews what a Jew is and you will get four answers. Israeli law defines a Jew as any person, regardless of religious persuassion, even atheists, whose mother is Jewish, as long as that person hasn't joined another religion. Jews are a people and a nation as well as a religion.
The connection between traditional Judaism and many remarkable Israeli environmental practices
may seem tenuous, but it can not be summarily dismissed.
- After the destruction of the second temple--the site of both animal sacrifices and
the water libation ceremonies--the libation of water (Simhat Bet ha-Shoevah)
was no longer practiced.
- Initial output typically runs $1,500-3,000 per hectare (Postel, 1993, 29).
the rabbinic interpretation of the Bible (Old Testament), found within the Talmud,
which yields not legal code, but rather inspirational inspirational stories, poetry,
sayings, parables, etc.
- Kosher: Adaption of Hebrew word meaning "proper" or "fit."
- Genesis 1:29, King James Version: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."