Judaism and some environmental teachings

Judaism and some environmental teachings

Religion and current issues always go hand by hand with politics, education, peace and environmentalism. In the modern world, globalization has  achieved amazing things such as the free movement of people, information, money, goods and services all across the world but it has also brought imbalances to  cultures and environments. While globalization has created great wealth for millions of people, many millions more have been affected by secondary effects and have had a negative impact upon the environment and human rights. Few times have we seen information on what religion has to say about environmental issues that are now a trend topic on social and most governments are finally addressing the issue properly. Rabbi Lawrence Troster, an Eco-Theologian, Educator and Environmental Activist, interprets certain books and tells us how God has passed all the environmental information to us and how to take care and respect all the living beings that surround us. Here are some interpretations that unite us again with nature and its beauty.

God created the universe.

According to Rabbi Lawrence Troster, This is the most fundamental concept of Judaism. The interpretation is that that only God has absolute ownership over Creation as seen in Gen. 1-2, Psalm 24:1, I Chron. 29:10-16. Humans must understand that they do not have absolute power over nature and that they can’t use it as they please. Humans must use Creation with a view of the larger good in both time (responsibility to future generations) and space (others on this world) and treat all species as part of that creation and respect them as part of God´s plan for the world. According to Rabbi Lawrence Troster “Everything we own, everything we use ultimately belongs to God. Even our own selves belong to God. As a prayer in the High Holiday liturgy proclaims, “The soul is Yours and the body is your handiwork.” As we are “sojourners with You, mere transients like our ancestors; our days on earth are like a shadow…” (I Chronicles 29:15)”


Image courtesy of Elisa Bracco at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Elisa Bracco at Flickr.com

The Torah prohibits the wasteful consumption of anything.

In Judaism, the halakhah (Jewish law) doesn’t allow people to waste any product or natural resource. When people misuse or waste resources they are going against the  mitzvah (commandment) of Bal Tashhit (“Do not destroy”). It is based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20: “…you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.” When people consume resources without taking care of the amount, they are damaging Creation and violating the mandate to use Creation only for legitimate benefit. Modesty in consumption is a value that Jews have held for centuries.

The Torah prohibits the extinction of species and causing undo pain to non-human creatures.

Our ancestors could not have anticipated the loss of biodiversity that the modern world has produced. God, they believed, had created all species at one time and there could be no new creatures. Only humans could cause extinction and bring about the loss of one of the members of the Creation choir. Ramban (Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides, 1194-1270) in his commentary to the Torah wrote: “This also is an explanatory commandment of the prohibition you shall not kill it [the mother] and its young both in one day (Leviticus 22:28). The reason for both [commandments] is that it does not permit us to destroy a species altogether, although it permits slaughter [for food] within that group. Now the person who kills the mother and the young in one day or takes them when they are free to fly, [it is regarded] as though they have destroyed that species.”

Environmental Justice is a Jewish value.

The Torah has numerous laws which address the imbalance that exist among things in the world. These laws attempt to create harmony between power and economy in human society and Creation. Examples are the Sabbatical year (Exodus 23:11, Leviticus 25:2-5, Deuteronomy 15:1-4) and the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-24) There is a whole program in the Torah for creating a balanced distribution of resources across society (Exodus 22:24-26, Leviticus 25:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:20-1, 24:6,10-13,17). This is an expression of the concept of Tzedek, which means righteousness, justice and equity and demands that we create a worldwide economy that is sustainable and that is equitable in the distribution of wealth and resources.

There is a Midrash (rabbinic commentary on the Bible) which Jewish environmentalists like to use a lot to explain their purpose: “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are — how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13). And this is the center of Judaism and the harmony with the environment and the living beings that surround us.