by Kara A. Kaufman
Throughout the past several decades, organizations like the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Teva Learning Center and Hazon—as well as many others—have sprung up seemingly out of thin air. Their major goal? To couple religious teachings and belief with environmental stewardship. Their actions have the potential to enrich what it means to be part of the environmental movement today.
To many of us, environmental challenges may seem beyond our control, and outside the scope of our religious beliefs. But in many ways our faith-based texts, customs, holidays and laws can guide us as we attempt to live harmoniously with the other species—and other people—who share our planet. For instance, several biblical and rabbinic laws encourage humans to use natural resources, yet limit our consumption in key ways. To give two examples: The Bible allows us to farm the land, yet instructs us to leave the lands fallow every seven years; and we may destroy things in order to build new ones, yet the rabbinic principle of bal tashchit forbids us from wanton destruction or wastefulness.
In a manner reminiscent of biblical and rabbinic mandates to constrain our resource consumption, today’s leading scientists are beginning to calculate these very limitations of our planet. In a 2009 article published in Nature, 28 of the international community’s most renowned scientists called biodiversity, climate change and ocean acidification three of nine “planetary boundaries” critical to our own survival. It seems that ancient laws, customs, and holidays are increasingly relevant given modern environmental crises.
This post is the first in a series about the intersections between faith and the environment. The series will explore a number of related questions and issues. Topics include the shape of a Jewish environmental ethic, differences between Israeli and American viewpoints and examples of environmental action from within the Jewish and other faith communities. It will feature written articles as well as video and audio podcasts, broad discussion as well as individual profiles.
I invite you to engage with this topic with the question: What do you think of when you hear the words “Jewish environmental ethic?” Please post your comments below or email them to kkaufmanATmomentmag.com. Through all of our participation, this series aims to foster a rich dialogue about faith, our interactions with each other and our relationship to the natural world.