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What is Jewish Environmentalism?

When I try and answer the above question, I find myself dizzy with axioms and assumptions. This intellectual limbo is at time frustrating, however it is also liberating. Whereas I am without a definitive answer, I am free to entertain the endless possibilities of the question. There are a myriad of ways to practice Judaism – orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, renewal to name just a few. Environmentalism is similarly diverse. Within the environmental movement there are branches focused on conservation, preservation, restoration, sustainable development, and more.

The multiplicity of ideas and approaches in both Judaism and environmentalism is fundamental. Historically, each has been and continues to be committed to critical and creative inquiry, a divergent process that is neither interested in nor capable of generating a definitive, all encompassing position. By crossing these two disquisitive and curious –isms the number of possible permutations for Jewish environmentalism is seemingly endless.

As a founding member of Jewcology it was and is my hope that this site can enable those of us grappling with these questions to collaborate, discuss, and share our experiments in thought and action. As individuals engaged in both Judaism and environmentalism, as well as any other –ism or profession we draw inspiration from, each of us has unique processes for enriching our lives and inspiring those around us. The axioms and assumptions that these processes generate can and should be shared, but I do not believe they can answer my initial question. The processes and pathways we promulgate as Jewish environmentalists are what defines the movement. To stay vital and innovative it would be wise to remember that what we do as Jewish environmentalists may not be as important as how we do it.

Member since 2010
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2 Comments
2 Replies
  • Jesse Glickstein
    December 11, 2011 (9:25 am)

    Isaac I think this is a very important question, and to me, I think the answer should be the same as to the question of what is Judaism. As you state, there are many ways to practice Judaism and there are many ways to approach the concept of environmentalism. However, I think that the same issues of that come about between different denominations of Jews happens all to often in the environmental world as well. Instead of trying to find areas where we can work together, I think too often we are divided by our differences. Although these differences need to be discussed and maybe we can help others to change their view to be in line with our own, it should be conversation and not an yelling match. So, my answer to what is a Jewish Environmentalist is that anyone who identifies as a Jew and and environmentalist, in whatever form that takes. That person belongs in the discussion and their opinions should be valued.

  • Isaac Hametz
    December 14, 2011 (12:04 pm)

    Jesse, I appreciate your comment. I also agree with you that most anyone who identifies themselves as a Jewish Environmentalist is in fact just that – a Jewish Environmentalist. The thing that gets me, and the major point I was trying to make in my post is that we always seem to analyze what people are doing. Then we decide if they fit in to our view of Jewish, Environmentalist, or Jewish Environmentalist. Sadly though that conversation often deteriorates in to a simplistic discussion about lifestyle politics as opposed to a deeper discussion about how we choose to make difficult life choices. I think Jews, environmentalists, and especially Jewish environmentalists would benefit from asking questions about how we do things. What processes do we undergo when approaching a problem? How do we move from action A to action B? If we can look at those questions and interrogate them honestly, we might find that orthodox, conservative, reform, recnstructionist, and renewal Jews all use similar processes – looking at tradition/precedents, analyzing those past choices, learning from them, adapting them to our times, etc. And the same is true for understanding the similarities and unique qualities of different groups of environmentalists. To put it simply, I think we all have more to gain from questioning our processes and sharing those ideas then questioning our actions and fighting about what we all do.


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