I think of this question as those old youth group questions – “are you a Jewish American, or an American Jew?” Simply put, which do you put first — which is primary for you? For me, being a Jew is primary, and my environmental values flow from my Jewish commitment. Often times we call ourselves “Jewish environmentalists” as if our Jewishness flavors our environmentalism, when for many of us, it’s really the other way around. Curious about your thoughts on this as well!
I am a Jew. As a Jew I am obligated by Hashem to do many things — including proper stewardship of creation — animal, mineral, and vegetable. A powerful model is the first human, the ‘adam, created from the earth, ‘adamah. This first being then names the other living creatures, indicating a deep understanding and appreciation of each creature’s unique essence and importance in the whole. Since stewardship of creation is a high priority for me, I am in particular an environmentalist Jew.
I’m going to go off on a tangent. One of the commandments in the Torah is not to add to, or subtract from, the Torah. So, if I only had access to a pesticide-laden Esrog on Sukkos, I would still use it — otherwise, I suppose I would be adding a negative commandment: “Only use organic products for Mitzvos.” Still, I would ideally like my Torah scroll written on parchment from a kindly raised animal, I would like to eat organic, locally produced Matzos, etc.
I’m just a Jew. I think there are two reasons that there’s even a question about this: 1. Environmentalism is one of several aspects of being Jewish that have fallen by the wayside. 2. There are non-Jews who are concerned about the environment and are activists, and indeed the environmental movement is seen as separate from Judaism entirely because it’s known as a liberal cause. I guess you could say that I’m a Jew who pays attention to some of the less-considered aspects of Judaism.