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)
We are witnessing a time in which the future of the planet is at stake. The climate crisis is escalating, and it is upon each one of us to do what we can to change course. In the Torah it is written, “And you shall choose Life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Today more than ever, this Jewish message teaches much about how we should be living on planet Earth.
And God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and protect it. (Genesis 2:15)
The Jewish tradition, as it is reflected in Jewish sources and laws, embraces the perspective of a world in which humankind is in control; as it is written, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill and conquer the land” (Genesis 1:28). Yet humankind also has the unique role of protecting and taking responsibility for Creation; as it is written, “To work and protect” (Genesis 2:15). Humans are commanded to manage the world with humility, respect and responsibility to all of Creation – animal, vegetable, mineral.
The following concepts represent practical ideas for preventing waste and destruction in the world (the principle of bal tashchit), respect for animals (the principle of tzaar baalei chayim), and an active call for tikkun olam.
Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God. (Exodus 20:8-9)
The Sabbath, Judaism’s great gift to humanity, dedicates one day of the week to social, family, and spiritual values, in contrast to the materialistic consumer culture that drives the rest of the week. The Sabbatical Year actualizes these values for an entire year, during which humanity is meant to practice social solidarity, minimalism, and the relinquishment of dominion over nature. Both Shabbat and the Sabbatical Year are premised on the same values of restraint and compassion for all living things that are the platform of any effective attempt to solve the climate crisis. At the core of any approach to ecological problems must be retraction of desire and development of sensitivity to the needs of all of God’s creatures.
Love your neighbor as yourself; I am God. (Leviticus 19:18)
Values of community, reciprocity, and concern for future generations, which characterize a healthy Jewish society, are also the basic building blocks of an environmentally sustainable society. The call for social justice (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue” Deuteronomy 16:20), sanctification of life (“Take good care of yourselves” Deuteronomy 4:15), and the precautionary principle (“Make a protective fence around your roof” Deuteronomy 22:8) are only a few examples of ways in which Jewish principles might guide a sustainable lifestyle in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.
Tikkun Olam – Acting on the Responsibility to Address Climate Change
We call upon the Jewish people to act for environmental “tikkun olam” – to reduce waste production, to move to clean energy, to conserve water and other resources, and to promote the move to sustainability within their families and communities.
We call upon all Jewish leaders and decision-makers to direct attention and resources to promote the values and practices of sustainability in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.
We call upon Zionist organizations, religious streams, and Jewish communities around the world to take concrete steps toward sustainability: to green Jewish institutions in Israel and the Diaspora; to promote local sustainability initiatives; and to emphasize environmental and social justice in the framework of Jewish Education.
We call upon the State of Israel and its institutions to commit to social-environmental responsibility: to establish ambitious goals for reduction of greenhouse gases; to develop clean, independent, and renewable energy sources; to promote the development and use of public transportation; to improve the treatment of solid waste and to convert it into a valuable resource; to implement standards for green building; to work for social and environmental justice for all citizens of the State; to preserve open spaces and biodiversity; and to act protect both human community and nature.
We strive to make Israel, the Jewish State, a model for sustainable values and practice, as it says: “From Zion shall come forth Torah.”
May it be that the words of Ezekiel manifest soon:
And he said to me: Have you seen this, son of man? Then he led me, and caused me to return to the bank of the river. When I had been brought back, behold, upon the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said to me: These waters issue forth toward the eastern region, and shall go down into the Arava; and when they shall enter into the sea, into the sea of the putrid waters, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every living creature swarming in the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish; for these waters have come, that all things be healed and may live at the mouth of the river. And it shall come to pass that fishers shall stand by it from Ein Gedi until Eneglaim; there shall be a place for the spreading of nets; their fish shall be after their kinds, as the fish of the Great Sea, exceeding many. But the marshy places shall not be healed – they shall be given for salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the Beit Hamikdash (Sanctuary); and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf for healing.