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Are We Really Stewards of Creation?

Post by Rabbi Jacob Fine,

Let’s face it. Our Jewish communities are failing miserably to respond to the greatest threat that humanity has ever known. For a people that (rightfully) prides itself on the utmost value that our tradition places on the preservation of life, our unwillingness to respond collectively as a people in any significant way to the threat of global warming is as hypocritical as it is suicidal. With each new report that points to how little time we have left if we want to try and sustain life on this planet as we know (and like) it, the persistent Jewish narrative about our being “stewards of creation,” rings more and more phony.

Until we as a community in some sincere, organized and bold way step up to the plate and actually behave in ways that are consistent with the notion of being shomrei adamah (protectors of the Earth), we should stop telling ourselves and the world that Jews care about creation—because we just sound foolish. What will it take for our community to live up to the standards that our tradition has set for us? What will it take for us to actually internalize the singular message that is articulated in hundreds of different ways in the Torah and throughout rabbinic literature—namely, that the “Earth is God’s and everything in it.” (Ps. 24:1) What will it take before the Torah’s basic premise that “ki-li ha’aretz, ki gerim v’toshavim atem eemadi,” (“For the Earth is mine (God’s), and you are but strangers and temporary dwellers with me”) (Leviticus 25:23) is a notion that informs how we actually live?

I wish that I was more optimistic about the Jewish community stepping up to the plate. Our relative economic comfort and privilege makes the necessary behavioral changes and political decisions particularly challenging. There is a global movement to solve the climate crisis that is gaining momentum. It is being led by activists like Bill McKibben and his 350.org grassroots organization. Judaism was once a radical movement led by prophets who, like Isaiah and Amos, spoke truth to power and were willing to sacrifice their popularity and personal comfort for the noble pursuit of justice. Do we have prophetic leaders who are willing and able to shake our people from our complacency in the face of impending catastrophe or will our community continue to turn its back on our tradition and humanity’s future?

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