Jewish Teachings on the Environment (Part 1)
by Richard Schwartz
With Earth Day approaching (April 22), it is a good time to consider some of Judaism’s powerful teachings on the environment.
Some people argue that humankind has been given a license to exploit the earth and its creatures, because God gave us “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). However, the Talmudic sages interpret that dominion as one of guardianship or stewardship, serving as co-workers with God in caring for and improving the world, and not as a right to conquer and exploit animals and the earth (Shabbat 10a; Sanhedrin 7).The fact that people’s dominion over animals is a limited one is indicated by God’s first (completely vegan) dietary regime (Genesis 1:29), and also the statement in Genesis 2:15 that humans are to till the earth and guard it, which grants us responsibility for the land and all the creatures on it.
Jews Are to Be Co-workers With God in Preserving the Environment. The Talmudic sages assert that the assigned role of the Jewish people is to enhance the world as partners of God in the work of creation. [Shabbat 10a; Sanhedrin 7] The following verses from Psalms reinforces this concept:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and work that you have established,
What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You do care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than God, and do crown him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands;