Should Jews Be Environmental Activists?

This is chapter 11 of my book, “Who Stole My Religion? Revitalising Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperilled Planet”

And the Lord God took the man [Adam] and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it. – Genesis 2:15

The earth was not created as a gift to you. You have been given to the earth, to treat it with respectful consideration, as God’s earth, and everything on it [must be seen] as God’s creation, and [animals recognized as] your fellow creatures — to be respected, loved, and helped to attain their purpose according to God’s will… – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch138


The world is approaching an unprecedented climate catastrophe, major food, water, and energy scarcities, and is also severely threatened by many other environmental problems. Yet in spite of Judaism’s many powerful teachings on environmental stewardship, the religious Jewish community (along with most other communities) is not adequately responding to today’s environmental crises. This failure of the religious Jewish community to sufficiently address these environmental threats is one major reason that I believe my religion – our religion – has been stolen.

While there are a number of Jewish groups – including the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and Canfei Nesharim – the Jewish community as a whole is far from sufficiently involved. It is urgent that Jews play our mandated role to be a “light unto the nations,” and apply our eternal teachings in response to the many environmental threats that face our planet in this generation.

What Must God Think About Current Environmental Conditions?

When God created the world, He was able to say, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Everything was in harmony as God had planned: the waters were clean, the air was pure, and the animals and humans lived in harmony. But what must God think about the world today? Please consider:

  •  The rain God provides to nourish our crops is often acid rain, darkened by the many pollutants spewed into the air by smokestacks and tailpipes.
  •  The endless diversity of species of plants and animals that God created are becoming extinct at an alarming rate in tropical rainforests and other threatened habitats, before we have even begun to study and catalog most of them.
  •  The abundant fertile soil God provided is quickly being depleted and eroded; the climatic conditions that God designed to meet our needs are threatened by global warming.Our Modern Ten “Plagues”

    Today’s environmental threats bring to mind the Biblical ten plagues in the book of Exodus. Is it a coincidence that we read this story in the synagogue during the weeks leading up to the environmental holiday of Tu B’Shvat, or is God giving us a warning here? The list of today’s Ten Plagues might include:

  1. The rapid melting (due to global warming) of polar ice caps and sheets of permafrost and mountain glaciers, which could soon precipitate a disastrously sudden recalibration of the earth’s climate for humans and other creatures. We are in the process of creating a potential catastrophe comparable to the biblical flood.
  2. A permanent increase both in severe droughts (due to the drying effect of heat where water is scarce) and severe floods (due to the evaporative effect where water is plentiful), straining humanity to the limits of our ability to cope and survive.
  3. Extreme deforestation (about half of the world’s rainforests have already been destroyed), decimating one of the world’s most valuable providers of natural goods and services and, by slashing the planet’s ability to sequester carbon, further exacerbating climate change and all its consequences.
  4. Severe heat waves, with each of the last five decades being warmer than the previous one, and record temperatures being recorded in many areas.
  5. Rapid loss of thousands of species faster than during any previous time in history.
  6. Widespread soil erosion and nutrient depletion, reducing fertility, increasing desertification, and severely compromising humanity’s ability to feed itself.
  7. The serious pollution and, in some cases, “killing” of fresh water bodies by runoff contamination with pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and animal wastes from factory farms, as well as by fallout from smokestack and tailpipe air pollution.
  8. An epidemic of heart disease, many types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases, largely due to gluttonous consumption of animal products and junk foods, sedentary lifestyles, and a glut of toxic environmental chemicals.
  9. Increasingly widespread and severe wildfires, because of warmer temperatures and the resultant dryer environment in many areas.

10. Increasing hunger and famine as global demand for food increases due to rising population, increased affluence leading to rising demand for animal products, and increasing use of biofuels. This is along with decreased food production due to shrinking glaciers and aquifers, droughts, floods, heat waves, and other damaging effects of climate change, and the loss of farm land to urban sprawl.

While the Egyptians in the time of Moses were subjected to only one plague at a time, the modern plagues threaten us all at once. The Jews in Goshen were spared most of the biblical plagues, while every person on earth is imperiled by these modern plagues. And it is we ourselves who are the causes of these modern plagues, though it is future generations who will be most severely afflicted. Instead of an ancient Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, our own hearts today have been hardened by the greed, materialism, waste, and lack of recognition of our precarious relationship with nature that are at the root of the current environmental threats. God provided the Biblical plagues to free the Israelites from oppression. Had Pharaoh heeded the warning of the first plague, and simply let the people go, there would have been no need for the other nine plagues. Unfortunately, he did not. Today we must learn from this lesson, and heed the many environmental warnings we are getting almost daily. We must apply God’s teachings in order to save humanity and our precious but endangered planet, before we are destroyed because of our own hard-heartedness.

Jewish Teachings on the Environment

Let us consider some of Judaism’s powerful teachings about how we should be treating the environment. Some Jews (as well as members of other biblically-based religions) 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 (and completely vegan) dietary regime in Genesis 1:29, and also the statement in Genesis 2:15 that humans are to work the earth and guard it charges us with responsibility for the land and all the creatures on it.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, stated that “dominion” does not mean the arbitrary power of a tyrannical ruler who whimsically and cruelly governs in order to satisfy his personal desires.139 He observes such a repulsive form of servitude that could not be forever sealed in the world of God, whose “tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).140

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).They express great concern about preserving the environment and preventing pollution, and they state three clear principles that can still be applied today:

  •  “It is forbidden to live in a town which has no garden or greenery” (Mishnah Kiddushin 4:12, Kiddushin 66d).
  •  Threshing floors must be placed far enough from a town so that it will not be dirtied by chaff carried by winds (Mishnah Baba Batra 2:8).
  •  Tanneries must be kept at least 50 cubits (a cubit is about half a meter or 20 inches) from a town and may be placed only on the east side of a town, so that odors and pollution will be carried away from the town by the prevailing winds from the west (Mishnah Baba Batra 2:8, 9).These three specific rules lead to a general principle that industries should be regulated in such a way that they do not spoil the environment. Dust and air pollution must be controlled, and green spaces must be provided for the health and enjoyment of the people and animals living there.

    The Earth is the Lord’s
    Judaism asserts that there is one God who created the entire earth as a unity, in ecological balance; that everything is connected to everything else, and, in turn, everything is connected to – and belongs – to the One God. These lines from Psalm 104 perhaps best express this idea:

    …You [God] are the One Who sends forth springs into brooks, that they may run between mountains,
    To give drink to every animal of the fields, the creatures of the forest quench their thirst.

    Beside them dwell the fowl of the heavens…

           You water the mountains from Your upper chambers…

You cause the grass to spring up for the cattle, and herb, for the

service of humans, to bring forth bread from the earth…
How manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom You have made

them all; the earth is full of Your property…

There is an apparent contradiction between two other verses in Psalms: “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalms 24:1) and “The heavens are the heavens of God, but God has given the earth to human beings” (Psalms 115:16). Jewish sages reconcile this apparent discrepancy in the following way: Before a person says a bracha (a blessing), before one acknowledges God’s ownership of the land and its products, then “the earth is the Lord’s.” After a person has said a bracha, acknowledging God’s ownership and that we are stewards assigned to ensure that God’s works are properly used and shared, then “the earth He has given to human beings” (Mishnah Berachot 30:5).

Property is a sacred trust given by God; it must be used to fulfill God’s purposes. No person has absolute or exclusive control over his or her possessions. The concept that people have custodial care of the earth, as opposed to ownership, is illustrated by this ancient Jewish story:

Two men were fighting over a piece of land. Each claimed ownership and bolstered his claim with apparent proof. To resolve their differences, they agreed to put the case before a rabbi. The rabbi listened but could come to no decision because both seemed to be right. Finally he said, “Since I cannot decide to whom this land belongs, let us ask the land.” He put his ear to the ground and, after a moment, straightened up. “Gentlemen, the land says it belongs to neither of you, but that you belong to it.”141

Even the produce of the field does not belong solely to the person who farms the land. The poor are entitled to a portion:

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corner of your field, neither shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger; I am the Lord, your God. (Leviticus 19: 9 -10)

These portions set aside for the poor were not voluntary contributions based on kindness. They were, in essence, a regular Divine assessment. Because God is the real owner of the land, God claims a share of the bounty that He has provided, which is to be left for the poor.

As a reminder that “the earth is the Lord’s,” the land must be permitted to rest and lie fallow every seven years (the Sabbatical year):

Six years you shall sow your land, and gather in the increase thereof, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lay fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the animals of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your olive yard. (Exodus 23: 10, 11)

The Sabbatical year also has ecological benefits. The land is given a chance to rest and renew its fertility.


Jews are not to Waste or Unnecessarily Destroy Anything of Value

The prohibition against wanton destruction or wastage of any useful resource that God has given us, called bal tashchit (“you shall not destroy”) in Jewish law, is based on the following Torah statement:

When you besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat off them. You shall not cut them down; for is the tree of the field a human being, that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, those you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20)

This Torah prohibition is very specific. Taken in its most literal sense, it prohibits only the destruction of fruit trees during wartime. However, the Talmudic sages and the Jewish Oral Tradition greatly expanded the types of objects, methods of destruction, and situations covered by bal tashchit:

Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the prohibition of bal tashchit.(Kiddushin 32a)

Later rabbinic rulings extended the prohibition of waste or destruction to everything of potential use, whether created by God or altered by people (Sefer Ha-Chinukh, 530). Talmudic rulings on bal tashchit also prohibit the unnecessary killing of animals (Hullin 7b) and the eating of extravagant foods when one can be nourished and satisfied by simpler ones (Shabbat 140b). In other words, bal tashchit prohibits the destruction, complete or incomplete, direct or indirect, of all things that are of potential benefit to people and the world.

The following Talmudic statements illustrate the seriousness with which the rabbis considered the violation of bal tashchit:

  •  The sage Rabbi Hanina attributed the early death of his son to the fact that the boy had unnecessarily chopped down a fig tree (Baba Kamma 91b).
  •  Jews should be taught very young that it is a sin to waste even small amounts of food (Berachot 52b).
  •  Rav Zutra taught: “One who covers an oil lamp or uncovers a naphtha lamp transgresses the prohibition of bal tashchit.” (Shabbat 67b). Both actions mentioned would cause a faster (hence wasteful) consumption of the fuel.Maimonides spells out these specific details:
    It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a besieged city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither… Not only one who cuts down trees, but also one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent transgresses the command “you must not destroy.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10)

    The Sefer Ha-Chinukh, a thirteenth century text which discusses the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in detail, indicates that the underlying purpose of bal tashchit is to help one to learn to act like the righteous, who are repelled by and meticulously avoid all waste and destruction:

The purpose of this mitzvah [bal tashchit] is to teach us to love that which is good and worthwhile and to cling to it, so that good becomes a part of us and we avoid all that is evil and destructive. This is the way of the righteous and those who improve society, who love peace and rejoice in the good in people and bring them close to Torah: that nothing, not even a mustard seed, should be lost to the world, that they should regret any loss or destruction that they see, and if possible they will prevent any destruction that they can. Not so are the wicked, who are like demons, who rejoice in destruction of the world, and they destroy themselves. (Sefer Ha-Chinukh, 529)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leading Orthodox rabbi of nineteenth century Germany, viewed bal tashchit as the most basic Jewish principle of all: to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and the limitations on our own will and ego. When we preserve the world around us, we act with the understanding that God owns everything. However, when we destroy, we are, in effect, worshipping the idols of our own desires, living only for self-gratification without keeping God in mind. By observing bal tashchit, we restore our harmony not only with the world around us, but also with God’s will, which we place before our own. Rabbi Hirsch also taught that “destruction” includes using more things (or things of greater value) than is necessary to obtain one’s aim.142 The following Midrash is related to this concept:

Two men entered a shop. One ate coarse bread and vegetables, while the other ate fine bread, fat meat, and drank old wine. The one who ate fine food suffered harm, while the one who had coarse food escaped harm. Observe how simply animals live and how healthy they are as a result. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:18)

How Serious is Climate Change?

There is an overwhelming consensus among climate experts that climate change is real, that it poses a major threat to humanity, and that human activities are the primary cause.143 This is the view of science academies worldwide and 97% of climate experts. Especially significant is that 99.9% of the thousands of refereed papers in respected science journals that address climate change agree. Some climate experts believe that we are close to a tipping point, when climate change will spin out of control, producing a climate catastrophe.

The 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, declares that there is a ninety-five percent probability that most of the warming in the past sixty years is due to human activities.144 The AR5 is the most comprehensive synthesis of climate change science to date. Experts from more than 130 countries contributed to this assessment, which represents six years of work. More than 450 lead authors received input from more than 800 contributing authors, and an additional 2,500 experts reviewed the draft documents.

Increasingly, climate change is about verifiable facts on the ground and not just predictions. Almost weekly there are reports of severe droughts, heat waves, storms, flooding, wildfires, and unprecedented melting of polar icecaps and glaciers. Scientists consider all of these to be symptoms of a climate that is becoming more extreme and chaotic due to a warming planet. There are many sources for facts about climate change:145

  •  Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade, and all of the sixteen warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2014 was the warmest year recorded, and 2015 is on track to be significantly warmer.
  •  Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than climate experts projected.
  •  There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”
  •  What is especially frightening is that all the severe climate events have occurred due to a temperature increase of about one degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Climate experts hope the total increase can be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for in view of present greenhouse gas emissions and a momentum factor. While such an increase would mean far more serious climate events, the world is now on track for an increase of four to five degrees Celsius, which would be catastrophic for the world.
  •  Many climate experts, including James Hansen, former director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, believe that a safe threshold value for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm). This is why the current most active group working to reduce climate change was named However, we reached 400 ppm in 2014, and CO2 levels are growing by 2-3 ppm per year –yet another indication that major changes in human behavior must be made very soon.What worries Hansen and other climate scientists most is the prospect that climate change could reach a tipping point within just a few years due to positive feedback loops. This would unleash a vicious cycle of rapid climate alterations leading to disastrous consequences – melted ice caps, flooded cities, mass species extinctions and spreading deserts, among other events – unless humanity soon begins to use energy far more effectively.

    Here is an example of a positive feedback loop: When incoming sunlight strikes Arctic ice, about 70% is reflected back into space. But once the ice has melted, leaving much darker soil or water, only about 6% is reflected and about 94% is absorbed by the darker soil or water and converted into heat. The more ice that melts, the more heat is absorbed, creating a potential vicious cycle that accelerates the melting of the Arctic Sea ice cover, effectively destroying one of the planet’s major “ice boxes.” Another example of a positive feedback loop is that as temperatures increase, people use more air conditioning. This means more fossil fuels are burned, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions, and thus more warming. Which leads back to more air conditioning… and the vicious cycle continues.

    Military leaders in the US and other countries see climate change as a potential catalyst of multiplier effect for increased violence. A 2014 report by 16 retired U.S. generals and admirals concluded that tens of millions of hungry, thirsty, desperate refugees fleeing the effects of climate change could make instability, violence, terrorism, and war more likely.146 Military and intelligence strategists in many countries are revising their planning to take climate change effects into account.

Climate Change and Other Environmental Threats to Israel

What makes the inadequate response of the Jewish community, especially the Orthodox, to climate change and other environmental problems even more disturbing is the fact that Israel, like most other countries, is already suffering from the effects of climate change. It has had many years of drought recently and when rain or snow has come, it has often been in severe storms that caused much flooding and other damage. Israel experienced the worst forest fire in her existence in December 2010, a fire made far worse because of the very dry conditions due to the lack of rain.

Israeli climatic conditions are likely to get much worse. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED, or Adam, Teva v’Din, in Hebrew) projected in 2014 that global warming will cause Israel to suffer from many additional severe heat waves, with an average temperature increase of up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, an average decrease of precipitation of up to 33%, an increase of major storms, an inundation of the coastal plain where most Israelis live caused by a rising Mediterranean sea, and increased desertification.147

Why is There So Much Skepticism About Climate Change?

With all of this powerful scientific evidence confirming anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, why there is so much public skepticism? A major study of opinions of people in many countries about climate change was carried out in 2014 by ipsos MORI, one of UK’s largest market research companies.148 It found that, despite all the scientific evidence and many wake-up calls in terms of severe weather events, only 54% of Americans agreed with the statement “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.” This put the U.S. last in a list of 20 countries considered in the survey, ten points below the next lowest countries, Australia and Britain. The survey also found that while 93% of people from China agreed with the statement “We are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly,” only 57% of Americans concurred, again making the U.S. last among the 20 nations surveyed.

According to James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, the oil, coal, and other industries that are profiting from the status quo are willing to go to great lengths to mislead people, so that they can continue to receive huge profits. Hoggan, who was initially a skeptic about climate change himself, writes that it is a “story of betrayal, a story of selfishness, greed, and irresponsibility on an epic scale… a story of deceit, of poisoning public judgment…”

Another clue comes from the results of a study called “Balance as Bias,” which considered a random sample of 636 articles about climate change in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal.149 More than 50% of the articles gave roughly equal weight to both the scientific view and the scientifically discredited

view that humans do not play a major role in climate change. This would be similar to having a debate on the shape of our planet, and giving equal time to the Flat Earth Society. In addition, some conservative politicians and commentators downplay the significance of climate change. As indicated previously, U. S. Senator James Inhofe, for example, calls it the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” No wonder many folks are so confused. On one side you have vociferously opinionated media pundits, bloggers, and politicians like Senator Inhofe, the climate change denier who received close to a million dollars from the oil and coal industries between 2000 and 2008. On the other side are the real experts, typically more cautious in their assertions.

Meanwhile, the media, leaning over backward to be perceived as balanced and reasonable, often gives equal time to both “sides” of the issue. The vast majority of climate scientists, virtually all peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals, and statements from scientific academies worldwide agree that the scientific probability is extremely high that climate change poses an existential threat to life as we know it – and that humans are the cause and the potential solution.

Another reason there is so much skepticism about climate change, despite the strong scientific consensus surrounding it, is the bias of Fox News. An internal e-mail written in December 2009 and published by liberal-media-watchdog group Media Matters for America on December 16, 2010, revealed that Bill Sammon, Fox News’s Washington bureau chief, told Fox journalists to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without immediately pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.”150

While it is true that there have been a few examples of scientific error and misbehavior among climate scientists, these have been unfairly seized upon and exaggerated by climate change deniers. Follow-up investigations have demonstrated that the mistakes were honest ones, and there were no efforts by the scientific community to mislead the public.151

Many people dismiss climate change as just “liberal politics.” They give more weight to the views of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other reactionary commentators than to the scientific consensus. These climate deniers should be made aware of the previously mentioned little-known conservative group ConservAmerica (, formerly known as “Republicans for Environmental Protection.” There is an abundance of material about climate change and other environmental threats on their website, including responses to many of the questions that climate deniers raise. ConservAmerica has the slogan “Conservation IS Conservative.” It deserves much greater recognition and to have its voice heard. Climate change is not a partisan, political issue, but arguably the greatest moral, environmental, economic, and social justice issue of our time.

If we follow the strenuous recommendations of climate scientists, we have the potential for a far better, environmentally sustainable world. However, if we follow the advice of the skeptics and do not try to address climate change soon, we will likely end up with a climatic cataclysm.

The Call of the Hour

There is a need for major changes if the world is to avoid increasingly severe threats from climate change and other environmental problems. In 1992 over 1,670 scientists, including 104 Nobel laureates – a majority of the living recipients of the Prizes in the sciences – signed a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.”152 The introduction states:

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

The scientists’ analysis discusses threats to the atmosphere, rivers and streams, oceans, soil, living species, and forests.

We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

It is essential that the Jewish community apply our rich tradition concerning environmental responsibility and stewardship to the world’s fragile ecology. Too often the Jewish establishment has been silent while our climate is rapidly changing, our air is bombarded by poisons that threaten life, our rivers and streams are polluted by industrial wastes, our fertile soil is eroded and depleted, and the ecological balance is endangered by the destruction of rain forests and other vital habitats.

The Jewish community must become more actively involved. We must proclaim that it is chillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) to pollute the air and water which God created pure, to slash and burn forests which existed before there were human beings, and to wantonly destroy the abundant resources that God has so generously provided for all of humanity to enjoy and sustain itself from. We have a choice as indicated in the following Torah verse:

I call heaven and earth to witness concerning you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The following Midrash provides an early warning about the importance of preserving the environment:

In the hour when the Blessed Holy One [God] created the first human being [Adam], God took him and let him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I have created, for you have I created them. Think upon this and do not ruin and destroy My world. For if you ruin it, there is no one to set it right after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

In ancient times, people may have wondered about the significance of this Midrash. How could it be possible to destroy the world that God had made? Did anybody have such power? And what could it mean, that if they did ruin it, nobody could fix it again? Wouldn’t God fix everything? Now, however, it has become all too relevant. We do indeed have the power to destroy the world.

Judaism offers very powerful teachings on our environmental obligations, and these teachings are urgently needed today. Applying them would not only help to revitalize Judaism, but could also help avert the many current threats to humanity. (Additional suggestions for improving the environment are in Appendix B.)

In summary, Judaism requires Jews to act to preserve God’s creation – to protect our planet and all life forms on it. Failure to do so would be a complete betrayal of Judaism and future generations.


138 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 1969), Letter 4. 118

139 Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, Section 2; Also see J. Green, “Chalutzim of the Messiah —The Religious Vegetarian Concept as Expounded by Rabbi Kook,” (lecture given in Johannesburg, South Africa), 2.
140 Ibid.

141 Jewish folk wisdom. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in “Biblical Ecology, A Jewish View,” a television documentary, directed by Mitchell Chalek and Jonathan Rosen, told this story.

142 Ibid.
143 “Scientific consensus on Global Warming,” Union of Concerned Scientists report, 144 Dana Nuccitelli, “Global warming: why is IPCC report so certain about the influence of humans?” The Guardian, September 27, 2013.

145 Sources for updated information about climate change include the following websites:,, and

146 “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change,” CNA Military Advisory Board, May 2014.

147 “Report: Global warming disastrous for Israel,” Ynet Israel News, July 5, 2007.
148 Michael Roppolo “Americans more skeptical of climate change than others in global survey,” CBS News, July 23, 2014.

149 Maxwell T. Boykoff and Jules M. Boykoff, “Balance as bias: global warming and the US prestige, press,”

150 Victoria Bekiempis, “How the Media fails to Cover Climate Science,” Newsweek, June 26, 2014.
151 “Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the ‘Climategate’ Manufactured Controversy,” Union of Concerned Scientists report, misinformation/debunking-misinformation-stolen-emails-climategate.html#.VUq1xs6268E

152 Union of Concerned Scientists report, 127

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