Earth Etude for Elul 14 – The Earth Is on Fire — And the Torah Tells Us What to Do About It

by Jeffrey Cohan-

Image of California wildfire, 2018. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

This summer, our precious Earth has been burning.

Catastrophic wildfires have ravaged their way across several California counties. One of the fires is the largest ever in the state.

In Colorado, four massive wildfires have consumed a total of almost 250,000 acres. All four rank among the Top 10 largest conflagrations in the state’s history.

Even in Sweden, of all places, 50 wildfires have broke out this summer, including at least one above the Arctic Circle. Sweden is so unaccustomed to such calamities, the country doesn’t own a single firefighting airplane.

How much more motivation do we need — how much more of God’s Creation must be destroyed — before we start tackling the issue of climate change with a sense of urgency?

Fortunately, we are not powerless in the face of this existential, monumental challenge. Nor are we dependent on the wisdom of our governmental leadership. (Thank God!)

The most effective thing we can do — both individually and collectively — is actually found in the Torah. I’m referring to God’s explicit and repeated instructions to consume a plant-based, animal-free diet.

I don’t know if the author or authors of the Torah were envisioning the calamity we’re experiencing this summer, but somehow it was known that a vegan diet would be best for our health, certainly best for animals’ health, and, right on point, best for Creation itself.

Not until we were given unambiguous instructions to eat plants, and only plants, in Genesis 1:29, did God describe Creation as “very good,” rather than just “good.”

To drive the point home, when God liberated the Israelites and regained control of their diets, the menu included only plants — namely, manna.

Some 3,000 years later, the scientists leading the fight against climate change are also urging us, practically begging us, to eat plants, not animals.

For instance, Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said this:

Please eat less meat — meat is a very carbon-intensive commodity.  In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity.

Similarly, NASA’s James Hansen, one of the first prominent scientists to sound the alarm about climate change, said this:

If you eat [plants] rather than eating animals, which have produced many greenhouse gases, and used much energy in the process of growing that meat, you can actually make a bigger contribution in that way than just about anything. In terms of individual action, reducing meat consumption is perhaps the best thing you can do.

Yes, even better than walking, riding a bike, or taking a bus to work.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in an often-cited study, found that animal agriculture contributes 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector combined.

Yes, burping cows are part of the problem. But so are the petroleum-based fertilizers that are used to grow the trillions of pounds of livestock feed. And so are the methane releases from the staggering amounts of livestock feces. And so are the massive inputs of energy needed to power factory farms and slaughterhouses, and to refrigerate and freeze the meat, dairy and eggs.

It is not the Jewish way to watch the news coverage of these wildfires, wring our hands, and just say “Oy, vey.” We can do something about it. The answer is in the Torah.

Jeffrey Cohan is the Executive Director of Jewish Veg, a national nonprofit organization that encourages and helps our fellow Jews to transition to plant-based diets, in accordance with the highest values of Judaism. For more information, visit



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