Environment and Social Justice Text Studies

Text Studies

The following two text studies link specific passages from the Torah to contemporary environmental issues with sample discussion questions following each text. Both texts focus on "Ecology, Judaism and Tikkun Olam."


Environment and Social Justice: Caring for the Land

Participant's Materials
Shabbat and the sabbatical year afford the land the ecologically sound practice of taking a rest. Now we turn to the idea of the jubilee as a time of release of all debts.

  1. In ancient Israel, at each jubilee year, land was re-distributed, so that anyone who had accumulated large parcels of land over the past fifty years had to return it to its original “owners” (tenants, actually, since God is the real owner).

    • Why do you think there was a need for this law? How might some individuals have accumulated large parcels of land?
    • What do you think happened to the former “owners” who were “bought out”?
    • Do you think this was just?
  2. How might the principles of this law be applied today?

Environment and Social Justice: Environmental Legislation

Leader's Materials
Carcasses, cemeteries and tanneries must be kept at fifty cubits’ distance from a town. A tannery can only be set up on the east side of a town [because the east wind is gentle and will not carry the fumes to the town.] Mishnah, Baba Batra 2:9.

The connection between this text- which legislates the location of cemeteries and tanneries- and social justice is less obvious than with previous texts. The link becomes clear only when we consider whom the legislation is designed to protect. Those with sufficient resources can easily choose where they wish to live, thereby avoiding hazards to environmental and physical health. This law acts as a shield for those who lack such resources.

Learn more at http://urj.org/green/judaism/education/textstudies/.

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