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What’s Jewish About Jewish Environmentalism? Alon Tal Institutes for Desert Studies Ben Gurion University, Sde Boqer, ISRAEL.

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Presentation on theme: "What’s Jewish About Jewish Environmentalism? Alon Tal Institutes for Desert Studies Ben Gurion University, Sde Boqer, ISRAEL."— Presentation transcript:

1 What’s Jewish About Jewish Environmentalism? Alon Tal Institutes for Desert Studies Ben Gurion University, Sde Boqer, ISRAEL

2 Are Jews Inherently Alienated from Nature? “My dislike of nature goes deep: nonhuman nature, mountain ranges, wildernesses, tundra, even beautiful, but unsettled landscapes strike me as opponents which, as the Bible commands, I am to fill and conquer… One explanation of my attitude is historical. My paternal family lived in Frankfurt on the Main prior to 1500. This was where I was born. We have been urban for well over a millennium. Might it be that Judaism and nature are at odds?” - Professor (Rabbi) Steven Schwartzchild

3 Pirkeh Avot Ethics of our Fathers, 3:9, Rabbi Yaakov said, “One who walks on the road while studying a Torah lesson but interrupts his review and exclaims, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’-Scripture regards him as though he is no longer worthy of living.”

4 When the Torah Speaks of Nature

5 When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land. It is God's sabbath during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. (Leviticus 25:1-7)

6 Ba’al Shem Tov on Pirkeh Avot The link between divinely inspired texts and God’s natural world should is so self-evident, if books have become your dominant reality – you are in trouble with the Almighty

7 Jewish Environmental Heroes Jared Diamond Ian Cohen Ellen Silbergeld Fred Krupp Jeffrey Sachs Rob Sokolow

8 Four Approaches to the Environment in Traditional Judaism 1) “stewards of the earth”. 2) “the holy sparks” 3) “out of the whirlwind” 4) “a little lower than the angels” - Dr. Eilon Schwartz

9 Jeremy Benstein The Way Into Judaism and the Environment

10 מה נשתנה הסביבתנות הזו? How is Jewish Environmentalism Different?

11 What’s Jewish About Jewish Environmentalism? The Authenticity of Antiquity Thinking Locally – about Israel An Agrarian Tradition for a non-agrarian people Technological Optimism An expression of the impulse for Social Justice

12 1) A Context of Antiquity

13 Projected Increase of 5 cm in sea level Global Warming – and the future of Tel Aviv

14 Haifa – 5 cm. sea level rise

15 “And there is another war not of human agency when nature is at strife in herself, when her parts make onslaught one on another, and her law-abiding sense of equality is vanquished by the greed for inequality. Both these wars work destruction on the face of the earth. The enemy cut down the fruit trees, ravaged the country, set fire to the foodstuffs and the ripening ears of corn in the open fields, while the forces of nature use drought, rainstorms, violent moisture-laden winds, scorching sun- rays and intense cold accompanied by snow, with the regular harmonious alternations of the yearly seasons turned into disharmony -- a state of things in my opinion caused by the impiety which does not gain a gradual hold, but comes rushing with the force of a torrent among those whom these things befall.” Philo of Alexandria

16 2) Thinking Locally – about Israel

17 Adam Werbach 1-800-HOMLAND

18 “Let the Land be your Rashi”

19 The Jewish Calendar

20 The Great Tu B’shvat Debate The 1 st or 15 th of Shvat?


22 Jerusalem vs. Tel Aviv

23 Tu Bishvat 5768?

24 Illegal Bedouin Construction

25 Restoring the North

26 Tu B’shvat – A holiday resuscitated by the land of Israel

27 3) An Agrarian Ethic for non-farmers Ruth gets it on – on the Threshing Floor

28 Meteorological Uncertainty and Theology Professor Daniel Hillel

29 The Agrarian Context Tza’ar Baalei Chaim – Cruelty to Animals: Rules Ba’al Taschit – Protect the “Fruit Trees”

30 An Urban Jewish Milieu

31 From the Shema: “And it will come to pass that if you continually comply with my commandments that I command you today, to Love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and soul, then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your livestock and you will eat and be satisfied.”

32 Beware lest you turn astray…then the wrath of God will blaze against you. He will restrain the heaven so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce. And you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which God gives you. (Deuteronomy 11)

33 Bridging the Gap Cycling Rebbe Nigel Savage

34 4) Sustainability versus Preservation Technological Optimism

35 “מכלל הן -- אתה שומע לאו" "If specifically allowed, and then omitted – it is prohibited”

36 The “Jewish Perspective” on Preservation Once upon a time the wicked Tinneius Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: “Whose deeds are finer? Those of the Holy One, blessed be He, or those of human beings?” He answered him: “Those of human beings are finer.” Tinneius Rufus said to him: “Consider the heavens and the earth – can humans make the likes of them?” Rabbi Akiva said to him, “Do not give me things that are above human beings, that people have no control of; rather, give me examples of things that are in human hands.” He said to him: “Why do you circumcise yourselves?”

37 He responded, “I knew you would ask me about this, therefore I began by saying that the deeds of human beings are finer than those of the Holy One, blessed be He.” Rabbi Akiva, bringing him some stalks of wheat and some cakes, said to him, “These were made by the Lord, and these were made by human beings. Are not these finer than the stalks of wheat?” Tinneius Rufus answered him, “If He desires circumcision, why does the newborn not emerge circumcised from his mother’s womb?” Akiva answered him, “And why is he born with an umbilical cord connecting him to his mother’s womb, and his mother cuts it? As for your saying, why does he not emerge circumcised – that is because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the commandments to Israel for no other reason than to refine [or purify] them, hence David said (Ps. 18:31): ‘The word of the Lord is pure.’”

38 "And now it is my turn for a terrible confession. I object to nature preservation. The very ideal of "preservation" is not acceptable in almost any area of life. We have not come into this world to protect or preserve any given thing, mitzvah, nature or cultural heritage..... We have not inherited a museum, to patiently wipe off the dust from its displays or to polish the glass..... Nature also is not a museum. One is allowed to touch, allowed to move, to draw closer, to change and to leave our stamp..... Touch the stone. Touch the animal. Touch your fellow man. On one condition. How to touch?.. To answer on one leg" and in a word I would say: 'with love. ” Amos Oz, 1981 “Nature is Not a Museum”

39 40 Some good news: Drip Irrigation

40 Desalination A Technological Solution To Water Scarcity?

41 5) Environmental Justice “Justice, Justice shall you pursue, that you may live.” (Deut 16:20.)

42 Aleinu L’shabeyach – "לתקן עולם, במלכות שדי" L”taken Olam B’malchut Shadai” – To mend the world – through the Almighty’s sovereignty.

43 Jewish Philanthropy and Africa

44 What’s Next for Jewish Environmentalism?

45 Greening the Synagogue


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