See the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis. A Guide to Jewish-Catholic Dialogue on the Encyclical is available online too.
In Thou Shalt Conserve Energy, Rabbi Fred Dobb provides contextual evidence from the Talmud and Torah that caring for environmental issues is an essential part of Judaism.
Understanding the physical action and consequences of climate change is only part of the story. Rabbi Yonatan Neril considers The Spiritual Roots of the Environmental Crisis and looks at a spiritual response to changing our impact on the environment.
In Genesis, Noah certainly is no stranger to ecological disaster, some argue the first environmental activist.Shabbat Noach: Global Climate-Healing Shabbat asks readers to consider how we can prevent the next flood as the earth continues to warm.
According to the Talmud (Yoma 86a), a sin between a person and God, bein adam lamakom can be blown away by t’shuvah alone, while even a sin against another person can be dissipated by appeasing them. But some sins are not forgiven, the Talmud teaches, until sufferings m’markin, scratch them out. This is the harsher meaning of blot out – not to erase the errant mark or to soak it up, but to add ink to it or abrade it, until it can no longer be read. This is why we say about someone who is the source of great evil, “May their name be blotted out.”
The rub, so to speak, with climate change, is that we don’t always know what category our environmental wrongs fall into, those “sins” that are literally bein adam lamakom, between us and this place, this planet. What we do know is that in just a few generations, the carbon that was removed, over many millions of years by untold numbers of long-gone organisms and species, is being released. In our lifetime, the atmosphere that nurtured not only our evolution, but the evolution of all mammals and birds, will revert or convert to something else. But the consequences of our actions are too long range and too far-reaching to see. As a result, we don’t know whether our sins are like an ‘av or like an ‘anan.
We know sitting here today is that we are still able to take action, to pray and act to heal our relationship with the earth. Will we do t’shuvah, change how we live, how we drive, how we use electricity? Will we change our laws and our economy, so that we are part of a sustainable world? As the prophets teach, while there is yet time to act and pray and do t’shuvah, there is time to change the decree.
What will we choose for this year, and what will we choose for our children? As we embark on a new year, let us work together and help each other, to change our synagogues, our workplaces, our homes.
Jewish and Interfaith Climate Resources:
Core teachings on 18 topics linking Torah and the environment were released between Tu b’Shevat 5772 and Tu b’Shevat 5773. The comprehensive articles were gathered in an ebook, now for sale at Amazon.com Uplifting People and Planet:Eighteen Essential Jewish Lessons on the Environment
Each of the 18 topics includes a short overview article; a comprehensive article for in-depth study; a study guide with Hebrew/English sources and discussion questions; a podcast; and a short video.
All materials have been reviewed by Canfei Nesharim’s Rabbinic Advisory Board of Orthodox rabbanim for halachic and hashkafic approval, and by Canfei Nesharim’s Science and Technology Advisory Board to ensure scientific integrity.
Core Teaching #1: Trees, Torah, and Caring for the Earth
Core Teaching #2: Summoning the Will Not to Waste
Core Teaching #3: Compassion for All Creatures
Core Teaching #4: Sustainability in Settling the Land of Israel
Core Teaching #5: Slowing Down: Shabbat and Environmental Awareness
Core Teaching #6: Countering Destruction: Lessons from Noach
Core Teaching #7: Holy Use: Relating to Resources Sustainably
Core Teaching #8: The Spiritual Roots of the Environmental Crisis
Core Teaching #9: Passing the Test of Wealth
Core Teaching #10: Water: Appreciating a Limited Resource
Core Teaching #11: Praying for a Sustainable World
Core Teaching #12: Genesis and Human Stewardship of the Earth
Core Teaching #13: We are How We Eat: A Jewish Approach to Food and Sustainability
Core Teaching #14: Let the Land Rest: Lessons from Shemita, the Sabbatical Year
Core Teaching #15: Toward a Wiser Use of Energy
Core Teaching #16: Being a Good Neighbor
Core Teaching #17: Guard Yourselves Very Well
Core Teaching #18: The Glory in Creation: Valuing Biodiversity
Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and chair of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and Lawrence Troster, coordinator for Shomrei Breisthi: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth, wrote about what Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ mean for Jews in the partial cross-post below from The Forward.
Pope Francis has a long history of strong and close relations with the Jewish community dating back to his days as an archbishop in Argentina.
The Pope uses Biblical texts to explain the essential values on which the encyclical is based. His recurring themes of the dignity of human beings is based on Genesis 1; the origin and connection of humanity to the earth itself is found in Genesis 2; the interconnection and inherent value of all life comes from Psalm 148; the connection of the degradation of the environment to the degradation of the poor are based on the stories of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, as well as other quoted texts. He also utilizes many of the same laws in the Torah that Jewish environmentalists have been quoting for decades: the laws of the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee from Leviticus 25, the protection of species from Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and the Sabbath imperative to rest from Exodus 23:12.
As concerned as the Pope is about climate change, he is even more focused on its impact on the poor. His encyclical looks right at the moral and spiritual crisis that climate change will bring to the fore: moral, because of its disproportionate impact on the poor, and spiritual because it highlights our disconnection to creation. He also makes a deep and thoughtful critique of the modern economy, consumerism, the current concept of progress, and the way in which technology can have a negative impact on the environment if not properly regulated. He calls for an open and honest discussion among all people to find effective solutions to this growing crisis.
We believe that Jews, as people of faith, should use this holy moment in the history of the planet to speak out forcefully. Our future is at stake just as is everyone else’s future..
Israel will be affected severely by climate chane. For years there have been worries about disappearing Tel Aviv beaches and a rapidly decreasing agricultural capacity. Now many scientists and global strategists have looked at the rise of ISIS and believe its meteoric growth has been intensified by the extreme drought in the Middle East enticing the people of the region to look to violent radical politics to find some solace to alleviate the agony of their miserable lives. In 2010 Israel pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. At that time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The recent dry months, including the driest November in the history of the state, are a warning light to us all that the threat of climate change is no less menacing than the security threats that we face…. In a country that suffers from a severe water shortage, this is an existential struggle,”
The Jewish community through all its institutions, religious and otherwise, must engage in a in a campaign to ask rabbis to preach about climate change during this year’s High Holiday Season. Members of our community should make it clear that they welcome Pope Francis to the United States and support this efforts described in the encyclical. Op-eds should be placed in newspapers, letters written to editors, and calls made to elected representatives asking them to urge forceful American engagement in our country’s response not only to the universal spiritual and moral call of Pope Francis but to the agreement that will be hammered out later this year in Paris.
Steve Gutow is president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and chair of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Lawrence Troster is the coordinator for Shomrei Breisthi: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth.