Is Environmentalism a Jewish Issue? You Decide.

The World Jewish Digest opens a debate.
Pro: This is our ethical responsibility

…there are precedents in Jewish law for environmental regulation. The most polluting industry in the time of the Talmud, for example, was that of leather tanning, which creates what we now call air pollution and water pollution, both of which were known even in Talmudic times to cause health problems. And, we find, the rabbis set forth all manner of regulations, regulating where tanneries can be sited and how damages are to be apportioned. Many Jews logically extend these ethical norms to other pollution-causing activities, be they individual (wasting energy, generating greenhouse gases) or collective. .. this is not novel; it is how halacha has progressed for centuries.

Con:Yeah, get a Prius, but Israel and Jewish survival trumps all
… the environment is a problem, but it is not a Jewish problem and therefore it does not belong on a Jewish agenda. Eco-Judaism and its ideational and organizational offshoots are irrelevant to the Jewish community. They are irrelevant because Jews in America are totally free to operate within other groups. Since even the Jews, as wealthy as they may be, have finite fiscal and human resources, it is unnecessary and unwise to create another “branch” of Judaism; and to establish, staff and fund – and add still another entity to – what the late Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, used to call “our over-organized Jewish chaos.” Instead, since life is always a matter of priorities, Jews – as Jews – should turn their energies to areas that are existentially crucial to the Jewish people.
Jewschoolers – we ask you! Open thread…

10 thoughts on “Is Environmentalism a Jewish Issue? You Decide.

  1. “What may give you a leg up with the Almighty is what you did personally to continue the marvelous thousands-yearold Jewish journey.” –Edward Bernard Glick, in this debate
    “By insulating themselves in the short run from the problems of society, the elite merely bought themselves the privilege of being among the last to starve.” —Jared Diamond

  2. There is halacha, then is are other concerns in the world…such as work violations. These are global responsibilities rooted in the halachic man, that emanate from Judaism.

  3. Okay but think about it people – leaving lights on for all of Shabbat, for example. On the one hand it allows you to keep shabbat, on the other a huge waste of electricity. I can see how timers are a reasonable in between, but personally, we could all stand to use less electricity all the time, including indirectly on Shabbat.

  4. “there is halacha, then is are other concerns in the world…such as work violations.”
    I’m not sure what you’re saying here . . . halacha has a lot to say about such things as work violations. Why do we have to force the world into things that are “Jewish” and things that are “Ethical”. Judaism provides a highly refined system of Ethics . . . Judaism done right doesn’t conflict with the good and the ethical.

  5. Con: Moshiach is coming tomorrow, so who cares what will happen to the earth in 100 years?

  6. Shamirpower– Yeah, it’s possible to use shabbat as a time to use less electricity by keeping lights mostly off, but it’s a bit of a paradigm shift from the current common practice in a lot of communities.

  7. These are such tough choices we face! Protect the global environment? Or help strengthen Saudi Arabia and Iran through a booming petroleum economy?

  8. In today’s world, there are many, many ways of joining “the environmentalists.” Some environmentalists are romantics who look and sound like refugees from “the Summer of Love.” Some environmentalists are dog-eat-dog Social Darwinists. There are even a few neo-Nazi types mixed in with the ecologists…. In the midst of all of this confusion, Jews can speak for what is often called “environmental justice.” Human rights concerns can be combined with environmental protection concerns.
    If this combination doesn’t develop – and if extremists are able to change public policy in order to save “Mother Earth” – we may be headed back to some terrible times. The future of “environmental justice” may depend on Jewish teachings and vision. So, yes, there is a need for Jewish involvement with the environmental movement. The need is very great.

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