Culture, Justice

Who did not see the rejoicing at the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing

When God created Adam, God passed him before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See my works, how lovely they are, how fine they are. All I have created, I created for you. Take care not to corrupt and destroy my universe, for if you destroy it, no o­ne will come after you to put it right.” (Ecclesiasted, Rabbah 7)
It is difficult to decide what is the most pressing need right now. There is no shortage of essential wrongs in this broken world that require the work of our hands to set them right. But the truth is, when you break them down, they’re all interrelated. The link between poverty and economic injustice is pretty obvious – if you don’t pay people honest wages, and get rich off their backs, of course, they’re going to be poor. No surprises there. But the link between poverty and environmental degradation is sometimes harder to see. On the other hand, the environment, Dubya notwithstanding, is perhaps the most pressing matter of all. Although of course, it will be less oppressive on the wealthy when the seas rise, and the animals and plants disappear, nevertheless, whatever your class, when the world begins coming apart at the seams, you too will be affected for the worse.
Sukkot is a holiday in which we live out in the world; we are required to see stars, and what rooves we have must be made from living plants (bamboo mats, silly things, aside). We must suffer the heat of summer in warmer climes, and bees, and where it is colder, we have to put on our coats while our soup cools.
And water, of all the poverty/environment issues, is close to the easiest to see how it affects the poor. When cancer alley (see here and here for more info) in Louisiana produces rare cancers in poor neighborhoods, no one really is surprised. After all, if you’re poor, you can’t protest polluting corporations dumping in your backyard (let alone building in your back yard) very effectively, you have a harder time getting treatment -insurance anyone?- and well, who cares about your complaint anyway?
That’s why it’s nice to see a fledgling Orthodox environmental group joining the extant Jewish environmental groups (like COEJL) celebrating one of the often forgotten pieces of sukkot:

Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the festive water ceremony that took place on Sukkot while the Temple was standing. It is part of True Joy Through Water, a new program created by the Orthodox environmental group Canfei Nesharim, designed primarily to educate the Orthodox community about water conservation.
“At the time of the Temple, people lived on the land and understood that if there wasn’t rain, there wasn’t food. That absolute dependence is still true today, but we don’t think about it because we live so far from the land,” said Marzouk, executive director of the three-year-old group.

This is one of a number of environmentally themed sukkot festivities mentioned in the JTA article.
OK, so poverty isn’t the connection that they’re making, but as I said, it’s all connected. We’ve got to start somewhere. I await Canfei Nesharim’s leading the way in taking some really serious approaches to dealing with the connections between poverty and environmental destruction. Have at it, friends.
While I’m there, let’s give a shout-out to Hazon and their Tuv Ha’aretz program, which supports sustainable agriculture.
I wish I could get this started somewhere here in DC. Anyone have a shul that’s open to this, and want to join me?

4 thoughts on “Who did not see the rejoicing at the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing

  1. This link briefly discusses how mechitzas/women’s balconies in synagogues developed. I have been in classes on mechitza that concurr with the view that because of the frivolity that occured on Simcha Bais Hashoevah, women and men needed to be seperated then and apparently forever after that in the Temple and in the synagogue until the modern non-Ortho movements came into existance.
    Perhaps the activists among us should use the current Simcha Bais Hashoeva period-a time that numerous Orthodox groups are now trying to use to create a night of frivolity-as a time to bring attention to the absurdness of the mechitzah that was created to prevent frivolity in the first place.
    Another idea I have is as I write this, in two weeks, people, obviously practically all frummies, who are involved in the practice of daf yomi will be using that day to discuss these pages of gemara (Sukkah 51-52) from which mechitzah is derived. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the serious, non Orthodox learners among us would show up those early mornings or late nights when the daf yomi shiurim are given to argue with the black hats about how absurd the stretch is from frivolity on Simcha bais Hashoveah to the current state of mechitzahs? It’s hard not to find a men’s section in a Ortho synagogue where you don’t see some degree or a lot of frivolity.

  2. Yay for Tuv Haaretz, Yay for DC! I think TI on 16th street may be looking into the Tuv Ha’aretz thing. Check it out!

  3. Kishkeman –
    Let people do their religion differently. You don’t have to daven with them. You may need a history/Gemara lesson though.
    Kol Raash Gadol –
    I’m in DC and would love to get involved!

  4. yes! i’m so glad blogged this on jewschool. oh wait, I already did….
    no worries, i’m glad it’s being mentioned again because these are important issues. regarding the resources for simchat beit hashoeva resources, however…I’ve been reading them to incorporate for a sukkah discussion at my school ( a nutrition school with an agriculture policy program), but they seem for the most part limited to their intended audience. which is fine, since their explicitly targeted audience is Orthodox Jews, but I think they could generalize some terminology a little bit more and their resources, especially the children’s resources, would be applicable to a much wider audience as well, which I think would be much appreciated. maybe in the future. it’s sort of funny to sit with a document and edit all the instances of “davening” and “B’nei Yisrael” to be used for an interfaith/secular-ish/non-frum auidence.
    Also, I wonder if all the minyanim in DC wouldn’t like to get together to help organize the CSA, or the JCC or the RAC….or all of the above. good luck with that! I’m currently trying to get my mom to start a new site in suburban lawnguyisland.

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