Climate change and environmental protection is progressively becoming the key political and societal focus. But what is our role as Jews when it comes to the environment?
The Jewish culture and religion is full of values that teach us how to live our lives, so many of which can be linked to our interaction with the environment. One of the first values I learnt was Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world”. Initially many see this as strictly fighting against humanity’s injustices, but this value can be extended to repairing the ecological world too. Limiting your meat or dairy consumption, sourcing animal friendly products or actively reducing your carbon emissions are some of the small ways that this value can be worked towards. So, what of the other values?
The value of Bal Tashchit , “do not destroy”, forbids needless destruction. This act of reduction of harm can be likened to the concept of sustainability, whereby we must ensure that wasteful acts are prevented. This not only emphasises that our actions enable a healthy world for the present, but our need to preserve our natural resources and generate new ones for future generations too. Such an idea is contained within sustainable development, a common theory that has been implemented into the International world of environmental preservation and is vital to the continuation of human development whilst ensuring the future of the planet.
Furthermore, we are taught about Pikuach Nefesh, ”saving human lives above all else,” as one of our greatest moral obligations. Whilst this value has been reinterpreted throughout time by different religious streams and academics, the continued concept that “you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour” (Leviticus) is maintained. Whilst the Earth is not a human, it is part of our lives and provides us with all resources. It would be morally unjust to stand by and allow for the death and destruction of the planet and its’ inhabitants. Therefore, Jewish values command us to preserve the Earth.
Under a more religious light, Jews have a special responsibility within creation to cultivate, guard and use the world, and its’ resources, wisely. This is evident throughout Bereshit (Genesis) in which “the Lord, G-d, took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” It is from here a form of stewardship over the planet can be amounted. This is further outlined wherein the sabbatical year, every seven years, reminds Jews that during this period, all land lies fallow. By allowing such practices this harnesses the embodiment of environmental sustainability.
In the words of Hillel, if not now when? It is our responsibility as Jews to ensure the environment is protected and preserved for the lives of all generations and species. However, if you’re not one to connect with Rabbinical literature, let me rephrase it. In the words of Action Bronson, you know better, you better save that. Our time is now, let’s start saving the environment.