The principle is rooted in the Biblical law of Deuteronomy 20:19–20. In the Bible, the command is said in the context of wartime and forbids the cutting down of fruit trees in order to assist in a siege.
In early rabbinic law however, the bal tashchit principle is understood to include other forms of senseless damage or waste. For instance, the Babylonian Talmud applies the principle to prevent the wasting of lamp oil, the tearing of clothing, the chopping up of furniture for firewood, or the killing of animals. In all cases, bal tashchit is invoked only for destruction that is deemed unnecessary. Destruction is explicitly condoned when the cause or need is adequate.
In contemporary Jewish ethics on Judaism and ecology, advocates often point to bal tashchit as an environmental principle. Jewish vegetarians often point to bal tashchit in justifying vegetarianism or veganism, arguing that an omnivorous diet is wasteful.
- Eilon Schwartz. "Bal Tashchit: A Jewish Environmental Precept," in Judaism And Environmental Ethics: A Reader Martin D. Yaffe ed., 2001
- Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Bal Tashchit: the development of a Jewish environmental principle
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8,10
- Candace Nachman. "Bal Tashchit: Optimism in a Time of Teshuva" on the Canfei Nesharim website, an Orthodox Jewish environmental organization
- Nir, David. "A Critical Examination of the Jewish Environmental Law of Bal Tashchit 'Do Not Destroy'" Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Winter, 2006
- Sefer ha-Chinuch, commandment 529
- David E. S. Stein, "Halakhah: The Law of Bal Tashchit (Do Not Destroy)," in Torah of the Earth.
- Wolff, K.A., "Bal Tashchit: The Jewish Prohibition against Needless Destruction" at http://hdl.handle.net/1887/14448
- Talmud Shabbath 67b, Tractate Hullin 7b, Kiddushin 32a
- "Bal tashchit ('do not destroy')". Reformjudaism.org.uk. 2016-02-24. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
... an omnivorous diet (one that includes meat) is wasteful and should be prohibited, since an omnivorous diet uses five times as much grain, over ten times as much water, over 15 times as much land and over 20 times as much energy as compared with a vegan diet.
- Schwartz, Richard. "IS AN ANIMAL-BASED DIET A CHILLUL HASHEM?". www.jewishveg.org. Retrieved 2019-11-25.