Judaism and environmentalism

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Judaism intersects with environmentalism on many levels. This article addresses how the natural world plays a central role in Jewish law, literature, and liturgical and other practices. Moreover, within the diverse arena of Jewish thought, beliefs vary widely about the human relation to the environment. In addition, the article looks at the history of Jewish environmental thought and activism.

Jewish law and the environment[edit]

In Jewish law (halakhah), ecological concerns are reflected in Biblical protection for fruit trees, rules in the Mishnah against harming the public domain, Talmudic debate over noise and smoke damages, and contemporary responsa on agricultural pollution. In Conservative Judaism, a new initiative has adopted ecokashrut ideas begun in the 1970s. In addition, Jewish activists have recruited principles of halakhah for environmental purposes, such as the injunction against unnecessary destruction, known as bal tashkhit. The rule of tza'ar ba'alei hayyim is a restriction on cruelty to animals.

Other Jewish beliefs about the environment[edit]

Generally speaking, the Bible and rabbinic tradition has put Judaism primarily on an anthropocentric trajectory. For example, in the account of creation in the Torah, each day God declares that the created world is good, yet concluding that the created human is "very good." In Genesis, too, God instructs humanity to hold dominion over nature, though this may be interpreted in terms of stewardship as well.

Jewish practices and nature[edit]

In contemporary Jewish liturgy, ecological concerns have been promoted by adapting a kabbalistic ritual for the holiday of trees, Tu Bishvat.[citation needed] Biblical and rabbinic texts have been enlisted for prayers about the environment, especially in Reform Judaism and Jewish Renewal movements.

History of Jewish environmentalism[edit]

In the U.S., a coalition of Jewish environmentalists (COEJL) undertakes both educational and policy advocacy on such issues as biodiversity and global warming.[1] Founded in 2000, Hazon operates Jewish environmental programs in North America and Israel, with a focus on sustainable food and transportation alternatives. Jewish environmentalists are drawn from all branches of religious life, ranging from Rabbi Arthur Waskow to a growing Orthodox non-profit.[2] In Israel, many governmental and non-governmental organizations were created to protect nature and reduce pollution.[citation needed] Many Israeli organizations made initial limited use of Jewish religious teachings, and a few approached Israel's environmental problems from a Jewish standpoint, including an environmental center named after Abraham Joshua Heschel. Many religious (Orthodox) Israeli environmental organizations encouraged environmental activism through the study of the intersection between Halacha and environmentalism. Sviva Israel together with Orthodox rabbinic scholars produced four journals on the topic of the Environment in Jewish Thought and Law that were sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of the Environment and the Municipality of Jerusalem.

In 2001, the Green Zionist Alliance was founded as the first and only environmental organization to ever participate in the World Zionist Congress, the World Zionist Organization and its constituent agencies. The Green Zionist Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, works from North America to educate and mobilize Jews around the world for Israel’s environment; to protect Israel's environment and support its environmental movement; to improve environmental practices within the World Zionist Organization and its constituent agencies; and to inspire people to work for positive change. By focusing on the environment while working from a pluralistic and multicultural base, the Green Zionist Alliance seeks to bridge the differences between and within religions and people — helping to build a peaceful and sustainable future for Israel and the Middle East.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, New York.
  2. ^ Canfei Nesharim
  3. ^ Green Zionist Alliance: Mission


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  • Ora R. Sheinson. Lessons from the Jewish Law of Property Rights for the Modern American Takings Debate Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 2001
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  • Arthur Ocean Waskow. Torah of the earth: exploring 4,000 years of ecology in Jewish thought Two volumes. Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Pub., 2000. ISBN 1-58023-086-5; 1-58023-087-3.
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  • David Seidenberg, neohasid.org. "The Rainbow Day Curriculum to Celebrate the Rainbow Covenant"
  • Noam Dolgin. Elijah's Covenant Between the Generations- Climate Change Curriculum for Grades 7 - 11, published by the Shalom Center.
  • Noam Dolgin. Whole School Environmental Curriculum- Varied environmental instant lessons for Grades 1 - 8, published by Torah Aura.
  • Nigel Savage & Anna Stevenson. Food for Thought: Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food & Contemporary Life- Sourcebook on Jewish Food Ethics, published by Hazon.

External links[edit]