What Is Eco-Kosher?

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, from his book DOWN-TO-EARTH JUDAISM: FOOD, MONEY, SEX, & THE REST OF LIFE (Morrow).

By looking at Jewish approaches to food from the Biblical era to the modern age, we have brought ourselves to the edges of the present. If now we want to get a glimpse of possible futures for Jewish attitudes toward food, let us begin with four unconventional questions:
1. Are tomatoes grown by drenching the earth in pesticides "kosher" to eat, at home or at the synagogue's next wedding reception?
2. Is newsprint made by chopping down an ancient and irreplaceable forest "kosher" to use for a Jewish newspaper?
3. Are windows and doors so carelessly built that the warm air flows out through them and the furnace keeps burning all night -- are such doors and windows "kosher" for a home or for a Jewish Community Center building?
4. Is a bank that invests the depositors' money in an oil company that befouls the ocean a "kosher" place for me or for a UJA to deposit money?
If by "kosher" we mean what we have so far called by that name -- the traditional law-code of proper ritual slaughter, proper separation of meat and milk, proper tithing of fruit -- then the accurate answer to all these questions is that the category of "kosher" does not apply to them. (Even to the first question, which is at least about food!)
But what if we both draw on the ancient meaning of "kosher" and go beyond it? What if we move the word and the idea to a new place in the spiral of Jewish thought, and test out a new word -- "eco-kosher"? What if by "eco-kosher" we mean a broader sense of "good practice" in everyday life that draws on the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom and tradition about the relationships between human beings and the earth?
Then perhaps the answer to these questions is that these ways of behaving may not be eco-kosher.
Where does this word, and the concept behind it, come from?
In one sense, we can answer this question quickly. The word "eco-kosher" itself was coined in the late 1970s by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the P'nai Or Religious Fellowship. Schachter-Shalomi made not only his ideas but himself an extraordinary fusion of old and new approaches to Judaism. As a teen-age boy in Vienna, he studied Orthodox Judaism by day and secular Socialist Zionism at night. With his family, he fled Hitler, was interned in Vichy France, and escaped to America. He studied for the Rabbinate in a traditional Lubavitcher Chassidic yeshiva, and was singled out as so unusually bright and creative by the Lubavitch leadership that he was sent out to be one of their earliest outreach workers.
But he learned to listen as well as to teach. To his astonishment and the consternation of Lubavitch organization men who were stuck in the conventional Chassidic theory and practice, he discovered deep spiritual meaning in the lives and thoughts of Christian mystics like Thomas Merton and Howard Thurman (Martin Luther King's teacher), Eastern yogis, Muslim Sufis, transpersonal Jungian psychologists, Gandhian social activists, and women who were exploring and creating feminist spirituality and politics.
So he left Lubavitch behind, and began to integrate all that he was learning into an expanded notion of Jewish mystical thought and practice. Instead of reading in books what the great Jewish mystics like the Baal Shem Tov had done, he began to do what they did: see new life in, give new life to, dried-out Jewish practice. The traditional prayer book, he said, was like a cookbook: a guide to eating, but not the food itself. Some people thought that flavor and nourishment could come from eating the pages of the prayer book, but in fact that made no sense. The prayer book, like the cookbook, was useful only as a guide to cooking food with new heat, fresh water, and new-chosen spices.
And the same, said Schachter-Shalomi, with the code of kosher food. And so, he asked -- Is electric power generated by a nuclear plant "eco-kosher"?
Schachter-Shalomi was both unique in the way he brought traditional Judaism into contemporary life, and not unique at all in expressing the needs of a Jewish community moving beyond the modern age --reaching back to learn from pre-modern Judaism, and reaching forward to a Judaism that does not yet exist. For just as the Jewish people experienced a crisis as it welcomed and celebrated the modern age, so it is now beginning to experience a crisis as it sees dangers and feels doubts about the modern age.
The Post-Modern Crisis
As we have seen, the triumph of modernity profoundly affected the eating habits of the Jewish people. While part of the community adhered to the tradition of kosher food, the majority of Jews in the world abandoned it as part of their own flight from intense and ghettoized Jewish communities and their identification with secularism and universalism, and their celebration of the life-giving potential of modern technology (in producing food as well as many other things).
But in our own generation, this triumph of modernity has become a trauma. In order to produce more food and other "consumables," the human race has subjugated the earth -- subjected it to pollution and destruction. And the whole earth is striking back at human exploitation by threatening atmospheric decay, desertification, drought, flood, famine, the extinction of species. On the one hand, the whole notion that food must be treated as sacred has almost vanished. And on the other hand, the whole notion of treating the earth as sacred through rhythmic sabbatical rest for earth and earthlings has almost vanished.
The crisis of the Biblical Eden appears in our own day with even more sharpness than in previous human history. For Eden is an archetype: its crisis was, is, that we become fully knowledgeable humans only in the process of splitting ourselves off from the earth -- eating from the earth in a split-off way. The tragedy is that we are in truth both split off from the earth and not split off from it. We are the one species that is able to rise "above" the earth, see it as a whole, and therefore choose to act as if we were not really embedded within it. .But since as biological beings we are in fact still embedded in the earth's biology, when we act as if we are "beyond" earth, we ourselves are shattered.
Today the breadth and depth of our knowledge is so great that we have acted with even greater power to separate ourselves than we did in the agricultural or industrial revolutions. And the result is that we and the earth stand in much greater danger than ever before: the danger that we may be forever exiled from the one great earthy garden.
During the last 300 years we human beings have learned how to consume some of the fruits of Planet Earth, fruits of the Tree of the Knowledge of Opposites and Distinctions, that have been hidden away through all of human history: fossil fuels, nuclear energy. And the result of our eating has been both enormous wealth and a new kind of war with the earth. We have eaten so carelessly that we have poisoned the earth, and she is responding by poisoning us.
It is not clear that the planetary biosphere can survive a long continuation of the treatment we are now giving it. So we have made the gift of food from the earth even more problematic than it was before.
Our technology has also transformed the medium of the relationship between earth and human earthling. Originally, food was the great connection. There were others -- clothing, housing, wood for energy -- but food made up the largest and most potent aspect of what we got from the earth.
But that is no longer so. Much of the human race has created an economy in which the many other products of the earth that are consumed by humans may outweigh food -- in market value, if not in survival-importance. What implications does this pose for Jewish practice?
At the same time that modernity has deeply affected the relationship between human beings and the earth, the same processes of modernity have eaten away at the close-knit communities that had populated the earth. Breaking down the ghetto walls has given Jews new freedoms, new equalities; it has also left them bereft of the kinds of dependable and loving relationships and the sense of meaning in life and death that stem from coherent communities
So out of these new discoveries have come new desires and new searches. In the arena of food and eating, some Jews have concluded that pure individualism leads to the death of ethics and community, and that accepting communal standards for what to eat might make sense. For many of these people, the ethical issues stem from a sense that today all peoples eat from all the earth, and that a specific Jewish peoplehood does not address such broad concerns.
So they may welcome communal discussions and decisions about vegetarianism, macrobiotic diets, or boycotts of food grown by oppressed workers, but feel much less comfortable about choosing a diet that is distinctive according to a uniquely Jewish pattern.
Or they may feel unhappy with kashrut not only because it divides Jews from others but because its own patterns are so much in the form of -- "This you must and this you must not." For Jews who today resist the external imposition of black-and-white distinctions upon their lives, this may seem one of the most unpleasant characteristics of kashrut.
But in the last several years, some Jews have been trying to reshape Jewish values so that they might affirm and protect the wholeness of the earth precisely by affirming and strengthening Jewish life.
They have been trying to do this by reconnecting the idea of kashrut -- what we allow ourselves to eat -- with some broader values and obligations toward the earth that stem from Jewish tradition. They have drawn upon those underlying ethical concerns for the earth and its creatures that some have said were encoded in traditional kashrut.
But some of those Jews who have been exploring new meaning in kashrut have been looking beyond the traditional definitions. From this deeper exploration, "eco-kosher" has become more than a word. It has begun to take on reality in the world.
The "Eco-Kosher" Project
How this happened is itself a teaching of a new mode of walking Jewishly in the world. In 1990, I sent out a memo to a number of Rabbis and Jewish teachers, to ask whether the time had come to explore new ethical dimensions of kashrut. I was acting on behalf of a group that is now called ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. ALEPH sees itself as a seed-bank of new approaches to Jewish life -- drawing on specific good ideas from the Jewish past that, like seeds from the past generations of a species, could be newly planted for the sake of coping with a transformed future.
The memo intrigued Rabbis Marshall Meyer (may his memory be for a blessing) and Rolando Matalon, rabbis of an innovative Conservative congregation in New York City -- B'nai Jeshurun. Together with ALEPH, they gathered about a dozen leaders of all four religious streams of Jewish life, plus Jews who were active in organizations concerned with consumers and the environment.
Our talks were religious and secular, halakhic and non-halakhic. Some of us were deeply steeped in Jewish law, others were committed to Jewish forms of social action but skeptical of halakha, still others had barely any Jewish connection but cared about healing the earth. From all these perspectives, we agreed to look at some of the traditional Jewish values and ethics that might be connected with what we eat.
As we did this, layer after layer of new possibilities emerged.
The first layer was about food itself: what kinds of food protected the earth instead of wounding it?
Then we began to examine whether other kinds of "eating" -- consuming energy, using paper, buying machines, investing money -- might be enough like eating food that in our generation the guidelines of "kosher" and "treyf" might be applied to them.
Then we looked more carefully at the whole notion of Yes or No, On or Off, Kosher or Treyf -- absolute distinctions -- that has been at the heart of traditional kashrut.
At the first level, the gathering looked at some traditional Jewish ethical categories about relationships between human beings and the rest of God's creation. The main ones we examined were --
Tza'ar ba'alei chai’im -- literally, concern for the "distress of those who possess life," usually understood as respect for animals. Some members of the gathering suggested it could be extended to prohibit growing animals under super-productive "factory farm" conditions, and then one step further, to prohibit eating meat from such animals. Still others suggested extending it to respect for the identity of plants -- for example, by restricting the misuse of pesticides and genetic recombination, and then by prohibiting the eating of foods that were grown by such misuses.
Bal tashchit -- literally, "not ruining" the earth. This norm began with the Biblical prohibition against cutting down the trees of an enemy -- and then was extended to protect all trees and other aspects of nature, and even to prohibit the waste of furniture or other objects in which human beings had mixed their labor with the products of the earth. As the committee thought about bal tashchit, they suggested it might be further extended to prohibit poisoning the earth with chemical pesticides in order to grow food and to forbid the use of foods grown that way, in favor of the use of "natural" or "organic" foods.
Sh'mirat haguf. The protection of one's own body. It could be understood to prohibit eating foods that contain carcinogens and/or hormones, and quasi-food items like tobacco and overdoses of alcohol. This principle would also mandate attention to the problems of anorexia or overeating that cause us deep physical and psychological pain and make food into a weapon that we use against ourselves.
Tzedakah. The sharing of food with the poor. It could be extended to prohibit the eating of any meal, or any communal festive meal, unless a proportion of its cost goes to buying food for the hungry. Some of the committee pushed this approach even further -- suggesting that in a world where protein is already distributed inequitably, it is unjust to channel large amounts of cheap grain into feeding animals to grow expensive meat protein -- and that it is therefore unjust to eat meat at all, when the grain could be directly feeding larger numbers of human beings somewhere in the world.
B'rakhah and Kedushah. The traditional sense that those who eat must consciously affirm a sense of holiness and blessing. Traditionally, this meant that those who eat together literally pause at the table, before and after the meal, to praise God for the earth's bounty.
Even the secular participants thought it might be important to use old or new forms for heightening the attention we give to the Unity from which all food comes -- whether we call it God or not. They pointed out that this would help us maintain an awareness of the sad fact that at the most obvious level we must kill plants and/or animals to live, and at a deeper level that whatever we now do to live poses some danger to the planet that gives us life. Keeping ourselves conscious of these truths, they said, would make it more likely that we could exercise some self-control.
At this point, the participants who were knowledgeable about Jewish tradition noted that they had done little more than list and barely sketch the relevant ethical principles that are embedded in Jewish tradition. To draw on them in any serious way would mean to look more deeply at how the tradition shapes their content -- not only at the specific rulings but at how they are arrived at. Not necessarily to follow the same paths of thought or decision, but to wrestle with a Judaism that draws on the wisdom of all the Jewish generations -- not our own alone. Once we have done this, then indeed our generation must decide for itself.
The very decision to apply these ethical principles to the choice of what to eat would represent this process of consulting the tradition without being imprisoned by it.
For instance, they explained, it is clear that every one of these ethical principles stands as a norm in the legal code, the halakha, as well as inaggada -- that is, extra-legal symbol, metaphor, philosophy. But it is more problematic whether one is obligated not only to avoid doing these misdeeds, but also to avoid benefiting from them if they have been done by others.
With care not to impose impossible burdens, they said, it would probably be legally possible to bring together these principles with the Jewish sense of the importance of food, by forbidding the eating of the fruits of these misdeeds.
So the gathering asked -- Does it make sense for us now to draw on these basic principles to set new standards for what we actually consume -- standards for an "ethical kashrut"? If we did, do we run the danger of obsessiveness, or even the danger that applying strict standards might result in drastically reducing the kinds of foods and other products we could use at all?
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the way different types of Jews practice traditional kashrut today.
For different Jews do maintain different answers to the question, "Is this food kosher?" For example, some will only accept certain types of Rabbinical certification on packaged goods, while others are satisfied with reading labels to verify ingredients as kosher. Some people will drink only kosher wine, while others believe this category is no longer relevant. Some keep "Biblical kashrut," only abstaining from Biblically forbidden foods. Some are willing to eat non-kosher foods in restaurants and in other people's homes, others are willing only to eat intrinsically kosher foods such as fish and vegetables on non-kosher utensils when they are away from home, while still others do not eat any cooked foods away from home.
A new kashrut that drew on the ethical strands of Torah would also demand that people make choices about how to observe. For example: Some might treat the principle of oshek (not oppressing workers) as paramount, and choose to use only products that are grown or made without any oppression of food workers (food, for example, from one's own backyard or neighborhood garden, or from a kibbutz where all workers are also co-owners and co-managers). Others might make the principle of bal tashchit (protection of the environment) paramount, and put oshek in a secondary place -- perhaps applying it only when specifically asked to do so by workers who are protesting their plight.
But there might also be some important differences in the way choices will work in an ethical kashrut, from the way choices work in traditional kashrut. In the new approach, there might be so many ethical values to weigh that it would be rare to face a black-and-white choice in a particular product.
This one is grown by union workers, that one with special care for the earth and water, another . . . .
So choices would depend more on a balancing and synthesizing of the underlying values than on an absolute sense of Good and Bad. More on a sense of Both/And than of Either/Or.

Beyond Food
Up to this point, those who had gathered to discuss the new kashrut had focused on food alone as the nexus between human beings and the earth. But they soon took into account that it is not the only one.
Indeed, in our own generation, although food is still for many human beings the most urgent and perhaps the scarcest link to the earth, producing it takes up much smaller a proportion of our work and capital than it did before the modern age. Many other products of the earth that are consumed by humans may outweigh food. And where crop land or pasture land was originally the basis for producing food, nowadays, in our modern economy, money in all its forms takes on much of the productive role that land once had.
So should we in our generation apply Jewish teachings about food to other "consumables" that come from the earth, and also to the money that connects us with them?
The committee members pointed out that from the Biblical era on, Jews have paid some attention to links other than food between earth and human, even though none was addressed with as much care and regulation as was food.
Rain, for example, was seen as a crucial connection with the earth. Without it, no food could grow; and in the Land of Israel, it was sometimes problematic. One of the main concerns of Jewish liturgy is intense prayer for rain; and the Talmud specifies an elaborate pattern of fasts and prayers in time of drought. In our generation, the purity and health of rain has become not a given but a serious issue.
Clothing was another of these links with the earth, and the Torah notes a kind of kashrut of clothes -- not mixing linen with wool. The Rabbinic tradition did not greatly elaborate the rule.
Energy was another interface. Wood and olive oil were the main sources of light and heat. Olive oil took on a sacred aura -- it was used for anointing sacred pillars in the earliest memories of the people and later for offerings at the Temple, for lighting the Temple Menorah (and thus took a central place in the origins of Hanukkah), and for anointing kings (and thus gave the name "the Anointed One, Mashiach, Messiah," to the human being who would someday redeem history). The Talmud examines carefully the rules of making oil for sacred use.
As for firewood, the Bible describes its gathering as the first occasion for a legal case to define the extent of the prohibitions on exploitation of the earth that apply on Shabbat.
Breathing was another link. God's most intimate name may have been based on a breathing sound, and breath/wind became the metaphor for life, soul, and spirit (as in the Hebrew words ruach, nefesh, and neshamah). As early as the Talmud, air pollution was occasionally a problem -- when living down-wind of a tannery, for example -- but this was rare, and few rules were developed for the correct use of air. On the opposite end of the continuum of sweet air and foul air, the Talmud explores in detail what spices make up the incense that was burned at the Temple to make a sweet savor for God and humankind; and the Rabbinic prayer books have continued to include these passages, even though -- or because -- there is no longer an Altar at which to burn the spices. Except for the ceremony that ends Shabbat, few Jewish communities continue to use spices or incense to sweeten the in-breath. But perhaps even this can remind us to explore what could become a "kashrut of breathing."
So those who had gathered to discuss the role of ethics in kashrut felt that in our own world, where food is far from the only problematic link between human beings and their environment, it is certainly authentic for Jews to work out Jewish guidelines for these other linkages. Our water and air are often polluted, and our main sources of energy -- fossils that can be replaced and renewed only over millions of years, and nuclear radiation -- pose profound dangers to the life-web of the earth.
So the committee asked itself --
• How would we develop rules of "kashrut" to apply to such non-food products, and how would we enforce them?
• Does it make sense for us now to draw on the basic principles that we have already examined -- bal tashchit, etc. -- to set new standards for what we actually consume?
So they began to look at several different areas of possibility:
Work. How do we choose what companies to work for and what work to do? Should engineers, secretaries, scientists, public-relations experts, nurses, be asking whether their work contributes to or reduces the danger of oil spills, ozone depletion, global warming, nuclear holocaust? Do Jewish tradition and the Jewish community offer any help in making such judgments? What help is most needed?
How could the Jewish community, or parts of it, decide whether specific jobs were "kosher"? Suppose a community decided a specific job was not kosher? Should and could the community provide financial help -- temporary grants, low-interest loans, etc. -- to Jews who decide to leave such jobs in order to carry into the world their commitment to Torah? Should organizing toward such a fund be a goal of the Jewish community?
Investments. How do we judge where to invest money -- in which money market funds, IRAs, etc.? What about institutional funds in which we may have a voice or could make for ourselves a voice -- college endowments, pension funds, city bonds, etc.? Should they be invested in businesses that spill oil or deplete the ozone layer or burn rain forests?
In the Jewish community, investment funds that might become "socially responsible" include community-worker and Rabbinical association pension funds, synagogue endowments, building campaign accounts, pulpit flower funds, seminary endowments, etc. How would the community decide which investments are "kosher"?
Purchases. Should we as individuals, when we choose which companies to buy consumer goods from, use as one factor in our choice the facts of what else a specific company is producing? Should we ask our synagogues, our pension funds, our city and state governments, our PTA's, to choose vendors on the same basis?

Deciding to Organize
Responding to all these questions, the different sorts of religious and secular Jews gathered by ALEPH decided to create an ongoing project to explore these questions and bring them to the broader Jewish community.
And suddenly, for the sake of an ongoing project words became important. What to call this idea, this effort?
The word Zalman Schachter-Shalomi had coined fifteen years before, "eco-kosher," entered the discussion.
"Eco-kosher" shouted out its own meaning almost without definition. By joining a Greek prefix with a very new connotation to a Hebrew root with a very ancient one, it signaled precisely the fusion of the ancient with the post-modern. By joining the most expansive sense of healing the earth to the most precise code of daily conduct, it signaled the importance of broadening kashrut at the same time as it signaled the importance of turning ecological consciousness into everyday action.
But for some, the power of the word was a problem.
On the one hand, those in the Orthodox community who had taken on the responsibility for regulating traditional kashrut expressed concern that the term "eco-kosher" might cause confusion. What if a committee for a new approach to Jewish eating and consuming were to decide that for environmental reasons, what the Rabbinic tradition viewed as kosher was now "eco-treyf," or what the tradition viewed as treyf was now "eco-kosher"?
On the other hand, some Reform Jews were concerned that members of the Reform movement who had put great psychic energy into deciding that most of the categories of kosher food no longer had religious significance in the modern age, might reject the whole notion because its name echoed the traditional kashrut.
After long discussion, we decided to use "Eco-Kosher" because no alternative seemed as apt to express the commitment to Jewish roots and values and the sense of a continuous daily practice and discipline. At the same time, we decided to take two precautions:
• to say explicitly that "eco-kashrut" stood outside of and independent from traditional kashrut, in a different rather than a competing sphere;
• and to carry out this assertion by leaving on one side, at least for the present, the main categories of "kosher" and "treyf" products -- that is, meat and dairy foods -- and instead focus on issues and products not addressed by traditional kashrut.
So we made ourselves into the Eco-Kosher Project. We decided to focus on four categories of individual and institutional purchase and investment: --
a) Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. In terms of the ways in which they are grown, packaged, and marketed, which of these products are most sensitive to protection of the earth?
b) Household and congregational consumables other than food -- in particular, paper products and cleaning products.
c) Finances -- in particular, choices of where to place checking and savings accounts, investments, etc.
d) No-cost or low-cost conservation and recycling of materials and energy.
The Eco-Kosher Project decided to begin by focusing on institutions that have buildings and sizable purchasing/ investing patterns -- for example, synagogues, schools, camps, Hillel houses, Jewish Community Centers, nursing homes, hospitals, day-care and other social service centers, Jewish journals and publishing houses. As these institutions pursued the process, individual households would find their path made easier.
It also decided to approach two major strands of the Jewish leadership:
• the "cultural-educational" staff like Rabbis, school principals and teachers, JCC and camp program directors, Hillel directors, chaplains, editors and reporters;
• and administrators and purchasing agents who are usually responsible for making purchases, choosing banks, etc.
The Project decided that in judging what is eco-kosher, it would develop standards both out of the ethical earth-preserving elements of Jewish tradition such as Bal tashchit (not ruining the earth), Tza'ar ba'alei chai’im (respect for animals), Sh'mirat haguf (protection of one's own body), and shmitah and yovel (the rhythm of allowing the earth to rest), and also from contemporary secular work on protection of the environment.
The Project intends to explore whether the Jewish categories can be extended and intertwined to address a number of newer questions. What about a new kind of sabbatical year, for example -- perhaps a rhythmic pause or moratorium in new technological development while we reexamine its effects? Or requiring an environmental-impact statement before undertaking large corporate investments in new products? What about asking everyone, not just Jews, to set aside a special time each year for living lightly on the earth -- like Sukkot with its simplest of shelters, Pesach with its simplest of breads?
Some members of the Eco-Kosher Project expressed concern over what impact this new "eco-kosher" approach might have upon adherence to the traditional code of kosher food. They concluded that there are a number of possible permutations: --
• Some who find traditional kashrut an important link with Torah and Jewish peoplehood might continue to observe it while observing eco-kashrut as well.
• Some who do not resonate to the traditional code might continue to leave it to one side while following the new path with its new way of connecting with Torah and Jewish peoplehood.
• Some who are newly observant of eco-kashrut might find that it leads them to find unexpected value in the traditional form.
• Others who have observed kashrut in traditional ways might find that the new one fulfills their Jewish sense more richly, and give up the ancient form.
And they concluded that there is no way to tell in advance how many people would go in one direction or another, and that since the need is great, the risks should be taken with as much care as possible.

Continuing the Work
In the long run, the members of the Eco-Kosher Project realized, the Project itself will not be enough. If the analogy to kashrut makes any sense, then what we will need is a kind of "living Talmud" -- a group of people who are Jewishly knowledgeable, ethically sensitive, and willing to become reasonably expert on questions regarding food, other consumer products, and money -- so that their advice would be taken seriously by large parts of the Jewish community.
Such a Eco-Kosher Commission might periodically issue reports and suggestions on specific matters, listing specific products and perhaps even brands that it regarded as "highly recommended," and others it viewed as "to be avoided if at all possible."
If we step back for a moment to look at the deeper implications of the Eco-Kosher Project, we may see that it hints at a new role for the Jewish people. Its implications are that the Jewish people as a whole, not just individual Jews, would be consciously involved in tikkun olam -- the healing of the world. At least since the Roman Empire shattered the Jewish community in the land of Israel, the Jewish people has mostly felt itself powerless to affect history. The most that the community as a whole could do was to walk a decent, holy life-path of its own -- and in dire emergency to seek survival by creating a state of its own against all odds. But to change the lives of other people, of the planet? Impossible.
Yet we have lived through a century of earthquakes, with more upheavals yet to come. In just fifty years, the Jewish people has experienced both the cruelest devastation and the most extraordinary political and economic successes of its history. Yet even at our strongest, we remain vulnerable to planetary crisis. Indeed, the earthquakes of change that are affecting the whole world have affected us even more, and sooner.
What to do? Always before, the choices seemed to be between preserving our own uniqueness, and abandoning our Jewishness to fight the universal struggles. What the Eco-Kosher Project implies is that we can strengthen our Jewish distinctiveness and serve the needs of the earth as well; that we can strive to heal ourselves by helping to heal the earth, and help to heal the earth by healing ourselves.
If keeping kosher is partly about making distinctions, then keeping eco-kosher deals with the issue of "distinctions" in a new way: not by separating only, but by consciously connecting. Connecting what is uniquely Jewish with what is shared and universal. Choosing not Either/Or but Both/And.
And asserting that Jewish wisdom can be of use not only to all peoples but all species, by choosing life in such a time of crisis.