Judaism & the Earth: Questions for Discussion

Questions for discussion, "Ecology" group at Global Day of Jewish Learning in honor of Adin Steinsaltz' completion of his translation/ commentary on the Talmud, November 7, 2010, 92d St Y in New York City

Does Judaism have an authentic ecological voice that’s integral to the tradition or is it something that we moderns are reading back into it?

In the Torah's description of the ecological disasters we usually call 'the plagues," it seems that Pharaoh's top-down unaccountable power and arrogance bring on the disasters. In the Torah's story of the Flood, the disaster seems to be caused by more diffuse behavior of almost the whole human population. Which of these outlooks seems to you more important in choosing how we act today to prevent eco-disaster? If the former, who or what are our "pharaohs," and how do we deal with them? If the latter, what diffuse behaviors must be changed, and how?

Some Jewish communities seem to be convinced that "Be fruitful and multiply" remains a crucial command; other Jewish communities think it is a recipe for bringing on ecological disaster. How say you?

What weight would you give the teachings about Shabbat, the shmitah or sabbatical year, and the Jubilee as ways of healing the earth? Would you apply them today? If so, how?

Drawing on everything you can in Jewish tradition, history, and the roles of the Jewish people in America and the world today, can Jewish action be helpful to protecting and healing the earth? How? How effective, in what spheres, is Jewish action now?

Since the households of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and their offspring for many generations raised sheep and goats in the land of canaan/ Israel, what do you make of these passages in the Talmud? –-

It is not right to breed small cattle (especially goats) in Eretz Yisrael. They may however be bred in Syria or in the deserts of Eretz Yisrael. (BT, Baba Kama 79b) And when they discover that one pious person was keeping a goat tethered to his bed to drink its milk, they accused him of harboring an armed robber, since goats destroy forests and crops of the public. (BT Baba Kama 80a)

Further exploration:

Green Menorah Covenant of The Shalom Center

Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)

Teva Learning Center
Adamah Fellowshiip at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center

Canfei Nesharim Kayam Farm at Pearlstone Center

Jewish Farm School