DevMode
For several reasons, it is gratifying that the editors of this distinguished journal, when composing an edition on the topic of environmental challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians, have decided to include articles focusing on these issues from various religious and cultural perspectives. First, political discourse too often ignores, or tries to sidestep, differences in world views and cultural values, in particular affairs of the spirit, in favor of technical details of policy-making. This is especially true regarding environmental issues. Yet it cannot be emphasized too strongly that the environmental crisis will not be solved with a technological quick-fix - that it is fundamentally a crisis of values, of how we see the world and our place in it. And these are precisely the questions that religion and culture have been asking since the dawn of human history.
Not only have modernity, science and technology not obviated the need for clarifying these fundamental issues, they have made it an urgent necessity. Since religion and culture are the stuff of difference between us, conventional wisdom would have us avoid, or bracket, these explosive areas if we are to achieve peaceful coexistence. However, exactly the opposite is true: real coexistence can only come from confronting our differences openly, honestly, and generously. Moreover, it is my belief that not only do we have much to learn from one another, from our differences, but also that we will discover that we have much of importance in common, around which we can unite.
For instance, in the context of the age-old religious history of the Middle East, Judaism, Christianity and Islam stand out against the pagan cultural background as the monotheistic traditions that have formed a foundational element in the development of the Western world. As religious traditions, we share the belief in a Supreme Creator, with us as creatures of God's Creation. Nature, therefore, is neither eternal (uncreated) nor divine in itself.

A Shared Spiritual Language

This point alone has made Western monotheism the focus of severe criticism from environmental quarters. Space will not suffice for a thorough response to this charge, or a comprehensive survey of all the positive environmental insights of the biblical tradition, from Pentateuchal limitations on human exploitation of land, and animals, to Psalmic hymns, to the natural glories of Creation. In the Genesis stories alone, so maligned for the notorious verse (1:28)1 which allegedly mandates dominion over, and subjugation of the natural world, we have one of the profoundest contributions of religion to Western environmental thought: the idea of stewardship. We are but caretakers - "serving" and "preserving" in the language of Genesis ch. 2 - of a world that is emphatically not ours. Yes, human beings are unique, but it is precisely this unique status of the human - the nexus of the divine and the earthly - with our attendant rights and responsibilities, that allows us to address the environmental crisis at all, and reflect on our duties to the rest of Creation: how we can best wield the immense power that our unique creative faculties have endowed us with.
I would argue that Judaism, Christianity and Islam share this spiritual language that articulates appreciation of God's earth and the fullness thereof, awe and wonder at the daily miracles of the Creation, and fosters a sense of human responsibility for its continued well-being. Each tradition adds to that insight, or refracts it through its own prism of religious expression and cultural heritage. For instance, on the conceptual level, Jewish sources include a striking comment on the creation story of Genesis ch. 1, asking why humans, the crown of creation, were created last of all the created beings. The answer given is so that if we become too arrogant as a species, we will remember that the lowly gnat preceded us in the order of Creation. Of God himself it is told, in another midrash (rabbinical literary homily or comment on the text): "When God created the first humans, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: 'Look at my works! See how beautiful they are - how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it after you.'''

Judaism and the Environmental Agenda

In the final analysis, we can respond to the glorification of nature¬ worshiping spiritual traditions in environmental circles in the words of the great teacher, poet, and social activist, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "In paganism the deity was a part of nature, and worship was an element of man's relation to nature. Man and his deities were both subjects of nature. Monotheism, in teaching that God is the Creator, that nature and man are fellow-creatures of God, redeemed man from exclusive allegiance to nature ... The desanctification of nature did not in any way bring about an alienation of nature. It brought man together with all things in a fellowship of praise ... The earth is our sister, not our mother."
But Judaism isn't just theology and midrashim. Jewish religious culture has particular structures and institutions that comprise a positive and unique contribution to an environmental agenda. These are expressed in halacha, the Jewish code of right livelihood, which gives shape and form to the central Jewish emphasis placed on the importance of deeds. Judaism has been described as a religion of pots and pans, and rightly so. Though derided in other traditions as an excessive preoccupation with details of the Law, the ability to translate abstract values into a rule of daily life regulating everything from food and sex to language and business has been one of Judaism's most enduring insights. I will bring only a few representative examples, from both the ethical and the ritual realms. Building upon the commandment in Deuteronomy 20:19-20 that prohibits cutting down fruit trees even in the cause of winning a just war, the rabbis developed a whole complex of guidelines known as the laws of bal tashchit, "do not destroy, or waste," that prohibit wholesale or wanton destruction of just about anything - far expanding the biblical mandate. In addition, there is extensive Talmudic legislation regarding what we would call today toxic waste policy, air, water and noise pollution, and various issues relevant to wise urban planning and design.

Ritual and Actuality

On the ritual plane, Shabbat, the sabbath day - according to some, a paragon of rigid rabbinical legalism - is a wonderful example of the translation of spiritual values into an actual day. Shabbat is, of course, the day of rest. But the specific halachic prohibitions on human activity point beyond simple relaxation and recreation. Shabbat is as much a respite for the world as it is for the people who observe it. How else can we understand a day of joy and rest that prohibits labor-saving devices, and involves frequent inconvenience - but by seeing that something other than human needs are paramount? As Rabbi David Hartman of Jerusalem writes: "The setting of the sun on Friday evening ushers in a unit of time where the flowers of the field stand over and against man, equal members of the universe. I am forbidden to pluck the flower or to do with it as I please; at sunset the flower becomes a 'thou' to me with a right to existence regardless of its possible value for me. I stand silently before nature as before a fellow creature of God, and not as a potential object of my control, and I must face the fact that I am a man and not God. The Sabbath aims at healing the human grandiosity of a technological society." And, one final example: even in everyday life, a Jew who recites the obligatory hundred daily blessings, over food, routine acts and sensual pleasures, has the framework to become a more attuned and grateful citizen of the world.
As important as these teachings are, it is, however, becoming more and more clear that the current environmental crisis will not be properly addressed by "citizens of the world." Meaningful and effective environmental concerns and sensitivity do not spring from a general feeling of identification with the entire planet. People connect with places, with landscapes and surroundings which they grow to love, and therefore care for. Real environmentalism begins with the knowledge and caring that can only come from a natural "sense of place": knowledge of, and familiarity with, the natural world of one's home, one's bio-region, coupled with a spiritual connection and cultural roots in that place.

People and Land

This perspective leads then to another element that is crucial to explore in the context of discussing Jewish sources and values and the natural world. In contrast with Christianity and Islam, Judaism is a landed tradition: a civilization that grew to maturity in one particular place, whose cultural roots and spiritual orientation are deeply connected to that place. The Bible is a document of the relationship of a people with a land, and a landscape.
That relationship was shattered with the Exile, which lead to what I would claim is a certain historical alienation from the natural world, a lack of a close, intimate ongoing relationship with a particular place. For the past two millennia or so, we post-Exilic Jews have insistently, almost pathologically, prevented ourselves from developing a sense of place for any other spot on the globe - though we have sojourned in most of them. Our calendar has always been the calendar of the Land of Israel, our liturgy connects us with the seasons of the Land of Israel, our holidays reflect the natural cycles of the Land of Israel, and our language, Hebrew, is suffused with the metaphors of the Land in which it developed. The irony is that, though all this bespeaks a deep connection to Creation, it was an abstract connection indeed to a far away piece of Creation.
Zionism is the modem Jewish response to that historical alienation from nature. It is a commonplace that for Jews, Zionism means the return to the Land of Israel. Until now, we have generally thought of that statement in sociopolitical terms - a polity with a Jewish majority, and a renewed national sovereignty. But a reunion of a people with a landscape is first and foremost an environmental phenomenon: not only a much-acclaimed "return to history," but a return to nature as well. The predominantly secular Zionist revolution of Jewish life rejected the myth of the Wandering Diaspora Jew, the "desiccated" bookish shtetl culture, and the subsequent alienation from the body and the natural world. For the first time in two thousand years, the Jewish people have assumed responsibility for a piece of the Creation. The renewed Jewish presence in Israel means re¬establishing our historic and natural "sense of place." It means, ideally, coming home in an environmental sense, reuniting Culture and Nature, and healing a schizophrenic split as old as the Diaspora.
This is not a political polemic for any particular ideological agenda of Zionism; certainly not to the exclusion of others who are no less indigenous to this landscape. And it is certainly true that Zionism's track record regarding environmental quality is not spotless: alongside A.D. Gordon's vision of rural well-being based on working the land, and achievements in forestation and wilderness preservation, there is a strong modernizing tendency which in the name of "development" pushes unchecked economic growth, widespread industrialization and under-planned urbanization. We have not always done right by the land of milk and honey. But there needs to be a recognition that, ideally, Zionism is about the reconstruction of Jewish indigeneity, a rootedness in this land and the concomitant responsibility for it, that is the most relevant and authentic expression of Judaism's concern for, and commitment to, the environment and its care.



1. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply; replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

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