Topic: Jewish Texts

courtesy of mru-rosa, Flickr

Eco-Judaism: The Torah Mandala and the Mystical System of Sustainability

By Rabbi Elisheva Brenner In the Torah “holiness” is part of an idiosyncratic way of understanding how the cosmos came into being, our place in it (cosmogony) and the nature of reality (epistemology). To our ancient ancestors, the cosmos, the physical world as we experience it, all life was brought about by “the word of G-d.” Today we would regard “the word of God” as a metaphor for the energies, forces, karma, particle and wave plus the energy of human consciousness that concentrates, compresses, expands and contracts into what we experience as the physical and spiritual world. When the energies of life are in properly balanced, albeit dynamic, homeostasis, the life system has achieved a state of sustainability. In Torah-speak, that homeostasis, that sustainability, is called “Holiness.” The parts of the system as well as the objects, actions and time intervals used to maintain and correct the system are called “Holy.”   We can find our way into the Torah’s way of understanding through the study of language and literary structural forms. Language is a window onto the way a people or culture perceives reality. It both arises from and reifies a culture’s epistemology. Biblical Hebrew is a language that […]

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With All Your Heart, With All Your Soul, With All Your Might

“With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might”. This is my mantra. Not because I am a person who davens three times a day reciting this phrase from its original source in the Sh’ma, but simply because I think it’s beautiful. Imagine a world in which we dedicated our whole selves to every mitzvah we preform, every fleeting thought we have. In a gemara in the tractate of Brachot, the Rabbis expound upon each of these segments: “With all your heart” they explain as what Freud might call the “id”—that is the most instinctual, animalistic parts of ourselves, “with all your soul” refers to our actual life, and “with all your might” commonly refers to our physical possessions. I strive preform every action with all my heart, soul, and might whether it’s loving God as the original texts indicates, loving a friend or a stranger as some scholars interpret, doing a project at work, or even something as mundane as grocery shopping (I said strive!). (more…)

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Shmita: Weaving Relational Threads

Yigal Deutscher, Manager of the Shmita Project The tribes of Israel have just gathered together, am echad b’lev echad, one nation with one synchronized heart, in alignment and in unity. They have just stood, in deep humility, in awe, in trepidation, witnessing and receiving a divine gift. They have emerged from the brokenness of slavery; they have traveled through the wilderness for 50 days, only to stand together in this moment, before a mountain covered in fire, topped with thundering clouds, shimmering with lightning, rippling with the sounds of the Shofar. 1o utterances have emerged from the heart of creation; 10 utterances so clear and powerful that the tribes could actually see & feel each of them, as they echoed from the mountain, from the sky, from the ground and rock and sand below their feet, and from within their own beating hearts. (more…)

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The Sabbatical Debt Release

By Yigal Deutscher In the third and final mention of Shmita in the Torah, the concept of Shmita expands to directly influence economic and monetary systems. Until now (sources in Shemot & Vayikra), Shmita texts have been specifically in reference to land, agricultural practices, and annual harvests. Here, with the text of Devarim, the picture and implications of the Shmita Year is complete: Along with the practices of leaving land fallow, opening private lands as commons, collectively sharing the harvest, we are also to synonymously forgive debts. Once the Seventh Year arrives, all loans which are outstanding are released and all debts are cancelled. Here are some thoughts to consider regarding this practice (see the full text here): (more…)

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Review of “God’s Prayer: The Sacred Task of Living,”

“Why doesn’t God speak to people any more?” my five year old asked me the other day, after a few months of learning the stories of Genesis in her kindergarten. After all, God seemed to have so much to say to our ancestors. Why has He fallen so quiet lately?  A philosopher friend at our Shabbat table who heard the question answered her, “Maybe God does still talk to people, but not in the way that He used to.” Perhaps an even more interesting question is, “what would God say today if He were to talk to people?” Would God criticize school children for the insufficient length of their blouse sleeves? Or weigh into the debate on whether public transport should run on Shabbat in Israel? Or perhaps offer an omniscient opinion regarding which presidential candidate was really best aligned with the interests of Israel and the Jewish people? Would God, in other words, talk about the sorts of things that we talk about? Michael Kagan, in his important and powerfully-written new book, ‘God’s Prayer’, thinks not.  ‘God’s Prayer’ begins with a cry of anguish at the suffering and destruction that human beings are wreaking on Creation. “My Creation cries […]

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Genesis and Human Stewardship of the Earth

Jewcology is a diverse platform for Jewish environmental activists to learn from each other in order to educate Jewish communities about our responsibility to protect the environment. Hazon is excited to share these resources with you! We provide and promote ways to relate Jewish learning and Jewish teaching to environmental action and sustainability efforts. By Rabbi Yonatan Neril[1] The first two chapters of Genesis contain teachings with profound relevance for ourselves and our world today. After creating Adam and Eve, G-d blesses them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”[2] What does it mean for humans to subdue the earth and have dominion over other creatures? One of the central precepts of Rabbinic Judaism is that the Written Torah must be understood within the context of the 2,300 year-old rabbinic tradition (including the Midrash and other works) that interprets it. While on the surface the words of this verse appear to give people license to degrade and subdue the earth, the Oral tradition makes clear that a wholly different message […]

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Rejuvenating Ourselves and Our Planet

Jewcology is a diverse platform for Jewish environmental activists to learn from each other in order to educate Jewish communities about our responsibility to protect the environment. Hazon is excited to share these resources with you! We promote the interrelatedness of shabbat as a time to reflect on environmental and sustainable ideas through many of our programs and resources. Our Food Guide has kosher sustainable meat options, Greening Your Shabbat Table, Sustainable Kiddush, and all of our Food Programs help you to draw connections between Jewish tradition and contemporary food issues. By Rabbi Yonatan Neril In modern society, we are running, speaking, and thinking at an exceptional rate, and oftentimes we continue all week long without slowing down.  Constantly doing, always mobile accessible, habitually multi-tasking. If being too busy is a malady of modern man, slowing down on Shabbat may be a key remedy. The Torah teaches, “These are the things that the Divine commanded to make. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to G-d…”  Achieving sanctity and complete rest is the stated goal of Shabbat. Yet how can this happen? (more…)

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Sustainability in the Land of Israel

Jewcology is a diverse platform for Jewish environmental activists to learn from each other in order to educate Jewish communities about our responsibility to protect the environment. Hazon is excited to share these resources with you! We work to create a healthier and more sustainable Israel through our Israel Ride, our Sustainable Food Tour, and Siach (conversation). Learn more about sustainability in the land of Israel using this resource from Jewcology: By Rabbi Yonatan Neril Abraham and Sarah came to Israel over 3700 years ago.  Since then, significant populations of Jews have spent over 1600 years living in the Land of Israel.  For much of this time, Jews have been involved in growing crops, tending fruit trees, and shepherding animals, activities critical to providing food to sustain those living in Israel. Yet they also presented challenges to environmental sustainability in the Land. How did Jews manage to live in the Land for so long? While the Torah teaches that Divine Providence (in response to the people following the commandments) played the fundamental role, the Oral Tradition as redacted in the Mishna also provides insights. (more…)

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