Topic: Jewish Texts

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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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pomagranites and oranges

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

by Yigal Deutscher 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,”

by Yedidya Sinclair “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. […]

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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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The Unity and Purposefulness of Creation

By Rabbi Gavriel Weinberg Tu b’Shevat is an appropriate time to appreciate the greatness of Creation, and to honor it. We read in the third chapter of Pirke Avot (Chapters of the Fathers) a mishna that symbolizes the essence of the Torah’s regard for the purposefulness of all God’s creation. Ben Azai would be accustomed to say: He used to say, Despise not any man, and carp not at any thing; for thou wilt find that there is not a man that has not his hour, and not a thing that has not its place. (Translation by Charles Taylor) The mishna can be divided naturally into two subjects: Regard for essential purposefulness of any human being and that of anything that is not a human being. The second category, that of non human, has an interesting and peculiar use of the Hebrew language: AL TEHI MAFLEEG LKAL DAVAR. The above classic translation translates the verb MAFLIG as carp (to find fault with). Others translate MAFLEEG as dismissing of any thing. There are many other numerous attempts to translate such a unique word. Even though the numerous translations for the word MAFLEEG give a sensible meaning to the mishna, without a […]

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A Jewish Perspective on the “Tragedy of the Commons”

By Rabbi Akiva Wolff Tu b’Shevat is an appropriate time to reflect on our relationship to the natural world, and our responsibility to it. In 1968, in one of the seminal articles written on the subject of environment protection, Garrett Hardin assured himself a place in the annals of the environmental movement. His article, titled The Tragedy of the Commons, became a ‘must-read’ for every budding environmentalist in the nation if not the world. The Tragedy of the Commons describes the ruination of a common pastureland, called the commons, by the herdsmen who share it. Each herdsman knows that for every additional animal he adds to his herd, he will recoup all the benefits, whereas the costs – in terms of pasturage for the animal and any damage to the commons caused by additional overgrazing – will be shared by everyone. Therefore, each herdsman tries to maximize the size of his herd, at the expense of everyone else. In Hardin’s words: “Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his […]

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Ecological Problems – Living on Future Generations’ Account

By: Rabbi Yehudah Levi The Primary Source of the Problem Before we can hope to solve the problems of ecology in the technological age, we must get at the roots of these problems. These lie primarily in our basic attitude toward the purpose of our life—in our choice of priorities. In the secular society, the top priority is self-interest. Any sense of responsibility toward the world at large is—if it exists at all—extremely secondary. Let us illustrate this with a typical example. In a certain industry, it is standard practice to use a manufacturing process which is highly economical, but at the same time contributes to the destruction of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere. If we were to suggest to the manager of a company in this industry that he use an alternative process which reduces pollution, but is more costly, he would answer, “My first responsibility is to the stock¬holders. I do not have the right to tell them to reduce their profits in order to preserve the quality of the atmosphere fifty years from now.” From a secular standpoint, this claim is difficult to refute. The Secular Approach Present efforts to stem this tide focus mainly […]

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Copenhagen, Climate Change, and Jewish Fast Days

by Rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair, Hazon Senior Rabbinical Scholar The Copenhagen Summit in December is a gathering of world leaders that aims to bash out a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol that will limit CO2 emissions going forward. It is widely seen as a critical moment in the global effort to address the threat of climate change. There is a remarkable groundswell of concern and activism in the world that is building in advance of this event. People everywhere are raising their voices, demanding that, this time, our leaders do right by the earth and by our children. In the Jewish community too, there is an awakening of passion and activism around this issue. The Shabbat of Parshat Noach, October 23rd-4th has been declared Global Climate Healing Shabbat and Hazon will shortly be going public with a Seven Year Plan for the people to address climate change and sustainability. How can the current period in the Jewish calendar help us to understand what’s going on and what’s at stake? We are in the middle of the three weeks that are bounded by the fasts of the 17th Tammuz until Tisha B’Av. Let’s first note they are two out of […]

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Green with(out) Envy: Struggling with the Tenth Commandment

Rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair, Hazon Rabbinical Scholar and Cofounder of Jewish Climate Initiative On Shavuot morning next Friday, in synagogues around the world, we will read the Ten Commandments. It’s remarkable, when you think about it, what a success they’ve been. Over the past 3000 years the Jewish people has done an extraordinary marketing job on conveying these basic ethical and spiritual laws. Across the Western world today they are acknowledged as axioms of civilized life. Well, mostly. My friend (Hazon Rabbinical Scholar) Steve Greenberg likes to qualify that success as follows. “We Jews have done a pretty good job in delivering nine and a half out of the Ten Commandments to the world. The half that we have delivered is the side of Shabbat that is about employment; the universal right to have one day off work each week.  The half that we haven’t is the part of Shabbat that is about refraining from shopping, driving, flying – the part that deals with our relationship to the created world. We need to deliver that half of the Shabbat commandment to the world now.” Rabbi Steve makes an important and timely point. Shabbat is a precious spiritual and ecological resource. […]

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