Judaism, Climate Change, Laudato Si

Download this!:   Judaism – Climate – Laudato Si – 8-page highlights draft 8 24 15

It’s only a draft, but I quite like it:  8 pages chock-full with key teachings from Pope Francis, each matched with a piece of ancient or contemporary Jewish wisdom.  Ideal for Yom Kippur afternoon study sessions, or anytime for that matter.  This is a draft; this is only a draft!  Still, given that, feel free to utilize the teachings here as you see fit.  A revised, ‘official’ version is forthcoming; it may be shorter-still, ideally into 4 pages, printable on one 11×17 sheet.  But for now, run with the version above (a .docx file, in Word 2010, so you can futz further with it or select pieces) — or, DOWLOAD:

This, in earlier Word ‘compatability mode’ (.doc):  Judaism – Climate – Laudato Si – 8-page highlights draft 8 24 15

Or this, in PDF:  Judaism – Climate – Laudato Si – 8-page highlights draft 8 24 15

Or this, in Rich Text Format:  https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=7AE596998B025BE3!24242&authkey=!AOHKVl0idx7UyEc&ithint=file%2crtf (Hope that works; wordpress doesn’t allow rtf)

And if you just want all the Papal-and-Judaic texts you can get, here’s the unexpurgated version, with even more great teachigs, below…   blessings!

*draft*   COEJL:

Judaism, Climate Change, and Laudato Si

In June 2015, Pope Francis published his first encyclical (authoritative Catholic teaching), Laudato Si, on climate change and Creation care.  Groups like COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) – which for over 20 years has worked arm-in-arm with our interfaith partners, including the US Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant – welcome the attention newly given to the eco-religious sector, in which we’ve long been active.

From His Holiness’ visit to the U.S. around Yom Kippur, to the critical global climate negotiations in Paris, these teachings remain in the news – but much of this is not new, at all.  We have long applied classical Jewish texts and values to today’s situation, which demands an urgent and intense response to the very real threat of climate change.  Our Muslim, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, and other friends have done likewise (as the Pope notes, in paragraph 7).  With the Catholic Church offering remarkably parallel teachings, we now link our insights with those of Laudato Si.

Please read, even study, this document – and then, please act!  Take the implications of these teachings seriously (see resources at www.coejl.org); apply them to your life, and to your community.

Each quote from the  [Encyclical] is accompanied by parallel classical or contemporary Jewish teachings.

    Enjoy; Compare; Discuss; Act

  1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”.  In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.  “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

“Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the world, Creator of the fruit of the tree” (one of many traditional daily berakhot / blessings…  Note too the biblical roots of “Praise be to You” [as in Hodu L’Adonai, Psalm 136]; and the parallel language in our daily thanksgiving prayer, Modim Anachnu Lach.  [hodu/modim connote both thanks & praise; shevach is simply praise].)

  1. Francis…communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.

“May it be my custom to outdoors each day, among the trees and grass, among all growing things… May I express there everything in my heart.  And may all the foliage of the field, all grasses, trees, and plants, awake at my coming – to send their powers of life into the words of my prayer – so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source.”         (Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, circa 1800, Sichot HaRan 227.   See also Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, 1865-1935, who famously reprimanded a student for idly plucking leaves, and ate low on the food chain.)

  1. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change… I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest.  Young people demand change.  They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.

Amen!  Jewish environmental activists join our Catholic and other colleagues in lifting up these key themes:  the relationship of sustainability and justice; the need to address and ultimately end poverty alongside our efforts to curb carbon; and the imperative of hope, “for we know that things can change.”


  1. …Our goal [in reviewing climate facts] is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.

“My neighbor’s material needs are my spiritual needs.”  (attributed to R. Israel Salanter, founder of the ethical Musar / רסַוּמ movement, ca. 1858)

  1. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.  In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.  Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.

“key aspects of Halakha…point toward a contemporary environmental ethic…  A pro-regulation stance, unafraid to enforce zoning laws or other restrictions on private property and private profit, is one central example of this; the seemingly dry and arcane legal arguments of Seder Nezikin, the one-sixth of Talmud known as ‘Damages’, is awash with texts which point to current debates about individualism versus communitarianism, the private good against the public good, even specifically around environmental health.”  (Fred Scherlinder Dobb, 2009 thesis, 4:61.  Note as well the numerous Jews and other faithful folk, counted among the 2000 or so scientists on the global Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leading the solid consensus of which the Pope speaks.)

  1. safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.  This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.  But water continues to be wasted….

“God created the Human in God’s image” (Gen. 1:27).                                                                                      “Rabbi Yosef said that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi taught, ‘a person must not pour [i.e. waste] water out of their cistern, so long as others may need it’.”  (Yevamot 12a)

  1. It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity.  Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us.  We have no such right.’’

“The trees of the Lord drink their fill, the cedars of Lebanon, [God’s] own planting, where birds make their nests; the stork has her home in the junipers.  The high mountains are for wild goats; the crags are a refuge for rock-badgers…”  (Psalm 104:17-18)

  1. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained…. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.

“God, God…extending loving-kindness to the thousandth generation…but…applying the sins of the parents onto the children and grandchildren, even to the third and fourth generation.”  (Exodus 34:6-7)

  1. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.                45.  … Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.

“Woe to those who add house to house, and join field to field – until there’s no room for anyone else, and you live in splendor, alone on your land.”  (Isaiah 5:8)                                                                                “It is forbidden to live in a town with no garden or greenery.”  (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12)

  1. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society [gravely] affects the most vulnerable people on the planet… 49.  …we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

“cease from labor [on the Sabbath], in order that your ox and ass may rest, your servant and the stranger may be refreshed.”  (Exodus 23)            Deut. 20:19: “For is the tree of the field human?” – “this teaches us that humanity has no life except that which comes from the tree.”  (Midrash Sifrei 209)

  1. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate… To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption….

“A man is not excused from the commandment of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28) until he has children – yesh lo banim.  The house of Shammai says this means two males; the house of Hillel says this means a male and a female.”  (Mishnah Yevamot 6:6; in the Tosefta, Shammai says ‘a boy and a girl’, Hillel says ‘one child of either gender’).       “Even if one has fulfilled the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply, he is still enjoined not to refrain from fruitfulness and increase as long as he is able.”  (Rambam, MT Hilchot Ishut 15:16).        “The time has come for a human tsimtsum [self-contraction]…   For the kind of rolling back we need, a decrease in human population is not essential, though it would certainly help.  While the sheer number of people on earth matters, where they are and what they are doing matters just as much (Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden, 2005 [in Waskow, ed., TotEII, 212, 214]).

  1. …The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs. We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities.  As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”.  We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.  There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.

“Humanity was created singly [descended from one common mythic ancestor]… for the sake of peace among people, so that one should not say to his or her fellow, “My parent is greater than yours.”  And…again, to declare the greatness of the Holy Blessed One:  for a person stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike; but the King, the Ruler of rulers, the Holy Blessed One, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

  1. In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been beautified thanks to environmental renewal projects; beautiful buildings have been erected; advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of public transportation. These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.

“You and I will change the world.  You and I: then soon all will follow.  It’s been said before; that doesn’t matter.  You and I will change the world.”  (Arik Einstein / Miki Gavrielov, “Ani V’Atah”, 1970)


  1. After the creation of man and woman, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it wasvery good” (Gen 1:31).  The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26).  This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone.  He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons” [Catechism].  Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”.

“The blessing of mastery over the earth calls us to exercise compassion and wisdom in our relationship with nature so that the Creation will keep on creating for future generations…  That the power is in humanity’s hands is clearly a risk for all of Creation.  Indeed the rabbis question why God created humanity, with the capacity to do evil, in the first place.  Some of them figured that humanity would only destroy itself and the world. But our ability to choose between good and bad is what makes us human.  Free choice is what distinguishes us from animals, who follow their instinct, and angels, who have no will of their own and act entirely on God’s decrees.  It is up to us to determine if we will make of ourselves a blessing or a curse.  To rule nature with wisdom and compassion is our greatest challenge, our growth edge…”  (Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, “The Human Place in Nature”, Jewish Education News, Summer 2008).  [Technical note: immediately after humanity’s creation, and about the sixth day as a whole, God is silent.  It is not about humans that God says “tov m’od / very good”, it is about the interconnected whole (“all that God had created”, Gen. 1:31), of which humans are only one significant but small part.

  1. …human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself… these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us.  This rupture is sin.

“The dominant classical understanding of the mitzvot divides them into mitzvot bein adam la-makom (obligations of people to God…) and mitzvot bein adam le’chavero (obligations between people…).  The former are seen usually as ritual or cultic observances, while the latter are ethical and social responsibilities.  Environmental issues, neither ritual/cultic nor ethical in a classical sense, fall between the cracks.  Today we need a new category… we need to begin speaking in Jewish language of our moral and ethical obligations to the Earth…as mitzvot bein adam le’olam, ‘between people and the world’.” (Jeremy Benstein, The Way into Judaism and the Environment, 2006, pp. 88-89)

  1. We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature.  This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.  Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.  The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15).  “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.  This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.  “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14).  Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).

“If humanity merits it, yirdu, it will have dominion.  If humanity does not merit it, yeradu, humanity will stumble and fall, and the animals shall rule over it” (Rashi, ca 1100, on Gen. 1:26).                                    “Do not think that this verse [conferring dominion, Gen. 1:28] comes to tell us how we should behave; rather it simply gives information as to the nature with which the Holy Blessed One has stamped each human” (Maimonides, 1190, Moreh Nevuchim 3:13).

  1. …rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex23:12).  Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.      193. … we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late.  We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity.  That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.  Benedict XVI has said that “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency”.

“For Jews, it is the awareness of the Sabbath that can bring the realm of time and its accompanying sense of restraint and limit to stewardship.  It is the Sabbath that defines the relationship between steward and Ruler.  It is the Sabbath, ultimately that completes and confirms the environmental wisdom of Judaism.”  (David Ehrenfeld and Rabbi Philip Bentley, 1985, in Judaism 34, p. 311)

  1. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps104:31).  By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19).

“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of humanity’s existence … [rather] all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes.”  (Maimonides, 1190, Moreh Nevukhim 3:13)

  1. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, aSabbath, (cf. Gen 2:2-3; Ex 16:23; 20:10).  Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land (cf. Lev 25:1-4), when sowing was forbidden and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household (cf. Lev 25:4-6).  Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Lev 25:10).  This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked.  At the same time, it was an acknowledgment that the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone….

“It is in a land where Shmita is observed that human beings will learn to respect the Earth herself, by remembering that none of us can own her.  For the land is mine,” God declares, “and you are strangers and settlers with me.” (Lev. 25:23)…  Only in such a society, where “property” does not designate the right to use up what one owns, but rather a kind of fleeting relationship to what one cares for, can people learn the true meaning of justice.  Only in such a society can people learn to share their wealth, nurture the poor alongside everyone else, relieve debts, end hunger, and respect the fundamental human right to be free.  The Sabbatical year was the guarantor and the ultimate fulfillment of the justice that Torah teaches us to practice in everyday life, and it was a justice that embraced not just fellow human beings, but the land and all life.”  (Rabbi David Seidenberg, neohasid.org, 2013)

  1. Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.

”Even things you see as superfluous (meyutarin) in this world — like flies, fleas, and mosquitos — they are part of the greater scheme of the creation of the world, as it says (Genesis 1:31), “And God saw all that God has created, and behold it was very good.”  And Rabbi Acha bar Rabbi Chanina said, even things you see as superfluous in this world — like snakes and scorpions — they are part of the greater scheme of the creation of the world.”  (Exodus Rabbah 10:1)

  1. A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.  It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”.  Everything is connected.  Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.

Find from intro to “To Till and To Tend”, insert here ________________________________ (Rabbi Dan Swartz, COEJL, 1995, To Till and To Tend, p. __)


  1. Technoscience, when well directed, can produce important means of improving the quality of human life, from useful domestic appliances to great transportation systems, bridges, buildings and public spaces. It can also produce art and enable men and women immersed in the material world to “leap” into the world of beauty…. 104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used…

“What would it mean to give all our engineers and techies, and all scientists not working directly on life-threatening diseases, a year off from their regular work, every seventh year? … Their regular work is what not just carries out, but speeds up, our present race to go over the precipice into planetary disaster. Not because technology is inherently destructive, but because technology created with no Shabbat, no Shmita, IS inherently destructive (see Leviticus 26).  Suppose they all had a paid year off from even being allowed to create new technology, and during that year were paid instead to rethink and reshare the values that technology should be enabling, and to work out how to make sure that technology does in fact support humane and life-affirming sacred values?  A year of “Don’t just do something, sit there!”  That might be one example of an industrial Shmita…”  (Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 07/25/2013)

  1. Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour… Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things… 125. If we reflect on the proper relationship between human beings and the world around us, we see the need for a correct understanding of work; if we talk about the relationship between human beings and things, the question arises as to the meaning and purpose of all human activity.

“Even in the lands of the diaspora, Jews must look to labor, to nature; they must strive to recreate their own lives.  We should engage in all forms of labor, especially in the tilling of the soil; we should avoid the exploitation of the labor of others…  We, who have been torn away from nature, who have lost the savor of natural living – if we desire life, we must establish a new relationship with nature…   And when, O Man, you will return to nature – on that day your eyes will open, you will gaze straight into the eyes of Nature, and in its mirror you will see your own image.  You will know that you have returned to yourself, that when you hid from Nature, you hid from yourself … On that day you will know that your former life did not befit you, that you must renew all things:  your food and your drink, your dress and your home, your manner of work and your mode of study – everything!  On that day, O Man, deep in your heart you will know that you had been wandering until you returned to Nature.”      (Aaron David Gordon, labor-Zionist thinker, 1910 – from “Labor”, in A. D. Gordon’s Collected Essays, p. 79; “Zion,” in Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea, p. 381; and “Logic for the Future”, in Hertzberg, p. 371)


  1. When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it…    We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.  Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.     141. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.  There is an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction, demonstrating yet again that “the whole is greater than the part”.

Environmental Justice is a Jewish value.  The Torah has numerous laws which attempt to redress the power and economic imbalances in human society and Creation.  Examples are the Sabbatical year (Ex. 23:11, Lev. 25:2-5, Deut. 15:1-4) and the Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-24).  There is a whole program in the Torah for creating a balanced distribution of resources across society (Ex. 22:24-26, Lev. 25:36-37, Deut. 23:20-1, 24:6,10-13,17).  This is an expression of the concept of Tzedek, which means righteousness, justice and equity.  It is the value which tries to correct the imbalances, which humans create in society and in the natural world”  …  “Environmental protection cannot be allowed to burden the poor.  Scarcity cannot be allowed to burden the poor.  Debt cannot be allowed to condemn the indebted.  Caring for the earth cannot be done at the cost of burdening the poor.  When both land and the poor are cared for, everyone thrives.”    (Rabbis Lawrence Troster, 2012, and Nina Beth Cardin, 2008, at coejl.org)

  1. Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.

“What’s true for people and for places is true for species as well — the inherent value of biodiversity is in a sense identical to that of multiculturalism.  (We’re all in this together; ‘all God’s critters got a place in the choir,’ as do all people, as do all faiths).  Recall that human beings alone, near sunset on the world’s first-ever sixth day, merit no comment; unlike the mammals which preceded us by a matter of hours or even minutes, we are not even called tov/’good.’  But the interconnected whole of which we are a part – an ecosystem, a biosphere, Creation in its relational interdependent fullness – that is fabulous:  ‘Vayar Elohim et kol asher asah, And God saw all that God had made; and ‘yo!,’ v’hineh! – it was tov me’od, very good’ (Genesis 1:31).”  (Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, 2010)

  1. An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment” [Gaudium et Spes, Second Vatican Council]. 158. In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods, but, as I mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, it demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.  We need only look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good.

Shimon bar Yochai said:  “People were sitting on a boat.  One of them took a drill, and began to drill under his own place.  His fellow travelers said to him, ‘what are you doing?!’  He said, ‘what do you care – aren’t I drilling [only] under my own place?’  They said, ‘the water will rise and cover us all’!” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6)

  1. The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.” An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.

L’dor vador is a newly relevant and multivocal expression:  We pass down the tradition from generation to generation, out of love for Judaism and for the Jewish people; we pass down a healthy balanced planet from generation to generation, out of love for creation and for our future.  And as this exploration of science and eco-Judaism has shown, those efforts are mutually reinforcing – thinking and acting in Jewish-inspired ways is good for the Earth, and our robust defense of Creation today is good for Judaism.  (Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, CCAR Journal, Winter 2012)


  1. Here too, it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church). Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.

Find responsum on limits to ownership, referencing olive trees and/or taali trees; insert here _____________________

  1. The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity. Dialogue among the various sciences is likewise needed, since each can tend to become enclosed in its own language, while specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge.  This prevents us from confronting environmental problems effectively.  An open and respectful dialogue is also needed between the various ecological movements, among which ideological conflicts are not infrequently encountered.  The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue…

Our communities won’t and needn’t agree on everything — within the Jewish or Catholic worlds, much less between us! But on a wide range for social teaching — social justice, racial equality, worker’s rights, human dignity — Jewish and Catholic thought aligns closely, and our institutions work arm-in-arm to bring those values to the wider world. Nowhere is that more obvious than with the challenge of climate change.     (R. Fred Scherlinder Dobb, COEJL Encyclical Guide, June 2015, p.1)


  1. Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life.  A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.

“Each of us should learn to think of [sic] himself as though he were a cell in some living organism – which, in a sense, he actually is – in his relation to the universe or cosmos.  What we think of as a coherent universe or cosmos is more than nature; it is nature with a soul.  That soul is God.  As each cell in the body depends for its health and proper functioning upon the whole body, so each of us depends on God.      (Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, et al, “Introduction,” Reconstructionist Prayer Book, 1945)

  1. Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom.  No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts.  I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours.  No one has the right to take it from us.

 “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…. Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment.  By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant…”  (Victor Frankl, 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning).          “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.  I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”  (Anne Frank, 1943, Diary)

  1. We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other. Unless we do this, other creatures will not be recognized for their true worth; we are unconcerned about caring for things for the sake of others; we fail to set limits on ourselves in order to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings. Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment.  These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us.  If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.

“The very relationship with the other is the relationship with the future…  Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God.  It is believing that love without reward is valuable.”  (Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 1969)

  1. Environmental education has broadened its goals. Whereas in the beginning it was mainly centred on scientific information, consciousness-raising and the prevention of environmental risks, it tends now to include a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market). It seeks also to restore the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God.  Environmental education should facilitate making the leap towards the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning.  It needs educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.

“Cooped up in the concrete box of a classroom — under humanity’s dominion, kids don’t stand much of a chance of finding God.  But outdoors, feet touching the earth, bodies immersed in the wind, Ruach Elohim, there’s a real likelihood they and we might remember our Creator….What surprises me is that Jewish leaders and board members aren’t clamoring for more outdoor Jewish educational experiences and hiring Jewish eco-educators, and that funders aren’t jumping at the opportunity to pour money into this work.  The point is that we need to take this outdoor education–this farm and wilderness education, this authentic Jewish spiritual education–seriously.  We need to give it the dignity it deserves and infuse our curricula and our Jewish life with it.  And if the biological, psychological and spiritual arguments are not convincing enough of the supreme value of this approach to Jewish education, then maybe the threat of global climate change is…”  (Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, CAJE Keynote, 2008)

  1. …the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. … all need…an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with [divinity] become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our [religious] experience. 218. In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change….

“Finally, love of the Creator, and love of that which God has created, are one and the same.”  (Martin Buber, On Judaism, 1920, p. 209).            “For sins between a person and God – bein adam l’Makom — Yom Kippur atones.  But for sins between one person and another – bein adam l’havero – Yom Kippur does not atone, until the one has appeased the other.”  (Mishnah Yoma 8:9)”

  1. … We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.

“Ben Zoma said:  ‘Who is rich? – Whoever is happy with their lot’.”  (Mishnah Avot 4:1)           בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם? — הלמד מכל אדם.

  1. …integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us… 227. One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom.  That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.

“How should we bless produce?  Over the fruit of the tree, one says ‘Creator of the fruit of the tree’ – except for wine, for over wine one says ‘Creator of the fruit of the vine.’  And over fruit of the land, one says ‘Creator of the fruit of the earth’ – except for loaves, for over loaves one says ‘who brings forth bread from the land.”  Over vegetables, one says “Creator of the fruit of the earth”; Rabbi Yehuda says, “Creator of the many kinds of growing things.”  (Mishnah Berakhot 6:1, introducing basic food blessings)

  1. Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.

Ben Zoma said:  “Who is honored? – Whoever honors all the created ones.”  (Mishnah Avot 4:1)         איזה הוא מכובד? — המכבד את הברייות

  1. The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.

Teach me, O God

a blessing, a prayer  –  on

the mystery of a withered leaf

On the splendor of ripened fruit

On this freedom to see,

to feel, to breathe, to know,

to hope, to despair

Teach my lips

a blessing, and a song of praise

As You renew your time

with morning and with night –

Lest my day today

be like the one before

Lest my day

become routine

למדני אלוהי
ברך והתפלל
על סוד עלה קמל
על נוגה פרי בשל
על החירות הזאת לראות
לחוש לנשום לדעת לייחל

למד את שפתותי
ברכה ושיר הלל
בהתחדש זמנך
עם בוקר ועם ליל
לבל יהיה יומי היום
כתמול שלשום
לבל יהיה יומי
עלי הרגל

Leah Goldberg (1910-1970)

  1. At the conclusion of this lengthy reflection which has been both joyful and troubling, I propose that we offer two prayers. The first we can share with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator… A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present                           in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned                                      and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,                                              not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are                                   profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Assembled in August 2015 for COEJL  (www.coejl.org)  by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb


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