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World Refugee Day 2018

June 22, 2018

This past Wednesday, 6/20/18, was World Refugee Day — observed in the shadows of the family-separation-at-the-U.S.-Mexico crisis. Just as rabbi and imam and reverend friends were headed to Texas for a border visit, I was honored to appear alongside other religious leaders on Capitol Hill.  (Click here for the 4-minute video).

These remarks, filmed by HIAS’ Sarah Beller who with Rebecca Kirzner made my participation possible, were made at a Refugee Council USA press conference — held just hours before the Executive Order, which undid just a fraction of the damage caused by recent US policy toward migrants and asylum-seekers.  (Thanks too to Rabbis Andy Vogel and Amy Eilberg, whose posts on the Truah rabbis’ listserv about “moving the goalposts” influenced my remarks; simultaneously, numerous colleagues including Johari Abdul-Malik, Rachel Gartner, Jonah Pesner and Jill Jacobs were en route to the US-Mexico border to bear interfaith witness there.)

At the Refugee Council event, I had the honor of following Imam Talib Sharif, who was preceded by two now-documented refugees who shared their harrowing stories, Diane Randall of FCNL, four congresspeople (see photo below including Pramilla Jayapal D-WA-7 and Ted Lieu D-CA-33), and MN state rep Ilhan Omar (the first Somali-American to ever serve at that level).  Afterward, Church World Service organized a powerful follow-up at the Methodist Building (see other photo, below).

Let’s all keep praying, marching, organizing, and advocating toward a worthy U.S. policy that does justice to our history, our shared values, our separate religious commitments, and our collective humanity.


Seder Resources 2017/5777 (courtesy of Adat Shalom!)

April 7, 2017

5777 / 2017 @ ASRC:   A Meaningful Pesach to All!


better formatted & with active hyperlinks in Word doc AS Pesach 2017 — or, read on:

1, The Reconstructionist Insert – a newly-viral suggestion for a moment for refugees, connected to a Pineapple (organic or virtual, please!) on your Seder Plate…   or while there, the revised Hamilton Haggadah, updated by my friends Jake & Emily at RRC!  And as always, see the Recon-birthed for many more….

2, Helpful Eco-links , as shared by members on our website:
In preparation for the People’s Climate Shabbat on April 29th, some Environmental Pesach resources (thanks to our Interfaith Power and Light friends!):     – start with the Comprehensive Green seder supplement from IPL-DMV, RAC & COEJL, with 25 fabulous pages of readings, prayers, questions and resources — as well as “Haggadah for the Earth” from Shalom Center   —   Pesach teachings and green tips from Canfei Nesharim   —   4 questions about climate change (from JCAN Boston)   —   and, Pesach readings & resources from Hazon   —   and finally, great eco-Torah and Torah in general from Rabbi
David Seidenberg’s Haggadah of the Inner Seder   ….

3, an annotated guide to six separate thoughtful progressive seder supplements you can download (below, followed by:)

4, nine easy ways to spice up your seder and make it truly a “night of questions.”

And of course, don’t forget our festival services:
First Day April 11th at 9:30 AM (with tefilat tal);
7th Day (with Yizkor) on April 17th at 9:30…

Chag sameach!

Passover guides serve up a side of social justice for the seder table

From a fifth cup of wine to 11 spilled drops — and a call to action for dessert — Jewish organizations publish readings on refugees, immigration, converts and the settlements   (excerpted from TIMESOFISRAEL.COM, by RENEE GHERT-ZAND,March 31, 2017

Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers? For some Jews focused on social justice issues, it’s because of the world’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II. For others, it’s because this June marks the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. And for some it’s the mere fact [of who] is U.S. president…
The themes of political freedom, refugees, immigration and racial justice have long figured prominently at seder table discussions. This year, in the weeks leading up to Passover, which starts on the evening of April 10, Jewish social justice organizations have published new haggadahs and hagaddah supplements for use at seders.
Regardless of their format, the guides are all of the moment, addressing the most prominent social justice-related issues of our times. … Most new seder resources are widely available and freely downloadable from the internet.
But the seder is not the ultimate goal. Most of the haggadahs and supplements end with a call to action. “We hope that people will rise up from the seder table inspired to engage, support and advocate. What happens after the seder is ultimately more important than what happens at the seder itself,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president for community engagement at HIAS, which published a new Passover seder supplement on the global refugee crisis.
Here are a selection of new social justice-themed Passover haggadahs and supplements this year [all easily googled, downloaded, perused online, and available for your seder-sharing pleasure and edification!]:

Global Aid: AJWS’s ‘Next Year in a Just World’
… American Jewish World Service has published an expanded edition of its “Next Year in a Just World” haggadah. Its 50 pages contain the main sections of the traditional seder service and burst with colorful photographs of the populations served by the organization’s projects worldwide. Each part of the recounting of the Exodus from Egypt is related to modern-day global plagues such as the refugee crises and genocide, global hunger, poverty, violence against women and LGBT people, and the persecution of minorities. The haggadah reflects AJWS’s work at the intersection of Jewish concerns and values with the developing world and global issues, & its focus on helping the most vulnerable populations.

Refugees: HIAS’s Haggadah Supplement 2017/5777
To the staff at HIAS, the only Jewish organization whose mission is to assist global refugees, the Trump Administration’s “refugee ban” signaled an obvious need for a new haggadah supplement this Passover.
“It’s a critical time for a call to act on behalf of today’s refugees,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president for community engagement at HIAS. The organization’s 10-page supplement highlights the resilience and agency of the world’s 65 million displaced persons and refugees…
The supplement builds out three specific parts of the seder through the lens of the global refugee crisis. At the moment of Yachatz (the breaking of the middle matzah), seder guests can read about how refugees deal with their ruptured lives by picking up the pieces and forging ahead….
HIAS also introduces two new refugee-related seder rituals. The first is to leave a pair of shoes on the doorstep of the house at the beginning of the seder “to acknowledge that none of us is free until all of us are free and to pledge to stand in support of welcoming those who do not yet have a place to call home,” the supplement states.
The second is to add a fifth cup of wine at the end of the seder to express prayers for the world’s refugees.

Immigration: Arizona Jews For Justice’s Haggadah Supplement
“I saw seder supplements about refugees, global aid and other subjects, but none on the immigrant issue, which I thought was something that was needed – especially given the current political climate,” said R. Shmuly Yanklowitz about the impetus for the creation of Arizona Jews for Justice’s haggadah supplement… Working with their Latino partner Promise Arizona, they put together a two-page haggadah supplement providing information on the undocumented population in the US and urging people to support hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying undocumented immigrants, and to act to prevent their mass deportation. “Our Torah teaches that ‘When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,’ (Leviticus 19:33-34). This year, let us think about the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in danger of being deported from our land,” the supplement states…
“The challenge now is to maintain the urgency, but at the same time not to burn out. Pesach is a good time to recharge our batteries, so to speak. Rituals are worthless if they don’t awaken a broader call to repair society,” he said.

Racial Justice: Repair the World’s ‘The Four Persons’
Repair the World, an organization for young people focused on service and dialogue around issues of racial, food and educational justice has issued a new haggadah supplement to replace the traditional reading of the Four Sons.
Titled, “The Four Persons,” the reading is part of the organization’s Act Now for Racial Justice campaign launched about a year ago… Replacing the sons who are wise, wicked, simple and who does not know how to ask are individuals who strive to engage in racial justice. They are: What does a questioner say? “I support equality, but the tactics and strategies used by current racial justice movements make me uncomfortable.” What does a newcomer say? “How do I reach out and engage with marginalized communities in an authentic and sustained way?” What does a Jew of color say? “What if I have other interests? Am I obligated to make racial justice my only priority?”
What does an avoider say? “I am so scared of being called a racist, I don’t want to engage in any conversations about race.”

The Occupation: SISO’s The Jubilee Haggadah
Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO), a new global Jewish initiative supported by the New Israel Fund, has published “The Jubilee Haggadah” marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Edited by Israeli intellectual Tomer Persico, the guide’s title refers to the biblical injunction to proclaim liberty throughout the land on the fiftieth year. The moniker is also intentionally ironic, as while Jews are meant to rejoice at Passover, SISO finds nothing to celebrate about Israel’s continued military rule over 2 million Palestinians half a century after the Six Day War. The haggadah, which has both Hebrew and English editions, hews to the traditional format…and texts… However, its commentaries – provided by leading left-leaning rabbis, scholars, artists and thinkers – are anything but conventional.
“Of all people, Jews know the bitterness of being oppressed — and not being in our own country… I’m guessing oppression will always prove to be on the wrong side of history,” comedian Sarah Silverman writes in her contribution to the hagaddah. Other contributors include Amos Oz, Achinoam Nini, Leon Wieseltier, and Anat Hoffman.
It is a jarring experience to read a haggadah that links the tale of the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt so directly to the modern day occupation — and that is the point… “This haggadah offers people a way to bring in the occupation in an authentic way that honors the seder,” said Libby Lenkinski, vice president for public engagement at NIF. “And in Israel in particular, this haggadah is an act of resistance to the shrinking space for discussion and debate in the public sphere about the occupation,” she said… “Challenging the occupation comes out of the deepest traditional Jewish values and aspirational Zionism.”….

Jewish Diversity: Be’Chol Lashon’s Ruth’s Cup
Finally, for those who are not up for a whole new haggadah or even a supplement, Be’Chol Lashon simply suggests a single new Passover ritual this year: Ruth’s Cup, in honor of converts and Jewish diversity in general.
“Many Jews assume that ‘real Jews’ look a certain way and have one path to Judaism — being born Jewish. When confronted with Jews who don’t fit these stereotypes, even well-meaning Jews may unwittingly treat them as less Jewish. Jews of color and/or those who have converted to Judaism find that ignorance can cause other Jews to act insensitively,” the organization, which promotes global Jewish diversity and inclusiveness, explains on its website…



This is the message that should permeate our seders: connecting, conversing, and asking all kinds of questions. Here are a few ways to try this out at your own seder: [all from Rabbi Leora Kaye,, 3/29/17 — with thanks!]:
1. Set up an hourglass timer at one end of your seder table. Don’t let more than five minutes pass without someone asking a question.
2. Have each person sign his or her hagaddah. Each year, you can look back and see who has joined you in the past, offering an opportunity to recall funny stories and memories of past guests who can no longer be at your table. (If you don’t write during the seder, ask people to sign them before the holiday festivities begin.)
3. Make a haggadah with your family. Assign everyone a page or section before the seder; adults and teenagers can be responsible for the text and children for the drawings. Then, collect and collate each section and make enough copies for all your participants.
4. Bring in props. Buy them online or at your local Judaica store, or make your own with your family before the seder. Be creative, and remember: Props don’t necessarily have to just be the plagues. Turn your whole house into a Jewish/Egyptian home!
5. Personalize your seder experience. Assign everyone a section of the haggadah to study before they arrive, and ask participants to bring readings or questions to the group – either factual or spiritual in nature – depending on which section of the haggadah they were assigned.
6. Think about incorporating new traditions. Plenty of new seder ideas have cropped up over the last few years, like these modern additions to the seder plate. Regardless of whether or not you decide to incorporate them, learning about them can open the door for questions and conversation.
7. Enliven your seder experience with musical instruments. Encourage people to bring rhythm instruments such as tambourines or egg shakers. Communicate in ways other than through speech!
8. Have more than one version of the haggadah at your seder. While most haggadot have the same essential elements, they may phrase sections differently, have specific themes, or include additional discussion questions. Looking at the differences can help bring out more questions. As the seder leader, encourage people to explain what strikes them about the differences.
9. Make Passover “question cookies” for dessert. Create them by tying together two pieces of chocolate-covered matzah with a colorful ribbon. In between the matzah, include a note – a silly joke, a Jewish fact, or a wish for the coming year. Pass them out to your participants, and don’t forget to have everyone read theirs aloud!

Public letter to Israel over its misguided new travel ban

March 8, 2017

I thought long and hard before pressing ‘send’ on the note to Ambassador Dermer (the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.), which follows.  These words could indeed put me, a relatively center-left Zionist, on a list for serious scrutiny (or worse) the next time I arrive in Israel.  But the law passed two days ago, making it legal to bar admission to Israel based solely on people’s advocacy for even limited forms of boycott or divestment or sanctions [“BDS”], has me deeply distressed.  I’m aware that my own future travel plans to Israel, like those of countless other liberal Zionists out there, are in fact already in jeopardy.

I wrote to the Ambassador on the New Israel Fund portal (and you can too!).  Since then, Jim Klutznik (as chair of Americans for Peace Now) has issued a powerful denunciation — “Monday, Israel’s Knesset kicked me in the behind. It made me into a persona-non-grata…  Yes, I can travel to any Arab country in the Middle East, from Morocco to Oman, but I can’t visit my Jewish homeland.  Why? because I believe that West Bank settlements are a major obstacle to peace and I therefore encourage my fellow American Jews to boycott only them, as I do.”   Nonetheless, he still affirms:  “This outrage will not deter me – nor APN – from continuing to fight for the Israel we believe in.”  Wearily, I agree; elements of civil society in Israel deserve no less than our fullest support.  But I wonder:

(a) how can these gratuitous attacks on liberal Zionists not take their toll?

(b) how can I in good conscience [or simple prudence, given the possibility of being turned right around] plan my next family vacation, sabbatical, or synagogue trip to Israel?

(c) what next, for the other land I love, with a government so inimical to what many of us have long deemed “Jewish values” like truth, open debate, self-reflection, and pursuit of justice and peace?

Comments are welcome from all — especially from those who, like me, want desperately to continue to love Israel, but find it ever harder to do so.  The letter follows.

Dear Ambassador Dermer:

I’m a pro-Israel, anti-BDS local rabbi and Jewish leader — who, after yesterday’s Knesset vote to deny entry to those on record supporting even limited boycotts, has to seriously consider ending our frequent synagogue Israel trips, and warning congregants about travel to Israel.  After all, any number of them (their rabbi included) have, as devoted progressive Zionists, stopped purchasing shtachim-made products [from the occupied territories], and encouraged others to do the same.  Suddenly, the law of the land makes our entry at Terminal Three doubtful.  Why lead an Israel mission full of devoted liberal Jews, eager to connect with the homeland and its people, only to be turned around after a ten-hour flight?!

Though the current coalition clearly devalues the views and contributions of Jews like us, we are in fact some of your greatest allies.   In America and elsewhere, the most effective hasbara is done by advocates like us who can draw the key distinction between being anti-Israel (something we universally condemn) and anti-occupation (which we are, davka [intentionally ironically so] out of Zionist zeal, whether or not the ruling party agrees).  Serious progressive Zionists like me have what the current Israeli government lacks:  credibility with those who disagree with them.  As progressives, we befriend and work closely alongside people of conscience – including skeptics, progressive Christians, European allies, and others who might otherwise join the anti-Israel bandwagon.  With them, we alone can make the pro-Israel (and yes anti-occupation) case.  But now, the case itself is less clear — and our ability and desire to make it took a big hit with yesterday’s vote.

What now?  I have supported Israel through thick and thin, visited more times than I can count, lived well over a year of my life there, woven Israel into my private Jewish journey and my public rabbinate, served as a delegate at the World Zionist Congress, and pushed my synagogue community to bring a JAFI shaliach into our midst for six years running — is that not sufficient Zionist cred?!  I worry too for those thoughtful peers whose Jewish and universal values lead them to support broader BDS efforts.  I shudder to consider how scared of non-violent social change efforts Medinat Yisrael [the State] has become – and how far it’s willing to drift from its founding principles and ethics, to quash those efforts.  What other democracy demands that tourists toe the ruling party line?

Suddenly, because of principled views on settlements (views which I share with no small number of my Israeli friends), I and thousands of other long-time Ohavei Yisrael [lovers of Israel] are unwelcome.  The rug has been pulled out from under us.  And what of Israel’s historic commitment to the “Ingathering of the Exiles,” especially amidst today’s rampant diaspora anti-Semitism – now the Chok ha-Shvut [the Law of Return] applies only to Jews whose politics align with the ruling party, since those who differ can’t even get through customs?

Along with the good folks of the New Israel Fund — an amuta [NGO] that embodies the Zionist vision of the upbuilding of the land most powerfully – I register my concern more broadly about the erosion of democratic principles in Israel.  As NIF notes, this “recently passed law to deny entry into Israel to individuals based on their views is a clear attempt to punish political speech and stifle dissent.”  It will backfire.  And it will cost Israel dearly.  Please, reconsider!  “It’s time for Israel to stop using political litmus tests and to take steps to safeguard the right of dissent.”

I stand as well with renown progressive Zionist Peter Beinart, who writes, “while I oppose boycotting Israel as a whole, I support boycotting Israeli settlements, which I believe threaten Israel’s moral character and its long-term survival.  I’m joined in that belief by prominent Israeli writers like David Grossman, Amos Oz and A. B Yehoshua.  But I doubt that will help me when I’m standing in front of the admissions clerk at Ben Gurion Airport.”

And I stand too with pro-Israel pro-Peace J Street:  “The bill is the latest piece of Israeli legislation to undermine Israel’s own democratic principles and its international standing. As a liberal democracy, Israel should be able to tolerate non-violent political protest and dissent…  [like me,] J Street is opposed to the Global BDS Movement… But we believe that BDS supporters have a right to their opinions and to non-violent political action.  This bill will do nothing to deter the Global BDS Movement – indeed it hands them a victory.  The bill will further isolate the country, validate Israel’s critics and deny many people the opportunity to hear and learn from Israelis and Palestinians firsthand.”

Tafasta meruba lo tafasta,” says the Talmud — “if you try to grab too much, you end up holding nothing.”  By lumping anti-occupation Zionists along with anti-Israel haters, in a clear attempt to block any movement toward a Two-State Solution (which remains the ostensible plan even according to PM Netanyahu though his allies in the coalition suggest otherwise), you alienate key allies.  And by defining others out of Zionism, and making it difficult for even active pro-Israel American Jews like us to book our tickets for TLV, you risk the very future of the Israel-diaspora partnership.

Mr. Ambassador, please send this message from one American Jewish leader (representative of many) back to the cabinet:  change course, before more damage is done — and before Israel loses even more of its long-time friends and supporters.

[post-script: others, including many academics, agree; see for instance Israel’s travel ban backlash: Over 100 Jewish studies scholars vow not to visit Israel in protest]…

[And a final post-script, from 3/9, when my own Reconstructionist Rabbnincial Association made this statement]:

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) and RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (RRC/JRC) are strongly opposed to and deeply disappointed by the Israeli Knesset’s passage of the “Entry Bill.” This law denies entry to foreign visitors who have publicly supported any form of boycott of the State of Israel or boycotts limited to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Entry Bill broadly curtails legitimate civil discourse and liberties, moving the country further away from some of its bedrock principles – robust democracy, open debate, and vigorous pluralism. A democratic state has to be willing to tolerate non-violent political dissent even when its government profoundly opposes the dissenters’ ideas, and one of Israel’s longstanding points of pride has been its commitment to being a state that is both a Jewish homeland and a democracy. This legislation damages Israel’s democratic principles and its international standing as a democracy.

The law also potentially shuts the door on the opportunity for many future visitors to go to Israel and “see for themselves” – an experience that is crucial to the formation of complex, personal, and nuanced understandings of Israeli society.
Finally, coming on the heels of the recently passed law allowing West Bank outposts built by settlers in violation of Israeli law to be legalized retroactively, the Entry Bill is another example of a new law dangerously conflating Israel proper with West Bank settlements. For example, the Entry Bill threatens to turn away at Ben Gurion Airport any foreign visitor who may oppose boycotts against the State of Israel, but who may have supported targeted boycotts of products made in the settlements. Tour groups that have policies of not going over the Green Line as part of their itineraries could be refused entry, as could participants in organizations that have policies of only investing inside of the Green Line. As the New Israel Fund has stated, “By conflating boycotts of settlements with boycotts of the State of Israel itself, the legislation makes common cause with Israel’s adversaries who see no distinction between the legitimacy of the vibrant democracy that exists within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and the profoundly undemocratic reality that exists in the occupied territories.” We agree.

Powerful Conversation at the End of Inauguration / Women’s March Weekend, With Some 30 Adat Shalomers

January 23, 2017

What a privilege to be part of a group as thoughtful, spiritual, and civic-minded as Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation.  I hope that the attached source sheet (adat_shalom_community_convo_post-inaug_01-22-17), prepared for our shul’s end-of-the-big-weekend and beginning-of-the-new-not-normal open community conversation, might be instructive for others, just as it was helpful for us yesterday.  The questions it raises are in sharp relief right now, in the opening hours and days of a challenging new administration — but they will be current for years to come.

The attached source sheet (legal size, 8.5″ x 14″, fyi) is basically what was handed out yesterday at Adat Shalom — except that then, the questions at the bottom of page two simply had blank spaces below them, encouraging attendees to think freshly about them.  They supplied the answers,now shown here.  Their answers are insightful and useful, but they’re not complete; now, go add your own, as well…    The questions and answers are copied below, so you can easily take from them, and add to them.  For the photos and poems and prose reflections (from the likes of Marge Piercy, Cynthia Kaufman, and Valarie Kaur), see the attached sheet.  Blessings, all…


HOW I’LL STRENGTHEN MYSELF IN THE MONTHS & YEARS AHEAD, to be in it for the long haul:

1, stay informed and stay vigilant, while unplugging as needed so as to not get oversaturated.     2, emotional self-awareness.      3, practice modulated responses to White House voice, tweets, etc.     4, remember the power of language; avoid ‘us vs them’ (it’s inaccurate for no side is monolithic, and unproductive to boot).      5, practice the “five-minute hand-wringing rule” – let conversations or funks go just a few minutes into despair, then move to something productive.      6, stay healthy, through exercise, etc.       7, don’t neglect music, arts, humor, etc.     8, meditate!     9, get outdoors!     10, seek out friends, do positive things together.      11, ______________.



1, reach out to folks who voted differently – hear them out openly, learn from them – ‘burst my little bubble.’     2, focus on commonalities with those who voted differently (see Anne Roiphe in Tablet); work together where possible; stay open.      3, find common cause with conservative groups; respectfully try to both understand and brainstorm.      4, support the free press – thank networks who fact-check, write to outlets who fall short, subscribe to papers (like the Wash Post!) which hire more reporters.       5, reach relatives and friends in states with moderate or ‘swing’ senators; encourage them to speak up.        6, when feeling down, channel energies into service for others.         7, donate more, and volunteer more – ‘do my part with groups combatting bigotry and injustice.’        8, support mediating structures; de-emphasize the overtly political.       9, hold and attend group sessions like this; bear witness to one another.        10, go to shul!       11, ________________________.



1, learn social media, practice it, learn to protect it (e.g. server vulnerability).      2, tweet widely on issues like voting rights and First Amendment concerns.      3, work with NGO’s helping the “other” in our midst to be less marginalized.      4, understand our own privilege (educated, white, straight, etc), to better communicate and be in solidarity with those from marginalized groups.       5, smile, engage, telegraph openness, ‘generate joy with my eyes,’ when see someone from a marginalized group.      6, ‘teach others how to fish’ – apply our skills toward refugees, ex-convicts, historically marginalized folks.      7, build relationships – stand up more strongly for the ‘other’ because we know them personally.      8, double down on time-tested strategies: write to newspapers, lobby legislators, etc.      9, practice the discipline of activism, setting aside real time for it – and yet, go easy, take breaks as needed.       10, protect the Earth!      11, keep on marching!      12, ____________…

Hakhel — an end-of-shmita sermon, four days early

September 20, 2015

Shalom Shmita friends — I’m posting the draft of my Yom Kippur morning sermon at Adat Shalom, in case anyone else is still working on what they’ll share/say/do about hakhel in the busy week ahead.  (It’s in Word, via the following link; the same text is readable, but not as well formatted,below).      5776 YK Sermon – Hakhel 9-20-15

We’ll focus on Hakhel again at Sukkkot of course, but I’m using “prime time” on Yom Kippur morning to raise consciousness about it.  As the intro suggests, we’re actually using Deut. 31:10-13 as our maftir Torah reading, in lieu of the traditional Num. 28-29; I know that’s a step too far for many kehillot kedoshot, but I hope there’s something of value here for anyone still grappling with how to honor Hakhel.  Note the notes, too — lots of good stuff coudn’t fit in my allotted 15 minutes 😉   G’mar chatimah tovah, and hakhel sameach….

HAKHEL – for Yom Kippur Morning, 5776 / 2015

  1. Fred Scherlinder Dobb,

Traditionally we’d have just read Leviticus 16, the ancient Yom Kippur rites, goats and all.  Instead, we got that Torah’s not hard or far away, but in you; and that while granted free will, we should vacharta ba’chayim, choose life – placed there first in 1894; maintained since, in liberal liturgies.[i]

We’ll new emend the maftir reading, too – see our handout, page 3 – not Numbers 28, the ancient holiday sacrifices.  Today, for the first time ever, we’ll scroll just one column – Deuteronomy 31 (page 3, number 8), about Hakhel[ii] – the end of the seventh year,[iii] when the whole community is to gather, all at once, on Sukkot (that’s NEXT WEEK) – to hear the Torah; and reaffirm its place in their lives.

Much is unclear from these verses:  We’ll read excerpts of Torah, or the whole thing?  (Talmud [Sotah 41a] says excerpts, focused on justice, community, and limiting the king’s powers).  And how, before the age of Jumbotrons, could so many actually hear?!

But some things are clear:  periodic assembly and reaffirmation (verses 10 & 11) are good ideas.  The future, as in verses 12 & 13, emphasizing our descendants, matters, above all.  And, as colleagues Nili Simhai and Jacob Fine teach [number 8 on the handout], this cycle, lots of us are taking this assembly, Hakhel, seriously.[iv]

So as an extended introduction to our Hakhel maftir (and also as a sermon!), we’ll expand on that first idea:  periodic assembly, and recovenanting.


To start, reflect a moment:   where were we, spiritually – or in this season of tshuvah, ethically – developmentally – in 2008?  2001?  1994?  1987?  [long pause while folks consider].  Seven-year intervals.

More frequent, annual opportunities to take stock of our lives abound – above all, these High Holy Days, this Yom, Kippur.  (It is a gift!).  We also have January first; birthdays, anniversaries; and more.  Yet some changes come slowly, hard to discern in just one year.

We do take stock of our lives as they near their end, in generational time.  But best to be able to apply the insight, with much time to recalibrate.  Mid-life birthdays – like 50, the biblical Yovel or Jubilee – beg the same questions, but we reach these singly, not collectively.

Something in between – periodic, but less than generational – and communal – is ideal.  Enter: Hakhel.

There’s nothing magic about seven.  Ten is a contender: with that many fingers, and base 10 math, it’s easy to view time by decades; ten works for the census, and for ‘big birthdays’.  Five is fine, like for tetanus boosters and medical screenings.  Jefferson thought that at twenty year intervals, a little bloodletting is needed for a healthy republic.[v]  But seven is the bible’s number for cycles, and if it works for counting days, why not count seven years, too?

From the secular side — a cultural artifact, a ‘50s movie — “seven year itch,” as if at this interval, one might get fidgety, and question core commitments.  This “seven year itch,” and the seventh-year Hakhel share an important commonality:  both are really times for reflection, recommitment, and recovenanting to sacred relationships.


Sefer Hachinuch (13th century) makes it plain:  Why all gather together?  “To hear words of Torah, which is our source, our glory, our splendor.  And from this people will come to speak of its worth;  and desire will enter their hearts to know God, … and… goodness, and joy.”[vi]

Hakhel has us recommit to Torah, with a capital ‘Taf’.  Yet what does this mean for us, as Reconstructionist Jews?  As folks who take tradition lovingly, but rarely literally?  Who understand that we’re commanded to grapple with tradition, though not necessarily to follow it?

For us, this is a moment to reaffirm, but also to rebalance.  To recovenant, and reconstruct.[vii]  To rethink ‘relationship with the sacred’ – and sacred relationship.

Soon we’ll all rise for our Hakhel maftir, in a symbolic recovenanting.  What will we be rising forTo what are we recovenanting?  A starter list, to get us each thinking.  I suggest:

We recommit to community; to study; to serious consideration of Jewish tradition, life, culture, identity.

To morality and ethics, to the pursuit of justice and peace, to repairing the world, divinely (l’taken olam b’malkhut Shadai).

To the life-long, ongoing process of tshuvah – continual introspection, repentance, and self-betterment.

To ever applying the best of Judaism toward the world around us – and the best of modernity to Judaism.

We recommit to being informed, active participants in the great, global, intergenerational Jewish conversation.

Which means we recommit to helping tradition evolve – updating it, improving it – as liberal Jewish patriots:  “my tradition, right its wrongs.”


Back to sevens:  There’s a popular myth that every cell in our body regenerates every seven years – not true, but a rich image, that we’re the same yet different people each seven years.

A seventh-year exclamation point, Hakhel returns us to the workaday realm with shmita values like sustainability, equality, and resilience in mind.

And there’s Seven Up – not the uncola, but the British docu-series, in which Michael Apted interviews 14 kids at age 7, then 14, 21, and so on.  Begun in 1964, the franchise continues; two years ago came “56 Up”.  One reviewer noted that the seven-year interval works, “revealing the gradual development of ordinary lives in all their extraordinary complexity.”[viii]  That could be us, each Hakhel.

Hakhel, then, is tshuvah on steroids, a seven-year cumulative update – how far have we each come in one shmita?

How have we weathered our storms; how have circumstances shaken, or strengthened, our core?  In religion, how is our observance different now?  In life, how have our priorities shifted?  In community, how has our involvement waxed and waned?  In society, “are we better off now than we were seven years ago?”

Like the annual High Holy list, but more intense: questioning.  More sustained: evaluation:  a tougher exam, a deeper steam-cleaning, at this periodic sacred interval.

Now, how tough, how deep?  Beatles lyrics swirl in my head.  I hear God grabbing Paul’s mike, announcing Hakhel:  “Come together, right now, over Me!”  But what about the pace of change, the speed with which we help tradition evolve?  Against Jefferson’s periodic bloodletting, in Judaism or in politics, I’ll echo John:  “You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world… but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”…

There’s a tension between what perhaps should be done to change the world (radical action’s needed on, say, carbon emissions, race relations, income inequality) – and patiently bringing others along with us, in a slower social change movement, whose gains endure.  One perennial challenge is titrating the pace of change: not too much, lest rapid revolution undo our accomplishments; not too little, lest evolution crawl, and the great enterprise ossify into irrelevance, even injustice.  As an ideal, Hakhel is to my mind the goldilocks of change:  annual is too often to discern big themes; generational is too long a wait, to address them.  Seven is just right!


Our ancestors recommitted, every seven years, to a Torah they learned, grappled with, and modified through loving interpretation.  Reconstructionst Judaism isn’t some easy way out, with no need to learn or struggle – oh, no!  Kaplan et al ask us to take the whole megillah seriously, and from that place, practice, teach, model (and yes, change) tradition.  If we’re not down with some measure of that, we should stay down; don’t rise – we can’t recovenant.  Torah pushes us:  there’s much more than the “Torah” you think you know.    What else might call to us, if we keep studying, keep reading, re-read it?

Most of us — learned or less so; Jewish or not — can in our own way identify and commit to a strand of tradition we’ll take more seriously in the cycle ahead.  Do the Hakhel:  reread Torah, revisit our sacred texts; “turn it and turn it, for all is within.”

Shmita itself is now one example: something ancient and holy, awesome and flawed – which we examined afresh; reconstructed; were challenged and pushed by it, even as it resonated for how it challenges the status quo.  Pick any aspect of tradition for recovenanting: something you’ll do different, and more intensely.  Maybe it’s the new 7-year shmita cycle that just started; or, Jewish learning, straight up; or communal involvement; connection with Israel; kashrut, shabbat, sustained tikkun olam effort – it’s all good!

Soon we’ll rise, to affirm that we’ll make change from the inside; we’ll seal our commitments.


And rise we will.  With Deuteronomy 31 on our page, and in our ears, let the “Amen” at the end of this coming maftir Aliyah be resounding.

Let us say “Amen” to the “Harvesting Hope – Hakhel Declaration,” out of New England, applicable to all:[ix] [quote] “we gather…as neighbors and citizens to harvest hope.  We are ready to begin again; to plant and sow; and to be active partners helping bring the sustainable and regenerative future for which we all hope.”

Let us say “Amen” to Reb Arthur Waskow, repopularizer of Hakhel, as a modern update of [quote] hearing “the King and the High Priest teach Torah about protecting the Earth, protecting the poor, and restraining the powerful lest they become tyrannical.”[x]

Let us say “Amen” too to that traffic-snarler, Pope Francis – “the high Priest of a billion human beings,” in Reb Arthur’s words, who’s using “modern media to Assemble, Hak’heyl, all the peoples of the Earth to hear the Torah of empowering the poor and healing the planet.”[xi]

And “Amen” to scholar, now ground-breaking Orthodox Rabba, Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, who reminds us that Hakhel is [quote] “not merely a one time happening, but the culmination of the sabbatical [cycle…] of ‘social training,’ geared to create deep and meaningful social solidarity from beginning to end.”[xii]


For all this — with our commitments in our minds and our hearts — we will rise.

Symbolic of that generation with the most Hakhels ahead of them, seven of our Adat Shalom youth, led by Pam Sommers, will come up for the maftir Aliyah; they do so on behalf of us all.  Torah blessings are in our machzor, page 476; the text of our Torah reading, in the handout, page 3.

Let us add our voices to these Torah blessings – join from our places in this recovenanting Aliyah – in the measure to which that “Amen” resonates with each of us – as loud, as we are ready to recovenant.

Please rise — as we open this Hakhel Aliyah with the blessing; together:


[i]  See Rabbi Richard Sarason,

[ii]  8.  Deut. 31           10 And Moses commanded them, saying: ‘At the end of seven years, in the time of the year of release, during Sukkot,         11 when all Israel comes to appear before YHVH your God, in the place of God’s choosing: you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their hearing.       12 Assemble the people, men and women and little ones, and your stranger who is within your gates — so that they may hear, and so that they may learn, and have awe for YHVH your God; and observe, to do, all the words/things of this Torah;   13 and that their children, who have not known, may hear, and learn — to hold YHVH your God in awe — all the days you live in the land, which you go over the Jordan there, to possess it.’

[iii]  Colleague David Krantz nicely explains the timing of Hakhel, on the Sukkot following the completion of the shmita – and in so doing mentions my own next big adventure, next month:  “Just as Shabbat has havdalah and Yom Kippur has the shofar’s blast, so too the shmita year has a grand-farewell tradition: Hakhel, the Assembly.  And just as havdalah takes place after Shabbat ends, and the shofar is blown after Yom Kippur ends, so too does Hakhel take place after the shmita year ends….   But what exactly is this hakhel?  It’s a time when Jews from all over gather in Jerusalem to learn and discuss the law.  And next month, thanks to all who voted for Aytzim’s Green Israel slate in the World Zionist Congress elections, we will be sending a three-person delegation of Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Evonne Marzouk and myself to Jerusalem to participate in the hakhel.  Indeed, just after Sukkot, the World Zionist Congress will be gathering Jews from all around the world to discuss and vote upon laws. And Aytzim’s Green Israel slate is proposing 11 of them….”  (David Krantz, 9/4/15, at

[iv]  On Hakhel:  This Sukkot, closing the sabbatical year, has traditionally been marked by a gathering called hakhel — an injunction to assemble all Jewish men, women, and children, as well as all non-Jews in the community, to hear a public reading of the Torah by the king.  The practice was meant to ready and inspire the people to return to working the land, with justice in mind, for the next six years.  Most of the passages that were read involved right relationship to land and the people who live on it; one of the passages involved limiting the powers of the king.                 In modern Israel, the President of Israel does a ceremonial reading at the Western Wall.  Also in modern times, the Lubavitch Rabbi urged Jews everywhere to conduct large and small hakhel gatherings in homes and synagogues to foster greater unity.  This year, with the tremendous growth in shmita-inspired initiatives, there will be several other communities who will be doing modern interpretations of hakhel as well.       (Nili Simhai and Rabbi Jacob Fine, adapted — Abundance Farm, Northampton MA, Fall 2015)

[v]  Thomas Jefferson to William Smith, 13 November 1787 – reprinted widely, e.g. at  “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion… The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots & tyrants.  It is its natural manure.”

[vi]  Translation by Rabbi Ari Hart, among many rabbinic sources interpreting Hakhel — gathered for Hazon; accessed at

[vii]  This is not only a Reconstructionist notion – Conservative scholar Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote eloquently along the same lines in his commentary on Parashat Vayelekh, September 2015, at  “The practice of reading and then interpreting the Torah to the community made it clear that each and every Jew inherits the tradition.  All Jews — not just the learned, rich, or socially favored, and not just men — share in the privilege of being part of God’s Covenant with Israel.  Each one of us has the right to learn the tradition, and argue for a new interpretation or application of it.  We each also get to add to the tradition the insights of our own age, just as our ancestors have done in every generation.”  (emphases added, as shared on Adat Shalom’s shabbat sheet, 9/18/15).

[viii]  Rebecca Mead, “What ’56 Up’ Reveals”, in The New Yorker, January 9, 2013 – at

[ix]  Harvesting Hope – Hakhel Declaration, written by Maggid David Arfa and the Harvesting Hope Proclamation Committee — full text at —  additional context from R. Arthur Waskow, in 8/31/15 email, “Harvesting Hope, Oct 4 in Connecticut: Assemble & Celebrate!”.  The excerpts I wished there was time to read aloud from the bimah:

“We gather with the purpose of harvesting hope, to come together in community and envision a sustainable future…  We gather to bring [shmita] values into the next six years; to deepen Sabbath Mindfulness in our society…  We assemble to harvest the power from our diverse spiritual and cultural traditions to remind our governments, our corporations and ourselves that all life is important…    we gather so we will not forget and fall asleep in comfortable living rooms, feigning ignorance of the violence our wealth is perpetrating…   We gather together and commit to feel so that we may act, we may dream and we may hope…        On this autumn day we gather and go forward as neighbors and citizens to harvest hope.  We are ready to begin again; to plant and sow; and to be active partners helping bring the sustainable and regenerative future for which we all hope.”

[x]  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 9/18/15 email entitled “Oct. 4: A Day when the Breath of Life Breathes Life into Us All” — updating his 8/25/15 posting at, which in turn references the letter signed by over 400 rabbis that also mentions Hakhel, at  I am among the signatories, and also among those profoundly touched and shaped by Rabbi Waskow’s insightful leadership in the Jewish-environmental arena for decades now.

The final lines of Reb Arthur’s post are worth quoting in full:  “So let us see this Sukkot as the time for us to begin shaping a Seven-Year Plan to heal the Earth.        Let us commit ourselves to take these next seven years, from now through the Shmita Year that ends in the Fall of 2022, as the time to carry out our Seven-Year Plan so that our Mother Earth can catch her breath and actually rest from our relentlessly choking her by burning global carbon.        Let us take this time to bring Jewish wisdom and activism to join with the wisdom and activism of others in that Great Healing, Great Turning, Great Transformation.

[xi]  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 9/18/15, op cit.  On a tangential note, in celebration of how far Catholic-Jewish relations have come, I was quite taken with the report that immediately prior to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Saint Joseph’s University “will unveil a new sculpture, Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.  The title is a reference to a sculpture that adorned many medieval churches.  It depicted the victory of Ecclesia, the church, over Synagoga, a blindfolded woman who, looking down, represented Judaism.  In the new sculpture, both women are equal, sitting together and looking at each other’s text.  Abraham Skorka, Francis’s close rabbinic friend, will unveil the statue.” (Nathan Guttman in The Forward, 9/18/15 —

And for a bevy of encyclical-related Jewish-environmental resources, see, which includes “a briefer four-page and fuller eight-page version of “Judaism, Climate Change, and Laudato Si” (edited by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb)” – the same four-pages which comprise the middle (pp. 4-7) of the 2015/5776 Adat Shalom High Holy Day Handout.

[xii]  Dr. [and old friend, and now Rabba!] Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, 3/26/14, at

Judaism, Climate Change, Laudato Si

August 25, 2015

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:!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; 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,, 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

  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  (  by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Rethinking Sacred Space

August 24, 2015

In preparing the COEJL ( Jewish study guide to Pope Francis’ remarkable encyclical, I came across a few oldie-but-goodie pieces I’d generated but never posted anywhere.  Among them was this, which I had the honor of presenting at the annual meeting of the venerable InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington ( in 2010; the text of my remarks about redefining sacred space is here:  2010 IFC ‘Sacred Space’ — RFSD presentation 5

And the PowerPoint presentation, only the second one I ever did, is here:   2010 IFC ‘Sacred Space’ — RFSD presentation 5 Rethinking Sacred Space (FSD for IFC 2010 06)

ESA presentation, August 2015

August 11, 2015

Text of Fred Scherlinder Dobb’s ESA Organized Oral is below; with better formatting, in Word, it’s at

And find the full set of PPT slides, to accompany the text, at

Related resources, from the author’s unpublished 2009 D.Min. Project Thesis, are at


OOS 56-10  Old-time religion and cutting-edge climate: Jewish and interfaith intersections with ecological science

   Fred Scherlinder Dobb, , Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Washington, DC, USA

Ecological Society of America, Summer 2015


Shalom y’all!  It’s an honor to be here with so many ecologists, and so many colleagues and friends in the religious environmental world.

The late Bishop of Stockholm, Krister Stendahl, coined a term around pluralism:  Sacred Envy.[i]  Without contravening core convictions, without converting, we should so delight in other groups’ contributions that we say, “I wish we had that – and, with attribution, how I can get us some?!”

As a Jew, I have Sacred Envy for the clarity of Islam’s five pillars, zakat/charity among them.  For Buddhism’s noble eightfold path.  For African American churches’ spiritual politics, as well as music.  Most of us non-Catholics now have Sacred Envy for Pope Francis, and the remarkable encyclical.  And, we faith leaders have Sacred Envy for you researchers, scientists, who generate truly new data sets, and ideas.  I sure do.

A confession:  call this “Confessions of a Reflective Practicioner.”  We in the faith-environment community – I speak for myself, but somewhat for Shantha and Dan and others – we are less producers of research than consumers, popularizers, and extenders of what folks like ESA members do.

We bring environmental perspective to the broader faith community, in gatherings devoted not to empiricism (or even anti-science, when ‘faith’ stands against ‘reason’).  Green faith leaders are those who enjoy and appreciate your data — who respect and fear your conclusions — who seek to apply them within the religious sector.  Thus our Sacred Envy for your efforts.

And I hope Sacred Envy goes both ways.  Faith communities are not just a key outlet for the work you do; they’re part of the solution.  Ask folks how old is the environmental movement:  some say 1970, Earth Day, just after Apollo showed our fragile blue marble in space (and after the Santa Barbara oil spill), helping get the Clean Air, Clean Water, and National Environmental Protection Acts.  Or 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – or 1949, Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac – or back a century, to John Muir; or further, to Thoreau and company.

All good answers.  But all modern, all American, all ‘secular’.  Where’s the ancient wisdom, the deep referents, the sense of the numinous and the eternal?  We on this panel submit:  try Psalms, over 2500 years ago, positing that humanity is not the sole purpose of creation (Psalm 104), nature has gaia-esque consciousness (Psalm 96), and nature’s worth goes far beyond utility to humans (Psalm 148).  Try the prophets of ancient Israel, the prophet Jesus, the prophet Muhammad.  Try Genesis (creation theology), Exodus (environmental justice), Leviticus (sabbatical and jubilee), and so on.  When doubt plagues us, when shallow lateral roots aren’t enough to sustain us, religion can be our taproot, reaching venerable depths.

And, the utilitarian angle:  Most Americans, and humans, are people ‘of faith.’  Folks who don’t read original ecological research do sit in our pews.  Religion has reach that science perhaps should, but often doesn’t.  With us and our imagery, ecologists expand their reach – speak the metaphorical language of many, the rich allusive language of religion (which, as metaphor at least, most here can genuinely do), and you make real inroads in communities where ecological science has yet barely penetrated.

We need each other – as Einstein famously said, “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”[ii]  Symbiosis isn’t only found out in the field; it’s found between our fields.    We’re wrapping up an ESA day of faith-and-religion.  May this final presentation be not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning, of such symbiosis.


I wear three hats, or kippot, here:  First, as reflective practicioner, at Adat Shalom, a nearby synagogue that’s done some good green work, starting with a 2002 EPA Energy Star award for a low-energy, reused-materials, solar-sited, low-impact design.  We’re exemplary in the double sense of “a good example,” but also, potentially, typical, since our efforts are replicable elsewhere:  a 43 kw solar array; an onsite organic garden for donating fresh food, intergenerational connection, and religious and environmental education; a range of eco-justice consciousness-raising initiatives; a native species pilot program with Interfaith Power & Light and the National Wildlife Federation, “Sacred Grounds”; and much more.  Adat Shalom is exemplary in the double sense: “a good example,” but also “typical”, since such efforts are replicable elsewhere.

Two, as interfaith environmental leader:  past chair of our regional Interfaith Power and Light; now on the board of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.  Refreshing what others have said.  IPL, now in almost every state, has great people on the ground (Greg in Ohio, and me in Maryland and Greater Washington, among many others); it has connections, which can help ecologists bring their message to new nearby communities; and it brings resources to faith communities who, inspired by your teaching, are ready to take the next step toward sustainability.  Get to know your local Interfaith Power and Light.

NPRE strengthens and coordinates the green work of leading religious bodies, with four main partners, who are literally here for you, inviting you to use us as you can:  Creation Justice Ministries (newly and so ably helmed by Shantha), of the Protestant National Council of Churches; the US Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Environmental Justice[iii] program, very busy lately, with Dan’s Catholic Climate Covenant as a central initiative; the Evangelical Environmental Network, of which Dorothy is a leader, uniting and strengthening green voices across the Evangelical spectrum; and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), doing the same in my community.

And that’s my third hat or kippah – I’m now COEJL’s chair.  Many in my world bring Jewish environmental expertise.  [Sadly I must invoke Neely Snyder, of Baltimore, a great Jewish environmental educator at the nearby Pearlstone Center, rear-ended by a truck on Monday; her funeral was during this session.  While showing various Jewish environmental groups, I dedicate this presentation to her & her family].  So:  when you want a biblical basis for biodiversity, a Talmudic take on tailpipe emissions, a rabbinic read on redlining and other environmental justice concerns, etc., we can help.

Again, then:  (a) we need the symbiosis of faith leaders and ecologists working together; (b) resources abound in religious traditions, in interfaith organizing, and in local congregational examples.  If you only take home those points, as we say at the Passover seder, “dayenu”, it would be enough.  (itself an eco-faith teaching — cultivating a sense of sufficiency — as Ben Zoma wrote 1900 years ago [Avot 4:1], “who is rich? – whoever is happy with what they have”).


Before we end on a collective note, four quick “Jewish and interfaith intersections with ecological science”:

One:  examples.  Adat Shalom’s green efforts, seen by hundreds of parishioners and scores of guests each week, have had demonstrable environmental impact, and show great promise in furthering ecological awareness, and encouraging green daily actions – oy, do I have stories!  We’ve also been leapfrogged, with our inspiration and blessing, by sister synagogue Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, in Evanston Illinois, who built the first-ever LEED Platinum house of worship (worth seeing!).  Meanwhile, judicatories, along with groups like Interfaith Power and Light and GreenFaith, nudge ever more mosques and temples, churches and other religious groups toward sustainability.  And last year’s American Academy of Religion’s annual conference was on climate change; its president Laurie Zoloth, cutting AAR’s carbon footprint by 14% with the biblical sabbatical or shmita, announced ‘no annual conference’ in the next shmita cycle, 2021.  The faith angle on ecology yields results.

Two:  apropos of this conference theme – looking back, in that same century since John Muir and company, atmospheric carbon has stratospherically increased, a hundred ppm or so.  Looking forward, trend lines are ominous, with an increasing rate of emissions, galloping losses of biodiversity, and more.  But other trend lines – rising consciousness, falling prices of renewable energy, organizing (including the religious environmental movement in just the past quarter century) – look good.  One biblical bit of wisdom on centuries:  Exodus 20 and 34 describe God as “abounding in lovingkindness,” yet stern enough to visit our iniquity upon our great grandchildren, “even to the third and fourth generation.”  With generations near 25 years, the fourth generation is a century hence – which, also roughly, is the lifespan of atmospheric carbon.  Our mistakes, our emissions, do hurt our descendants, a hundred years hence.  But where other leading sectors think in quarterly earnings cycles, or biennial election intervals, religion and ecology alike point us to that third and fourth generation, and beyond.  Between our teachings, there’s inspirational power to transform.

Three:  Rachel Carson again.  Tough wracked by cancer finishing Silent Spring, her final work was A Sense of Wonder.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, shortly before then, called for “Radical Amazement” as the authentic spiritual response to the gift of life, and the wonders of nature.  Heschel said, “Never…did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame.  I asked for wonder, and [God] gave it to me….  We will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.…”[iv]  Like Rabbi Heschel, Carson, the secular patron saint of our movement, understood that we must cultivate that sense of wonder, viewing the world through spiritual as well as scientific eyes.

Which brings us back to science & religion – which can coexist nicely, as with Judaism, which long made room in its cosmology for data.[v]  May all blind faith, similarly, come to the light of symbiosis.  The late physicist-theologian Ian Barbour[vi] names “four possible ways that apparent conflicts between the claims of contemporary sciences and contemporary religions can be handled… conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.”  There’s conflict between fundamentalists who reject scientific fact in the name of belief, and militant secularists who eschew anything with a whiff of spirituality or religion; we must do better than that.  Independence is the norm, but in missing potential symbioses, we all lose out.  Dialogue is preferable; today’s ESA proceedings take us there.  Integration is the ultimate goal for us faith-and-ecology leaders – and we beseech, nay, pray, that ecologists will join these integral, integrative efforts.

Thank you.                                                           [ABSTRACT][vii]      [NOTES][viii]


PERMALINK, where the PPT Slides accompanying this paper can be found:

[i] Bishop Kirster Stendahl.  I heard this directly from him, at Brandeis Univ., circa 1992, recalling it as “sacred envy”.  The origins of his aphorism is outlined here:

[ii] Albert Einstein, “Science and Religion,” in Ideas and Opinions, 1954, pp. 41-49 (based on talks given in 1939-1941; see also


[iv] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, 1951, pp. ________.  Heschel, who barely made it out of Nazi Europe and later marched with his friend Dr. King in Selma, was also famous for marrying the concept of Sabbath-keeping with themes of peace, justice, and ecology.

[v]  Judaism, instructively, “offers its own cosmology, yet usually makes room for data from the outside, i.e. for science.   We see this in biblical wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Qohelet, etc)’s careful observation of the natural world; in rabbis who were agronomists and researchers as well as Talmudists; in astronomers and doctors who wrote the great medieval Jewish treatises; even in Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935), whose neo-kabbalistic notion that ‘everything aspires to ascend’ intentionally invokes evolution.  [Reconstructionist Judaism’s founder Mordechai] Kaplan’s language, calling Judaism ‘the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people’, again endorses the Darwinian approach.  Since Judaism rarely rejects scientific evidence owing to dogmatic ‘belief’, we can reasonably hope that the urgent science around climate change will indeed drive major salutary changes in contemporary Jewish life and thought.”  (Fred Scherlinder Dobb, ___________, in CCAR Journal, Summer 2011, p. ___).  The Rav Kook passage is from Orot Hakodesh / Lights of Holiness I:220-21, and it gets more Darwinian as it continues:  “The doctrine of evolution that is presently gaining acceptance in the world has a greater affinity with the secret teachings of the Cabbalah than all other philosophies.  Evolution, which proceeds on a course of improvement, offers us the basis of optimism in the world.  How can we despair when we realize that everything evolves and improves?…  Evolution sheds light on all the ways of God.  All existence evolves and ascends … not a spark will be lost from the ensemble.  All will share in the climactic culmination.”

[vi]  Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper, 1990).

[vii]   Abstract for this paper/presentation:

Background/Question/Methods: Moral exhortations toward sustainable actions abound.  So do data-driven suggested action-steps, informed by the latest ecological science.  By integrating scientific facts with spiritual and ethical angles, we have already seen benefits — and can anticipate further positive outcomes — for ecologists and people of faith alike.  These include opportunities to reach new audiences across a wide swath of society; ability to speak the metaphorical language of communities where ecological science has not yet made deep inroads; clear knowledge that inspires appropriate actions by people of faith who are moved by the message; and more.  Numerous religious-environmental groups have been doing just this, and early results are encouraging.  But reflective practitioners in faith communities could clearly do more if they had greater facility with and access to ecological science, just as ESA researchers and theoreticians could reach more people more effectively through further partnerships within the faith community.  As a historically “science-positive” faith, Jewish tradition shines instructive light on this fusing of scientific and religious perspectives.  This talk addresses how to effectively build these partnerships — at the national, regional, and local levels — based on specific and extensive experiences in Jewish communities, and also within larger interfaith circles.

Results/Conclusions: As a local case study, this session reflects experiences of a rabbi whose EPA-Energy-Star-Award synagogue ( has installed a 43kw solar array, taken environmental justice tours, become involved in interfaith advocacy efforts, started an onsite organic garden and native-species restoration area, and more — all of which have had measurable and demonstrable positive environmental impact, and have shown great promise in furthering congregants’ ecological awareness and their daily actions.  At the same time, drawing on the numerous faith communities with which he has worked while chairing the Maryland and Greater Washington chapter of Interfaith Power and Light (, which has worked with over 300 regional congregations), he can cite inspiring examples of people of faith choosing to educate themselves and others, to unify their voices, and to take meaningful action steps, around climate and other environmental concerns.  And nationally, as chair of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life ( and board member of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (, he can speak to the scores of denominations and literally thousands of communities exhibiting best practices, and demonstrating the utility of greater collaboration with ecological scientists.


[viii] Notes for editing purposes, and unused quotes:


Greg adds:  Examples, examples, examples!

Leanne:  share notes, visuals…  fast-pace, lots of info is good…

Peruse ESA to see what advocates have done – see advocacy section

Data/graph/chart is good, and gets focus – almost too much; stories important too.

See anthropologist approach:  examples cited are good summaries, illustrative of the field.

ESA has disproportionate # of atheists & liberal theol folks; also many double-affiliated.

Coordinate with Shantha & Dan around NRPE – Dorothy from Gordon too, from Evangelical perspective…   some repetition OK since not everyone will be there 1:30 to 5:00

Greg:  surveys say most ESA members agree that dimensions of justice are worth paying more attention to, and outreach to/with the religious community is important.

“Whether teaching about Jewish history, Jewish holidays, or eco-Judaism, we have a far better chance of engaging students in active learning that leads to changes in their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and skill levels if we attend to developing our students’ relationships to each other, to their teachers, to their curriculum, and to their learning environment. Common sense tells us that student engagement is an a priori condition for any educational experiences to be meaningful. And it is only by making our students’ educational experiences meaningful that we can hope to achieve our ultimate goal of enabling them to discover for themselves the value of Judaism in their lives.”   (Gabe Goldman, “Eco-Jewish Education – How to Make it Effective”, in Jewish Education News, Summer 2008)

“we are all familiar with the notion that to be better caretakers of the Earth, we need to adhere to the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Similarly, to be better caretakers of Judaism, a new three R mantra needs to be adopted: reconnect, relevance, and renewal. Reconnecting with our sacred environment and being filled with wonder and awe for all of Creation will bring relevance to our Judaism, and living this connection will be a source of renewal for the Jewish people.”   (Barbara Lerman-Golomb, “Experiential Environmental Education: A Natural Connection”, in Jewish Education News, Summer 2008)



PERMALINK, where the PPT Slides accompanying this paper can be found:

A Tough But Important Call for RRC — One Rabbi’s View

January 16, 2015

For those following the ‘partner status policy’ discussion, I offer here — just click on this, “On proposed NJP change – FSD, Jan 2015″ — my own statement of cautious but clear support for the proposed change.  Written in Dec. 2014 and edited only slightly since, it overlaps with what treasured colleagues Mychal Copeland and Elyse Wechterman wrote, but was completed before I read their compelling pieces (which are at; the entries from Caryn Broitman and Les Bronstein are compelling in many ways too, though I do come down on this side of the policy question).  It’s two full pages in the attached Word document; feedback is welcome…

Blessings, all…

Green High Holy Day Resources / Kavanot

September 23, 2014

Shalom all — to download the good stuff, click on  2014-9-22-COEJL-RH-RESOURCES. Happy New Year!

Short background:  through COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life,, which I’m honored to currently serve as chair), and with my friend and colleague Rabbi Steve Gutow, I had occasion to gather a series of green kavanot/reflections for the coming High Holy Days, each keyed to a specific liturgical or ritual point, and each dealing with the overarching issue of climate change, often tied in with other key concerns like social justice, Israel, and the exciting dawning of shmita / the ‘year of release’.  I found it a useful exercise, and I hope it may be helpful for you too.

The text is below, but it’s best  downloaded on this nicely-formatted two-page  Word document, 2014-9-22-COEJL-RH-RESOURCES.  Print it (front-and-back, of course, on one sheet of recycled paper!), and keep it with you in shul (on the bimah if you’re leading!), or wherever you do your best thinking / reflecting / acting / repenting / difference-making in the weeks ahead…   Shanah tovah…    -Fred


High Holy Day Green Thought-Starters, from

Assembled by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb with Rabbi Steve Gutow, 2014


Climate:  In every morning’s Yotzer prayer, we celebrate the Divine as m’chadesh ma’aseh bereshit, renewer of the work of creation; “God has no hands but ours” in this holy effort of protection and renewal.

At RH Musaf (the additional service), with each set of shofar blasts we say Hayom Harat Olam, “today is the world’s birthday” – a call to consider how the Earth is doing compared to its previous or upcoming birthday – and thus, like the shofar itself, a call to action.

At YK’s Vidui/confessional, we admit our triple failure: we’ve wronged the Earth and the many species with which we share it; we wrong the poor, who are most vulnerable to pollution and climate change, yet did the least to cause it; and we wrong the generations after us, our own descendants included (see Ex. 34:6-7).

In the YK Torah reading, many congregations read Deut. 30:19 – “I’ve set before you this day life and the blessing, or death and the curse; you should choose life (u’vacharta ba’chayim), that you and your descendants may live – today, choosing life means tackling climate change with all we’ve got.

And two weeks hence, Sukkot revolves around water – the four water-loving species (lulav and etrog) from various ecoregions in Israel; the “rejoicing at the house of water-drawing”, described in the Talmud as the biggest party ever; and the rabbinic dictum that “on sukkot the world is judged for water”. Sukkot reminds us how climate change drives extreme weather events (“global weirding” more than “global warming”), with more droughts and more floods in the same locations within a season of each other – too little, then too much, water, all at once.


Shmita:  The seventh / sabbatical / shmita year — the time of release, of letting land and people and animals rest – begins now, this Rosh Hashanah. During shmita, we traditionally annul debts, and promote equality; we develop communal and personal resilience; we intertwine our economic, social, and spiritual/religious ideals.  The wonderful, among other sites, expounds on this. Though few today argue for a complete cessation of agriculture, a great movement (starting with now reclaims shmita’s core values, and engenders a global Jewish conversation about them.

At Erev RH, we welcome the shmita year with fanfare; name its core values; and begin our year-long exploration of them.

In Avinu Malkeinu, this one year in seven really puts the chadesh (“new/renew”) in chadesh aleinu shanah tovah, “renew for us this year as a good one”.

At Malkhuyot (the RH Musaf theme of God’s sovereignty), possible privations of shmita illustrate how our personal will and desire are rightly overridden by something larger than short-term private interest.

At Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance amidst the Ten Days), we consider shmita as tshuvah (re/turning) on a grand global scale, re-orienting social priorities toward ethics, holiness, and sustainability.

At Kol Nidrei (YK eve) we acknowledge our own imperfections, and the limitations of the efforts and initiatives we get behind; shmita is a prime example of something to be imperfectly, but continually, applied.

And the timeless YK Haftarah (Isaiah 57-58) insists that we align our ritual life with our ethical life, keeping moral behavior front and center – precisely the logic of the ethically-oriented, year-long set of rituals that is shmita.


Israel:  Still touched and scarred by the events of the summer, our connections with Israel are multiply highlighted during these Awesome Days.  Even as political realities demand our attention (see JFNA’s and JCPA’s as one important resource here), Israel’s social, spiritual, and ecological life continues.  Our love of Israel / ahavat Yisrael, evinced throughout our liturgy and history, includes love for the land itself, and for all its inhabitants.  Just last week Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against fracking in the ecologically sensitive Emek Ha’Elah – shmita/release in that vital democracy, perhaps?

At Erev RH (and throughout the holiday), Israel-watchers may note the implications of Shmita on life at the shuk or makolet (outdoor market or neighborhood convenience store), while also considering 5775’s Knesset-level and society-wide efforts to raise ‘shmita-consciousness’.

In the morning Yotzer prayer, we sing Or hadash al Tzion ta’ir, let a new light shine on Zion – or, perhaps, let Israel be a ‘light’ by encouraging its sustainable harnessing of light, via solar technology.

The first RH Torah reading describes the family split-up among us Semites; it’s environmental issues in general, and water in particular, which most clearly unite these cousins divided since Gen. 21.

Then the second RH Torah reading (Jeremiah 31) shows our people’s restoration (v’shavu vanim ligvulam, “your children will yet return to their borders”) going hand-in-hand with that of the land. Those in Israel drawing those linkages (e.g. and Shmita Yisraeli) deserve our support.

And on YK afternoon, the haftarah (Jonah) implies the need for Israel, and Jews everywhere, to work for justice and sustainability anywhere – even on a boat; even inside a great fish; even as far afield as Tarshish.


Justice:   Many Jews who’ve long embraced social justice work are newer to environmental efforts.  Our local communities, much like the larger JCPA (Jewish Council for Public Affairs, for whom the Confronting Poverty [HYPERLINK] initiative is a key priority right alongside COEJL), remain places of concern and involvement on a host of issues. The most effective and enduring work is that which views green and other issues within their larger systemic context.  Eco-angles abound throughout our vital social justice agenda.

This RH, we hail the dawning shmita as tradition’s clearest integration of ecology (the land and animals rest) with social justice (the poor are released and debts annulled).

The powerful Unetaneh Tokef piyut (pietistic prayer) sees cosmic implications behind our inter/personal reckoning – ba’shofar gadol yitaka, v’kol d’mama daka; “the great shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard” – then celebrates tzedakah (righteous action and generous giving) as the rare step that can lessen the decree’s severity.

At Shabbat Shuvah (or any time we reflect on tshuvah, re/turning and repentance), we review Mishnah Yoma 8:9: YK atones for sins between a person and Makom/God, but not for transgressions l’chavero, against our fellow; what happens now, when the chaverim/fellows we wrong are millions of other species, billions of global poor, and countless future inhabitants of a planet denuded by our own actions?!

With the piyut L’El Orech Din (“To God the Law-Arranger”), we might step back and consider how law and priority-setting appears from on high – how large might the degradation of Earth’s vital systems loom, viewed from the Divine bench?

And two weeks from now, while dwelling in our Sukkot or temporary booths, we’re vulnerable both to the elements (whose potential threat we exacerbate via climate change) and to potential dangers posed by those around us (magnified by social injustices and inequities for which we bear some responsibility) – our intense season’s capstone festival insists that we conjoin our social and environmental concern.



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