How Green Can Judaism Go Green?


In preparation for the COP26 international climate conference held in Glasgow, the world’s leading Christian figures, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of the Anglican Church and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, issued a joint statement urging members of their churches to “hear the cry of the Earth” and pray that world leaders make courageous choices. It was the first time that these high caliber religious figures felt the need to fight climate change and to advocate for the urgency of a sustainable environment.

In a similar move by Jewish leaders, dozens of high-ranking religious Zionist rabbis sent a public letter to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, calling on him to faithfully represent the State of Israel at the conference and to work vigorously for it. mobilize the full capacity of the country in the fight against the climate crisis. While they recognize Israel’s smaller size and contribution compared to larger developed countries, their new vocalized support underscores the high degree of importance that Israel’s partnership can bring.

Given that tackling the climate crisis is often mistakenly seen as being associated with the secular left side of the political spectrum, these measures may come as a surprise to some of us. However, these letters and official statements mark a new wave of mobilized support and more transparently indicate an environmental awakening among religious communities both in Israel and abroad.

Sustainable driving

“I grew up in a classic Zionist religious home, and when I joined the green course at Ben-Gurion University, I was the only religious person there,” says Einat Kramer, founder and director of Teva Ivri (Jewish Nature). “I didn’t understand why this social divide existed and set out to connect the two worlds together. “

According to her, Teva Ivri has bridged this gap and reduced the gap between Judaism and the environment for nearly fifteen years. Its aim is twofold: to make climate issues and environmental science accessible to the religious public and to enable the general Israeli public to see the environment through the perspective of an ingrained Jewish culture and heritage.

“Sustainability in Israel doesn’t have to be the same as in Sweden,” she says.

Because the Zionist movement embraces and values ​​the Land of Israel as a Jewish state, Kramer illustrates that parts of religious Zionism are taking more active positions on ecological issues and this has led to changes in the personal and community conduct in recent years. years. It’s called Green Zionism, which prioritizes Israel’s environmental well-being because the unchecked pollution endangers the only fearful homeland of the Jewish people.

“In the ‘Ashira’ congregation in Mazkeret Batya where I pray, a group of parents of Bar Mitzvah children donated the reusable tableware from the synagogue for Kiddushim (religious blessings),” she said. “Since then, we no longer use disposable utensils during Kiddushim, and the young people of the community come on Saturday evening to do the dishes.

Beyond that, Kramer hints at a similar trend occurring in dozens of other communities across Israel. She even says that a growing number of synagogues representatives are starting to adapt their religious practices and are raising questions about how best to maintain sustainable conduct.

“Today there are also a lot more religious vegans and vegetarians than there were in the past, and I get a lot of requests through the association to give lectures on food ethics in Judaism. and at Rabbi Kook, Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, a book that seeks to integrate environmental ethics and traditional religious practices. And all of this indicates a growing concern for the matter. “

However, in light of growing awareness and conscious support for durable solutions in national religious communities, Kramer acknowledges the opposite movement – under scrutiny.

“Some people see sustainability as a whole different religion, as if veganism is replacing the laws of Kashrut. Some of these people even associate nature conservation with neopaganism, ”she explains. “For example, Bnei Akiva recently put out a tender for the position of Sustainability Coordinator, and some of the reactions on Facebook have been very extreme.”

Adapt language

As the disconnect between religious Zionists and the secular left-wing public gradually narrows, another problem persists: the wider gap that exists between the ultra-Orthodox community and the accepted perception of environmentalists.

“One of the problems is that the ultra-Orthodox automatically perceive sustainable action as a struggle belonging to another community,” says Rabbi Benayahu Tvila, an education and environmental activist. “For example, people think that those who are in favor of preserving the environment are also in favor of LGBT rights, so those who oppose LGBT marriage are also opposed to environmental issues.”

In his view, the way to resolve the difficulty is to develop awareness of the issue in a language appropriate to the community.

“The language in which we approach the environmental question today is based on science, and it is not necessary to replace it because it is good. But it must be broadened and arguments linked to religious thought and tradition must be added to existing arguments, ”he explains. “For example, the scientific argument that eating beef enables and perpetuates a rigorous cycle of negative environmental impacts can be filtered through a religious perspective; one who recognizes that it has always been customary to eat beef on holidays, including Shabbat, but not during the week as is so often the case today.

A discourse of mindfulness

In order to preserve and increase awareness of environmental issues within religious communities beyond the current momentum, efforts have recently been made to integrate more religious and ultra-Orthodox rabbis and community leaders into environmental discourse. .

“Over the years, we have worked with rabbis who engage in sustainability on their own, such as Rabbi Ronen Lowitz or Rabbi Michael Melchior. But now we have started to actively approach the rabbis to mobilize them due to the urgency of the climate crisis and the rise of climate discourse, ”Kramer said.

“We approached the rabbis, invited them to a seminar on the latest IPCC report on the state of the climate crisis, and created an open discussion about the things they can do as intellectuals leading a moral voice. and spiritual, ”she continues. “The first executive step on which we have agreed is to write the letter to the Prime Minister as a moral appeal in preparation for the climate conference.”

“Exposing ultra-Orthodox rabbis and educators to the latest scientific knowledge on the subject is required,” says Rabbi Tvila, who is also a member of the group. “Unlike the rabbis of religious Zionism, who some are familiar with with sustainability, talking to ultra-Orthodox rabbis takes longer. We want to present a relevant eco-religious discourse that will clarify in the right language the severity of the climate crisis. “

“The religious public can and should lend a leading voice to the environmental crisis,” concludes Kramer. “The idea of ​​’tikkun olam’ is to make the world a better place, and if we believe that we were created to do what is right and what is right, then we are obligated to do it.”

ZAVIT – Science and Environment press agency


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