What does Judaism teach about ecology?
Humanity and Creation
The Jewish attitude to nature is based on the belief that the universe is the work of the Creator. Love of God includes love of all His creations: the inanimate, plants, animals and humans. Nature in all its beauty is created for us, and our connection to nature restores us to our original state of happiness and joy.
The Bible informs us that the earth is given to man ‘to use and protect’. But the ‘dominion’ mentioned in the Bible is not the dominion of a tyrant. God’s mercy extends to all He has created, as is written, ‘the earth is founded upon mercy’.
The Sabbatical Year
This is the core conservation principle in the Bible:
"Six years shall you sow your field, and six years shall you prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath unto the Lord; you shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard." (Leviticus 25:1-5)
According to Maimonides, one of the goals of ceasing all agricultural activity is to improve and strengthen the land. Sabbath is a return to nature. The last Sabbatical observed in Israel was in 1993-94.
The Bible says we must preserve the natural balance of creation. Every species was created for some purpose and should not be interfered with.
"You shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; neither shall there come upon you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together." (Leviticus 19:19)
Jewish teachings prohibit the destruction of anything from which humans may benefit. This applies to animals, plants, and even inanimate objects. Even in time of war, the Bible forbids the destruction of fruit-bearing trees. Sages compared the death of a tree to the departure of man’s soul from his body:
"When people cut down the wood of a tree that yields fruit, its cry goes from one end of the world to the other, and the sound is inaudible… When the soul departs from the body, the cry goes forth from one end of the world to the other, and the sound is inaudible."
Australian Jewish environmental initiatives include:
The Jewish Ecological Coalition – jeco.org.au, a Melbourne-based organization which assists in mobile phone recycling, clean up Australia activities, talks, films, cycling courses, etc.
Mazon, a Sydney-based nationwide initiative through UPJ to help feed the hungry by contributing a proportion of functions, wedding, Seder or kiddush costs, see: www.upj.org.au/index.php/social-action/mazon
Together for Humanity is a multi-faith based not-for-profit organization that is helping schools and communities to respond effectively to differences of culture and belief. This is achieved by bringing students, teachers and those in the community into contact with people from diverse backgrounds in an open, and enjoyable setting – this inspires empathy, appreciation and understanding as well as questioning existing prejudices.
Congregational projects such as those at the Leo Baeck Centre which features a water tank scheme for toilets and garden watering, ultra-low energy bulbs for Ner tamid, and a plan for a rooftop PV farm.