Judaism Introduction

Religions of the World and Ecology Series

Judaism and Ecology

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, ed.


Introduction: Judaism and the Natural World ”
Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

 Jews and Nature in Historical Perspective

The Jewish voice has joined the environmental movement relatively recently. Jews are not among the leaders of the environmental movement, and environmental activists who are Jews by birth have not developed their stance on the basis of Judaism.1 With the marked exception of the Bible, the literary sources of Judaism have remained practically unknown to environmental thinkers, and Jewish values have only marginally inspired environmental thinking or policies. Moreover, since the famous essay of Lynn White, Jr.,2 many environmentalists have charged that the Bible, the foundation document of Judaism, is the very cause for the contemporary ecological crisis. The biblical command to the first humans “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) is repeatedly cited as the proof that the Bible, and the Judeo-Christian tradition based on it, is the direct cause of the current environmental crisis.

Jews, too, have not regarded the well-being of the physical environment a Jewish issue.3 In the post-Holocaust years, the physical and spiritual survival of the Jewish people, rather than the survival of the earth and natural habitats, has dominated Jewish concerns. While environmentalism was gaining momentum in the industrialized West, Jews were preoccupied with other issues, such as the prolonged Israeli-Arab conflict, relations between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and pluralism within Judaism. The desired relationship between the earth and the human species has not been at the forefront of the Jewish agenda.

The lack of interest in the natural world among Jews has deep historical and religious causes that go beyond the contemporary Jewish anguish about survival. For most of their history, Jews have been an urban people. In the Greco-Roman world, although Jews dwelled in urban centers, agriculture remained the primary mode of Jewish livelihood in Palestine and Babylonia. After the rise of Islam, heavy taxation on Jews made agriculture unprofitable and accelerated the process of urbanization, leading Jews to concentrate in commerce, trade, finance, and crafts. In medieval Christian Europe the Jewish estrangement from the land was even more pronounced because feudal relations excluded Jews. Although in some parts of Western Europe landed property was granted to Jews as late as the thirteenth century, Jews were increasingly forced to engage in moneylending, an economic activity that was odious to Christians. Frequent expulsions and voluntary migrations further estranged Jews from land cultivation, turning the ancient agrarian past into a distant memory. No longer in practice, the prescribed land-based rituals of Judaism fueled the hope for the ideal Messianic Age in the remote future, when the exiled people will return to the Land of Israel. For two millennia of exilic life, Jews continued to dream about their return to the Holy Land, but they waited for divine intervention to bring it about. Until then, Jewish life was to be shaped by the norms of rabbinic Judaism whose comprehensiveness enabled Jews to remain loyal to their religious tradition, despite the loss of political sovereignty and in the face of hostility and discrimination.

Nature, nonetheless, was not absent from traditional Jewish life. Through prescribed blessings and prayers the traditional Jew acknowledged natural phenomena and expressed thanks for God’s benevolent creation. Yet the natural world was not understood to be independent of God’s creative power. To venerate the natural world for its own sake or to identify God with nature is precisely the pagan outlook that Judaism rejects as idolatrous.4 The world created by God is good, but it is not perfect; it requires human action to perfect it in accord with God’s will. While nature is not in itself holy, it can be sanctified through performance of prescribed commands from God, the source of holiness.5 In Judaism, the system of revealed commandments stands in contrast to nature, prescribing what should be done to that which already exists. Steven S. Schwarzschild captured this ethical stance when he coined the phrase “the unnatural Jew.”6

The prescriptive stance toward nature was compatible with attempts to fathom how the natural world works. During the Middle Ages, Jewish philosophers sought to understand the laws by which God governs the world and availed themselves of contemporary science based on the study of natural phenomena and their causes. Medieval philosophers regarded the study of God’s created world a theoretical activity whose reward was the immortality of the rational soul, or the intellect. It was a religious activity that enabled the philosopher-scientist to come closer to God. Moreover, the study of nature was never divorced from the study of the revealed Torah. Even though from the twelfth century onward medieval Jewish philosophers did not use biblical verses as premises of their philosophical reasoning, they all presupposed that in principle there could be no genuine contradiction between the truths of the revealed text and scientific knowledge about the world; both were believed to manifest the Wisdom of God. In premodern Judaism, then, all reflections about the created world, the doctrine of creation, and the doctrine of revelation functioned as the matrix within which Jews speculated about the natural world.

The religious outlook of premodern Judaism reached a crisis in the late eighteenth century. The rise of the centralized, modern nation-state, and, thereafter, the spread of democratic principles, made it impossible for Jews to continue to live in autonomous communities and be governed by their own laws and by special laws imposed by the state. If Jews were to remain in their country of residence, they had to be granted citizenship and civil rights. Many Jews wished to end age-old social and religious segregation and integrate into Western society and culture. For many, especially those who were open to the ideals of the Enlightenment, the sacred myth of Judaism and its traditional lifestyle became untenable. For the first time in their history, Jews evaluated their own tradition by criteria derived from the surrounding society, which they now regarded to be superior to their own. The Emancipation of the Jews during the nineteenth century was accompanied by a rapid process of modernization of Jewish religious practices, beliefs, and social customs. It was helped by more positive attitudes toward finance and commerce in modern mercantile and later capitalist economies. Yet precisely because Jews in Western and Central Europe so successfully and rapidly integrated into modern society, anti-Semitism emerged as a backlash, culminating in the elimination of one-third of world Jewry in the Holocaust. The multiple causes of the Holocaust cannot be discussed here, but it is appropriate to ponder the causal connection between the collective destruction of the Jews and the current environmental crisis.7

Zionism was the most radical Jewish response to modern anti-Semitism. A secular, nationalist movement, Zionism called on Jews to leave their country of residence and settle in the Land of Israel where they would rebuild the Jewish homeland and enjoy political sovereignty. For many Zionist ideologues, especially those associated with Labor or Socialist Zionism, the return to the Land of Israel was not merely a political act; it was also a deliberate attempt to create a new kind of a Jew, a person who will be rooted in the soil rather than in the study of sacred texts and the performance of religious rituals.8 The return of the Jews to nature was supposed to liberate the Jews from the negative character traits they had acquired during their long exilic life and to lead to personal redemption not in the afterlife but in this world, and not through observance of divine commands but through manual labor.9 The “religion of labor” through land cultivation was the most profound transformation of traditional Jewish values.10 Along with the return to nature, the Zionists created a new, Hebrew culture that highlighted the agricultural basis of many Jewish festivals and designed new rituals that celebrated the abundance of the land without referring to God or to the sacred sources of Judaism.11

Despite the Zionist return to land cultivation and the emotional link to the Land of Israel, the physical environment did not fare well in the State of Israel. Since its establishment, the nascent state has been struggling to survive in a hostile environment, and nature preservation has not been at the top of the national agenda. In fact, the rapid population growth of the Jewish state after 1950, industrialization, and the perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors dictated overuse of preciously scarce natural resources, especially water.12 Furthermore, the influx of Jews from the Arab world, which had not been exposed to Western modernization, reintroduced traditional Jewish life and values to the young state, including a certain indifference to the physical environment. The social agenda of these immigrants, as well as of the refugees from Europe after the Holocaust, has had little to do with protection of the land and its limited natural resources.

Environmentalism does exist in Israel,13 but its forms indicate the complex relationship between Judaism and ecology. On the one hand, intimate familiarity with the landscape, its flora and fauna, and concern for the preservation of the physical environment are popular among secular Israelis. Yet these activities are not legitimated by appeal to the religious sources of Judaism. Even when the Bible is employed to identify plants and animals in the Land of Israel, the Bible is not treated as a revealed text,14 but as a historical document about the remote, national past. For secular Israelis, attention to environmental issues has more to do with a Western orientation and links to environmental movements in Europe and North America than with the religious sources of Judaism. On the other hand, Jews who are anchored in the Jewish tradition tend to link their love of the Land of Israel to a certain religious nationalist vision. Even though the religious, nationalist parties now promote outdoor activities for their constituents, these activities were not grounded in the values and sensibilities of the environmental movement. Nonetheless, in recent years attempts have been made to include ecological awareness in the religious-nationalist school system.

The creative weaving of Judaism and ecology took place in North America and began in the early 1970s as an apologetic response to the charges that the Judeo-Christian tradition was the cause of the environmental crisis. Defensive responses came first from Orthodox thinkers who showed that the accusations were based either on misunderstanding of the sources or on a lack of familiarity with the richness of the Jewish tradition.15 Since then, Jews from all branches of modern Judaism—Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic Judaism—have contributed to Jewish ecology thinking, giving rise to a distinctive, albeit still small, body of literature.16

If reflections about nature from the sources of Judaism began with religiously committed Jews, environmental activism, by contrast, was initiated by Jews who were already involved in the environmental movement and who found their way back to their Jewish roots as part of the Jewish Renewal movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. At the forefront of the Jewish environmental movement was the organization Shomrei Adamah (Keepers of the Earth), whose goal was to raise Jewish awareness about ecological problems, such as pollution of natural resources, deforestation, erosion of top soil, the disappearance of species, climatic changes, and other ecological disasters brought about by the Industrial Revolution and by human greed and unbridled consumerism.17 Jewish environmentalists have shown how ancient Jewish sacred texts and practices expressed concern for the protection of the earth and its inhabitants and urged Jews to reconnect with the rhythms of nature that are the foundation of many Jewish festivals.18 In 1993 the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was founded as an umbrella organization of diverse groups in North America to coordinate Jewish educational efforts and influence environmental policies. The final essay in this volume, by Mark X. Jacobs, the current executive director of the organization, documents the political and educational activities of Jewish environmentalists and reflects on the challenges that face them

Existing Jewish ecological literature has shown that the sacred sources of Judaism are compatible with the sensibilities of the environmental movement, especially the value of stewardship, and that the values of Judaism could be used to formulate viable environmental policies. Contrary to the accusations of secular environmentalists, the Bible itself serves as the point of departure of Jewish environmentalism. Three main areas are commonly cited as evidence of the ecological usefulness of the Bible and rabbinic literature: protection of vegetation, especially fruit-bearing trees; awareness of the distress of animals; and predicating social justice on the well-being of the earth itself.19 All three areas are framed in the context of covenantal theology, the bond between Israel and God.20

The causal relationship between human conduct and the thriving of the natural environment is spelled out in the relationship between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel: when Israel conducts itself according to divine command, the land is abundant and fertile, benefiting its human inhabitants with the basic necessities of life. But when Israel transgresses divine commandments, the blessedness of the land is temporarily removed and the land becomes desolate and inhospitable (Lev. 26:32). When the alienation from God becomes so egregious and injustice fills up God’s land, God brings about Israel’s removal from the land by allowing Israel’s enemies to overcome her. The well-being of the land and the quality of Israel’s life are causally linked, and both are predicated on Israel’s observance of God’s will. In short, the covenant between Israel and God implied specific laws intended to protect God’s land and ensure its continued vitality.

Jewish ecological discourse has shown that Judaism harbors deep concern for the well-being of the natural world.21 To date, however, the movement has not articulated a Jewish theology of nature, nor has it submitted the sources of Judaism to a systematic, philosophical examination. This volume is a first attempt toward that goal. The volume comprises essays presented in February 1998 at a conference at the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, as part of the larger study of religion and ecology, spearheaded by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim of Bucknell University. Organized by Rabbi Steven Shaw and Moshe Sokol, the conference brought Jewish academics, environmental activists, and educators to reflect about Judaism’s attitude toward the natural world. Unlike other gatherings of academics in Jewish studies, this conference intended to bridge the gap between objective scholarship and subjective commitment, between theoretical reflections and recommendations for action. The volume reflects this vision.

Constructive Jewish Theology of Nature

The volume commences with two attempts to construct a Jewish theology of nature in order to address the current ecological crisis. Arthur Green and Michael Fishbane both take their inspiration from kabbalah. Green believes that in kabbalah we can find the correct view of the relationship between God and the universe and that such a view offers useful insights for our environmental predicament inasmuch as it is compatible with the evolutionary model of the life sciences and with the orientation of contemporary physics and cosmology. Green boldly asserts that in order to address the concerns of the “environmental age,” it is necessary to formulate “a Judaism unafraid to proclaim the holiness of the natural world, one that sees creation, including both world and human self, as a reflection of divinity and a source of religious inspiration.” Adopting the ontological schema of kabbalah, Green maintains that all existents are in some way an expression of God and are to some extent intrinsically related to each other.

Contrary to Michael Wyschogrod, who holds that in Judaism “nature per se is not sacred,”22 because holiness belongs only to the Creator, Green obliterates the ontological gap between the Creator and the created. Instead he adopts the monistic, emanationist ontology of kabbalah, according to which “multiplicity is the garbing of the One in the coat of many colors of existence, the transformation of Y-H-W-H, singularity itself—Being—into the infinite variety of H-W-Y-H, being as we know, encounter, and are it.” Green also endorses the kabbalistic tendency to blur the distinction between creation and revelation. Both are forms of God’s self-disclosure and both should ultimately be understood as linguistic processes. The natural world is ultimately a linguistic structure that requires decoding, an act that only humans can accomplish because they are created in the image of God. “Each human mind,” says Green in accord with kabbalah, “is a microcosm, a miniature replica of the single Mind that conceives and becomes the universe. To know that oneness and recognize it in all our fellow beings is what life is all about.” Thus, Green unambiguously privileges the human in the order of things, a view that is vehemently rejected by many environmentalists, especially those associated with deep ecology.23 From the privileged position of the human, Green derives an ethics of responsibility toward all creatures that acknowledges the differences between diverse creatures while insisting on the need to defend the legitimate place in the world of even “the weakest and most threatened of creatures.” For Green, a Jewish ecological ethics must be a torat hayim, namely, a set of laws and instructions that truly “enhances life.” He does not specify what these can be, but he does provide a Jewish way of thinking about environmental ethics and the policies that could derive from it.

Like Green, Michael Fishbane illustrates how the traditional language of Judaism could be reinterpreted to think about nature in light of contemporary ecological concerns. But if Green takes his point of departure from the paradox of unity and multiplicity, Fishbane reflects on the paradox of God’s creative act. The Bible depicts the creation of the world as the result of divine speech: God spoke and the world came into being. If nature is God’s speech, nature itself reveals God. Fishbane’s implicit indebtedness to kabbalah is evident when he regards creation as an act of God’s self-revelation. In Fishbane’s own words: “God’s speaking is the world’s fullness, an infinite revelation at the heart of creation.” The creative/revelatory act, however, has two aspects: one is the creative energy that brings things into existence, and the other is the perception of what exists. Fishbane captures these two aspects by differentiating between “Breath” and “Speech.” The divine Breath is the creative power that vitalizes everything, whereas Speech is that which articulates things, making them distinct and accessible to human perception. Fishbane then identifies “Speech” and “Breath” with the two central categories of rabbinic Judaism—“Written Torah” and “Oral Torah,” respectively. He states: “the Oral Torah is eternally God’s breath as it vitalizes being, ruha be-ruha (‘spirit within spirit’), whereas the Written Torah is this same reality contracted into the vessels of human cognition, language, and experience.”

In Fishbane’s poetic theology of nature, the terms “Written Torah” and “Oral Torah” no longer denote a certain body of Jewish literature, Scripture and rabbinic deliberations respectively, but two coordinates that invite Jews to organize their experience vis-à-vis the natural world. As much as the Written and Oral Torah are interdependent in traditional Jewish thinking, so are humans interdependent on the natural world and the divine creative energy that vitalizes it. Fishbane expresses the duality of the human condition by using yet another set of terms: “natural eye” and “spiritual eye.” As part of nature, human beings have a physical body and perceive the world through “the natural eye,” namely, through their bodily senses. But humans are also possessed with the ability “to perceive the world with God’s Oral Torah in mind.” That is to say, humans are aware of being different from other creatures, but they are also able to see what they have in common with other beings. When we become aware of the “organic coherence” of which we are a part, we are able to exhibit “precious attentiveness to the multiform character of God’s Written Torah … [while being] attuned to the Oral Torah speaking in and through it.” Becoming aware of the “Godly nature” of everything that exists is precisely the purpose of Jewish prayers, blessings, and acts of sanctification, according to Fishbane. These are ways in which Jews acknowledge the limits of human speech, while using language. At the same time we also become aware of and attuned to “the rhythms of other persons and things by adjusting our breathing patterns to them and their way of being.” Fishbane’s theology of nature calls people to live as part of nature and at the same time to seek to transcend the natural.

The ethical conclusions of Fishbane are the same as Green’s: we must be attuned to the rhythm of nature, we must do our best to protect God’s nature, and we must recognize that we and everything else in the natural world are linked to each other. Whether kabbalah and Hasidism, its modern offshoot, could be legitimately used to anchor contemporary Jewish ecology, is questioned by other scholars in this volume.

The Human Condition: Origins, Pollution, and Death

From constructive Jewish theology of nature the volume moves to consider the Bible and rabbinic literature, the foundation documents of Judaism. The essays of the second section advance this conversation in interesting, new directions. Evan Eisenberg presents a comparative reading of the biblical narrative of the Garden of Eden in light of the sacred narratives of other Near Eastern cultures and what is known today about the civilizations of the ancient Near East: the riverbed civilization of Mesopotamia and the terraced-hills civilization of the Canaanites, of which ancient Israel was a part. By establishing the ecological facts behind the Garden of Eden narrative, Eisenberg proposes a rather somber reading of the biblical narrative that carries a moral lesson about the relationship between humans and natural wilderness.

In Eisenberg’s comparative study, the Garden of Eden is a mountain that functioned as a “cosmic center,” a “world-pole,” or the “navel of the world.” It is the source of life. Eden, however, was not a place fit for human dwelling, since humans are animals with a unique capacity to make tools and produce farming, writing, and urban dwellings, in short, to create civilizations.24 In Eisenberg’s secular, anthropological reading of the biblical narrative, the Fall of Man was a necessary process of self-expulsion, or self-alienation from nature. Eden belongs to God, and not even gods or angels could remain in it, let alone humans. To develop their potential, humans had to leave Eden and create civilization, which inevitably destroys the very natural resources at human disposal. According to Eisenberg, the tragic human condition cannot be avoided, but its scope can be minimized, if we become aware of it. The biblical Garden of Eden narrative, therefore, should function not as a place to which we aspire to return but as a source of wilderness: “we must revere it, draw sustenance from it, [and] keep it alive.” Conversely, we must be cognizant of the fact that our civilizational accomplishments have separated us from the sources of life, and that the quality of our life has been drastically reduced since the dawn of civilization. Eisenberg does not offer a way out of the human conundrum, but he suggests that if we become aware of our tragic ecological situation, we may be able to minimize its scope.

How are humans to negotiate their tragic relationship with the natural world? In traditional Judaism answers to such a question have to be sought, in principle, in rabbinic sources that apply divinely revealed Scripture to concrete human situations. The essays by Eliezer Diamond and David Kraemer treat these sources from two distinct, but complementary perspectives. Whereas Diamond focuses on halakhic (i.e., legal) discourse, Kraemer looks closely at aggadic, that is, the nonlegal, homiletical, and speculative aspect of rabbinic Judaism. From their detailed textual analyses emerge general principles that could be most useful for contemporary thinking about ecological problems.

Humans are social animals and their interaction with each other requires cooperation as well as mechanisms for conflict resolution. Diamond wrestles with one aspect of contemporary ecological problems: pollution. He considers the effects of pollution, not on natural environment, but on humans. More specifically, he is concerned with the problem of environmental justice.25 Since conflicts about pollution pit the interest of the individual against the interest of the community, Diamond examines how the Mishnah and subsequent medieval and modern legal sources, including rulings by the Supreme Court in Israel, deal with such conflicts. Diamond shows that halakhic sources struggled with the tension between personal and conventional standards, established the parameters of unacceptable pollution, were aware of the difference between inflicting nuisance or discomfort and causing economic deprivation, and that they have evolved over time because they addressed changing life circumstances. While Diamond reasons within the parameters of Jewish legal sources, the ramifications of his essay extend beyond the boundaries of Jewish society, for whom this reasoning is normative. He convincingly argues that halakhic reasoning about notions of conventionality and equity in environmental matters could be applied meaningfully to the problem of global warming. Such application requires a careful analysis of concrete human situations as well as a creative analysis of Jewish legal sources.

The same interpretative creativity can be applied to the nonlegal rabbinic sources that expressed rabbinic theology and shaped religious practices. Kraemer advances our understanding of Jewish views on the relationship between humans and nature by looking at death rituals. On the basis of a comparative analysis with Zoroastrian and Egyptian death rituals, he argues that in all human societies death rituals are rooted in a certain view about the origins of humanity. In rabbinic death rituals the dead body was to be placed in the ground immediately after death. While one can rationalize this ritual by appealing to the hot climate of the Near East and the need to avoid early decomposition of the body, Kraemer cogently argues that the rabbinic rationale for the practice was linked to the biblical narrative of human creation. The Bible, however, has two creation narratives: Genesis 2:7 depicts the creation of the first human from the earth, whereas Genesis 1:26 highlights that the human was created “in the image of God” (be-tzelem ’elohim). The two creation narratives have very different consequences concerning the relationship between humans and the natural world. According to the earthbound story, the human (’adam) comes from the earth (’adamah) and must return to it at death; according to the second narrative, humans are in some sense “above” the earth. Kraemer shows that rabbinic death rituals privileged the earthbound narrative, thereby signifying the essential link to the natural world. From this, Kraemer derives a rabbinically based ecological ethics: the relations between humans and the earth is “a relationship not of subduing or conquest, but of natural partnership. An act of abuse against the natural world is an abuse against humanity, and vice versa.” It follows that humans must not “view the natural world as ‘other,’ something to serve our needs, something to exploit.” Rather, “our needs are part of, and must be harmonized with, the needs of the natural world.”26 Kraemer does not tell us how to accomplish the reconciliation between conflicting needs, but it stands to reason that further exploration of halakhic sources could provide an answer.

In his response, Eilon Schwartz clarifies Jewish approaches to the natural world by delineating four models. The first focuses on human rationality and posits an instrumental attitude toward nature. Schwartz admits that this model, in which human rationality manipulates the world to satisfy human needs, makes Judaism susceptible to the accusation of the environmental movement that Judaism endorses human domination of nature. Yet, the Bible offers a second model that affirms human responsibility toward the earth, highlighting the partnership of humans with the earth and its inhabitants. These two models, Schwartz argues, need not be understood as mutually exclusive, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik proposed in his famous essay,27 because human physicality can be “a source of deep spiritual meaning.” While Schwartz agrees that the second model is attractive, he confesses to a certain discomfort with it, given his own environmentalism that is inspired by the wilderness tradition. Therefore, Schwartz finds the teachings of Abraham Joshua Heschel akin to his own sensibility, because Heschel highlighted the “radical amazement model.” Whereas this model belittles the human and calls for humility in light of nature’s awesomeness, the fourth model, the “holy sparks model” of Lurianic kabbalah and Hasidism, makes the human deeply involved with the transformation of nature. Schwartz insightfully suggests that this religious model was given a secular twist in Zionism, where it cohered with Romantic nationalism, on the one hand, and with Nietzsche’s philosophy of life, on the other hand. With a greater awareness to the diverse models within Judaism, Jewish environmental education has more options and can avoid the sense of crisis and despair articulated by Soloveitchik’s religious existentialism.

The Doctrine of Creation

All Jewish reflections about the natural world, as Michael Wyscho-grod has already noted, take their point of departure from the belief that God created the world and that God is the source of the moral order. The third section of the volume examines more carefully the doctrine of creation in the Bible, rabbinic texts, and Jewish philosophy.

Stephen A. Geller’s analysis of the Book of Job captures the core problem in Judaism: the tension between the belief that God created the world and the belief that God revealed His Will to Israel in the form of law, the Torah. The Book of Job is the earliest manifestation of this problem. According to Geller, the book reflected a crisis of faith in Israel during the sixth century BCE, after the destruction of the First Temple. The crisis pitted the “Old Wisdom tradition” against a “new militant monotheism” and its covenantal theology, articulated in the Book of Deuteronomy. The ancient Wisdom tradition saw the origin of nature and the origin of the moral order to be the same. Wise is the one who observes nature and knows how to live rightly in accord with it. By contrast, the new Deuteronomic faith posited a covenant law that is discussed in terms of Sinaitic revelation. Geller highlights the tension between the Old Wisdom tradition that proceeded “from God through creation and nature to morality,” and the covenant faith that ‘deriv[ed] all morality from revelation to humankind, i.e., Israel.” According to Geller, then, the Book of Job is a hybrid of intellectual piety and covenantal piety, a mixture that is best evident in the speeches of Job’s friends. The author of the Book of Job does not resolve the tension logically, but the book ends with an emotional solution to the tension. In chapters 38–42, the climax of the book, the author of Job “wants to rescue a role for nature, but he realizes that this can be achieved only by abandoning the demand for understanding itself.” The proper attitude toward nature, according to the Book of Job, is expressed in the category of the “sublime” as understood by the English poets of the eighteenth century. The sublime combines humility, terror, awareness of one’s insignificance, and fear with feelings of exaltation, forgetfulness of self, and fascination. The conclusion of the Book of Job is that “Revelation and nature cannot be reconciled by human wisdom.”

Although Geller succinctly captures the tension between the doctrines of creation and revelation, the history of Judaism did not follow his conclusion. What is true about the Book of Job, if one accepts Geller’s reading, is not true about Jewish philosophy. The Jewish philosophic tradition was grounded in the assumption that human reason can indeed bridge revelation and nature and that the same rational ability to fathom the laws of nature can and should be applied to the interpretation of God’s revealed Will and Wisdom in Scripture. For the philosophers, the laws of nature, in principle, could not contradict the truths of revealed Scripture, and it is the task of the Jewish wise man to sort out the relationship between knowledge about the natural world and the true meaning of revealed Scripture.

Focusing on the Jewish philosophical tradition, David Novak explores how the doctrine of creation relates to the idea of nature, and more specifically to the concept of natural law. Writing both as a historian of Jewish thought and as a constructive Jewish theologian, Novak argues that in the classical sources of Judaism—especially in medieval Jewish philosophy—there is an elaborate discussion of natural law. The relationship between the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of revelation has to be configured in the context of a natural law theory. Novak argues that all theories of natural law are necessarily teleological and that they presuppose a hierarchical order of the universe. After elucidating four possible ways to configure the telos of the universe, and critiquing the relationship between creation and revelation in the thought of Saadia Gaon (882–942) and Moses Maimonides (1135/8–1204), Novak proceeds to articulate his own understanding of the interplay of creation, revelation, and redemption. His views are shaped by the philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929). Properly understood, Novak argues, creation is not in time; it is prior to the experience of every creature; and redemption is “not yet,” that is, it is beyond what humans can know or experience in the present. All that humans have is revelation, yet revelation is not a one-time historic event, but is “God’s presence in us, with us, and for us.” It is the ever-present “Giving of the Torah to Israel,” an act which organizes all meaning for Jews. Novak argues, therefore, that nature cannot be grasped as a mere given, or an abstraction of the human mind. Instead, nature is “something that can only be grasped abstractly from within our historical present, a present whose content is continually provided by revelation.” On the basis of Rosenzweig’s philosophy, Novak proceeds to present what he considers to be the best theory of natural law in Judaism. Novak’s theological position can be endorsed by Orthodox, Conservative, and even Reform Jews who accept the primacy of revelation in organizing Jewish life, but it may be difficult for secular Jews for whom the category of revelation is meaningless or who view Judaism as the culture of the Jewish people.

Whereas Novak focused on the philosophical interpretations of the doctrine of creation, Neil Gillman looks at the link between the doctrine of creation and Jewish liturgy and ritual. Gillman’s assumption coheres with the claim of Kraemer in the previous section: Jewish rituals express the underlying theology of rabbinic Judaism better than Jewish philosophical theology. Gillman shows how the Jewish marriage ceremony and the prayer of the morning service are organized on the basis of the doctrine of creation that is the linchpin of the sacred narrative of Judaism. Again in agreement with Kraemer, Gillman shows that the rabbis privileged the earthbound creation narrative in Genesis 2:7 and that they ascribed deep spiritual meaning to the physicality of creation. Gillman’s interpretation of the doctrine of creation is decidedly critical of the intellectualism of Maimonides as much as it is at odds with Soloveitchik’s reading of the creation narrative. In Gillman’s exposition of the marriage ceremony, the ritual should be understood as a reenactment of the act of creation that fuses “the two worlds, the transcendent mythic world of the creation story and the actual, real world of the two people who are getting married.” Liturgical acts are not mere ceremonies; they are theology in action. Gillman then looks carefully at three elements from the morning service in which God’s creative activity is blessed. He shows how the rabbis intentionally changed the biblical phrase (Isaiah 45:7) to convey their theological views about God, the world, and the origin of Evil. The liturgical language posits God as an omnipotent creator ex nihilo, who renews nature daily and whose “power ranges not only over nature but over history as well.” The Jewish normative attitude toward the natural world is expressed not through systematic reflections of the philosophers but through the daily liturgy obligatory to observant Jews.

In the response to these three papers, Jon D. Levenson clarifies Geller’s reading of the Book of Job while raising questions about Geller’s claim that the fusion of intellectual piety and covenantal piety in Job is similar to that found in late Stoicism. Levenson is most critical of Novak’s “Judaizing the classical and Roman ideal of natural law” and of Novak’s understanding of revelation. Levenson argues that Novak “leaves it unclear about how we are to derive any specific norms from natural law and what we are to do when these norms and those of the revealed law conflict.” With a veiled critique of philosophical discourse, Levenson expresses preferences to the study of liturgy as the authentic expression of Jewish views on creation and revelation, in accord with the essay by Gillman.

Nature and Revealed Morality

If it is true, as Novak claims, that verbal revelation is the only context through which Jews can experience the natural world, how does revelation organize Jewish attitude toward nature? In traditional Judaism revelation is understood to be the origin of morality, and so how does morality, the prescriptions and prohibitions of Judaism, relate to the natural world? Does morality, as articulated in the Torah, stand in opposition to nature? Is the human called by God to transform nature? Does Judaism bridge the distinction between nature and morality? The essays in this section wrestle with these questions.

Shalom Rosenberg’s essay documents the diverse conceptions of nature in Judaism that flow from different understandings of revelation. In Jewish sources, Rosenberg correctly notes, the term “nature” has a variety of meanings. “Nature” is used generally to denote “the cosmos or … the biological world,” as well as more specifically to denote the nature of humans, which for some philosophers was identified with the human capacity to reason. Moreover, the meaning of the term “nature” has varied over time in accordance with the function assigned to it. For example, in the modern period “nature” is evoked as a way to criticize existing ethical and legal situations, but it can also be used to justify existing morality presumably anchored in the social order. “Nature” can also refer to the belief in the existence of more basic laws that cut across traditions and create a bond between all people. Or, “nature” and “natural law” can be presented as something that “transcends not only space but also time and allows us to judge different historical cultures.” Since morality can be said to relate to nature in different ways, it is incumbent on those who generalize about these issues to be attuned to the rich canvas of Jewish views on the interplay between nature and revealed morality in Judaism.

In the Bible, claims Rosenberg, ethics stands in opposition to the natural world. In rabbinic Judaism a more subtle view emerges in the context of recognizing the stability of nature, on the one hand, and the ability of humans to learn from the ways animals conduct themselves, on the other. In medieval philosophy one finds extensive discussion of the natural world as well as of human nature, which the philosophers identified with rationality. The philosophers articulated a teleological natural morality, where nature is established as a means to reach the unique goals of man. Most instructively, Rosenberg shows that the medieval philosophers regarded the Torah itself as natural law, because it is the Torah that “brings one to perfection.” The inherent identity between Torah and nature was challenged by the sixteenth-century Jewish theologian R. Judah Loew of Prague (c. 1525–1609), for whom “morality rises beyond nature” and acts of loving kindness surpass nature. In kabbalah, Rosenberg correctly states, “reality becomes a language. Nature is transformed into a symbol of the divine.” The relationship between Torah (and hence morality) and the natural world is ambiguous in kabbalah. For some kabbalists the Torah stands for nature, whereas for others the Torah is the paradigm of nature. Of the modern thinkers who reflected on the relationship between morality and nature, Rosenberg singles out Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888), the founder of Neo-Orthodoxy in Germany, and shows that in Hirsch’s analysis of the commandments nature “is not only a model for us in its fulfilling law … [I]t places on humans its own demands, its own mitzvot [commandments].” Rosenberg concludes that human obligations toward nature include not only respect for nature, but also the specific commandments that are detailed in the Bible. These commandments specify the boundaries within which humans should interact with the natural world.

A different and novel attempt to articulate Jewish ecological philosophy is offered by Lenn E. Goodman within the matrix of “an ontological theory of justice.”28 In such a theory, all things that exist are good and their intrinsic value is the foundation of their deserts. Goodman’s point of departure is the intrinsic deserts of animals, plants, and eco-niches that flow from the particular “project” of each thing. Using Spinoza’s language, Goodman refers to this project as “conatus,”29 and claims that this is the basis of human respect for “all beings—to the extent possible.” Goodman admits that this theory is a form of naturalism, but he denies that it is a form of materialism. Instead, Goodman shows that his hierarchical theory of deserts can be derived from the language of the Bible as elaborated by rabbinic sources. Good-man successfully demonstrates that the Bible and rabbinic sources recognized the inherent deserts of animals or the human obligation to alleviate the suffering of an animal. The command to be compassionate toward animals affirms both human superiority over other animals as well as human responsibility toward nature. Good-man’s ecological ethics exemplifies the notion of human stewardship of nature,30 even though Goodman explicitly rejects vegetarianism, in contrast to Rosenberg who endorses it.31 Goodman does not explain how the killing of animals for the sake of human consumption is compatible with recognizing the inherent value and desert of the killed animals. Likewise, he does not account for the fact, noted by both Fishbane and Rosenberg, that destruction is integral to nature and that species naturally engage other species in a struggle for survival.

Some of the issues left open by Goodman are addressed by Moshe Sokol. He begins by rejecting Steven Schwarzschild and Michael Wyschogrod, who highlight the opposition between Judaism and nature. Such a claim, Sokol avers, is simply incoherent because “Judaism cannot disapprove of trees and grass.” He maintains that it is more accurate to say that “the Bible and rabbinic Judaism objected to certain conceptions of nature but not to nature’s constituents.” In agreement with Rosenberg, Sokol notes that the category “nature” is a human construct that has changed over time. If one is to explain the presumed conflict between Jews and the natural world, one must turn to the sociology of the Jews as urban people to find the proper explanation. Sokol differentiates between two questions: 1) what are Jewish constructions of nature and how do they relate to each other? and 2) what, if any, are the implications of the varying constructions of nature for developing a useful environmental ethics? The first question is addressed by Shalom Rosenberg in this volume. Sokol attempts to answer the second question.

Sokol’s main concern is to explore dominant paradigms about the relationship between God and the world and to ponder whether they can be used as a foundation for a Jewish ecological ethics. He differentiates between the “transcendist position,” whose main exponent is Maimonides, and the “immanentist view,” represented by kabbalah and Hasidism. Sokol shows that one cannot simplistically equate either of these views with a given ethical implication or recommendation in regard to the natural world. Respect toward the natural world is not a necessary outcome of an immanentist outlook, as is commonly argued, since respect for nature is specifically stated by Maimonides, the advocate of the transcendist position. Conversely, Hasidism, which has served as inspiration for contemporary Jewish environmentalists, cannot be said to be more “green” than its opposition, either in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or today. Sokol then examines three models for the relationship between morality and nature—“environmental anthropocentrism,” “environmental biocentrism,” and “environmental theocentrism”—and shows what is problematic about each of them and why none of them could tell us how to treat the natural world.

Sokol’s original contribution to Jewish ecological reflections is the suggestion that we should shift our focus from an ecological ethics of duty toward nature to an ecological ethics of virtue. Environmental virtue ethics will include “a deep sense of humility, not only individually but species-wide; the capacity for gratitude; the capacity to experience awe and sublimity; the virtues of temperance, continence, and respectfulness, among others.” The data for the desired character traits of the environmentally virtuous person could come from the very sources of the Jewish tradition, both halakhic and homiletic.

In his response, Barry S. Kogan’s exposes Goodman’s indebtedness to medieval Neoplatonic ontology and questions Goodman’s attempt to ascribe rights of persons to nonhumans, especially after a century that has seen the catastrophic results of the failure to respect human life as such as sacred. Kogan finds Rosenberg’s reading of Hirsch more attractive because “the study of ecology, the policy implications that follow from its findings, and the practical intent of the huqqim, as explained by Hirsch, would all be religiously mandated.” As for Sokol, Kogan challenges his misrepresentation of Schwarzschild and Wyschogrod. While Kogan agrees that theology that emphasizes transcendence does not necessarily desacralize the world and that those that highlight immanence do not necessarily culminate in unqualified reverence and awe toward all things natural, Kogan challenges Sokol’s overly schematic classifications of Jewish approaches to nature.

Nature in Jewish Mysticism

The complexity of Jewish approaches to nature is manifested most acutely in the Jewish mystical tradition. The essays in this section prob-lematize any attempt to anchor Jewish theology of nature in kabbalah. Neither kabbalah nor its eighteenth-century offshoot, Hasidism, accepted the natural world as a given that must be preserved and hallowed. In both cases, the corporeality of the natural, especially as manifested in the human body, is viewed either as a veil that hides the truly spiritual, namely, God, or as a negative obstacle that prevents the human from attaining unity with God. To the mystic, who claims to possess knowledge of the linguistic foundation of nature, the world of nature is a symbol of divine reality that has to be decoded and thereby either spiritualized or transcended. Nature is not to be celebrated for its own sake.

Elliot R. Wolfson shows that the key to the kabbalistic approach to nature lies in the claim that nature is a mirror of the divine. This is not a mere metaphor but a metaphysical claim about the very structure of reality. In kabbalah, as Wolfson succinctly states, “the ten resplendent emanations (sefirot), which make up the divine pleroma, are the archetypal spiritual beings that function as the formal causes for all that exists in the physical universe.” For the kabbalists, there is “one ultimate reality, the divine light, which manifests itself in the garb of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet that derive, in turn, from the four-letter name, YHWH, the root word of all language, the mystical secret of the Torah.” The corporeal world that we perceive through the senses is by no means ultimate reality. Rather, “the corporeal world reflects the spiritual forms in the manner that a mirror reflects images. Just as the image is not what is real but only its appearance, so nature is naught but the representation of that which is real.”

Wolfson argues that kabbalistic ontology cannot be labeled as either “pantheism” or “immanentism,” as is commonly done, because kabbalah harbored competing pantheistic and theistic views. Most importantly, Wolfson explains that the kabbalists were not interested in the natural world encountered outdoors, but in the mysterious, esoteric events within the Godhead that are ultimately manifested in the physical environment. What matters to kabbalah is not nature itself— which functions as a veil of divine reality—but the act of penetrating the hidden nature of God. Wolfson then moves on to show that the poetics of nature as the mirror of God is heavily genderized. Nature is identified with the Female, the Shekhinah, but “she is no more than the looking glass that reflects what is genuinely real, the masculine image, which is attributed more specifically to the phallic gradation,” Tife’eret. Wolfson’s careful unmasking of the androcentric nature of kabbalistic symbolism undermines any attempt to use kabbalah in order to recover the lost Goddess. Wolfson concludes by showing the connection between the kabbalistic, spiritualist ontology and the ascetic practices and makes it patently clear that the kabbalists were not only de facto remote from the natural world, but that they denied that the natural world as we know it is holy.

Kabbalah, especially as developed in the Land of Israel during the sixteenth century, was the ideational basis of Hasidism. Indeed, it was Hasidism, as popularized by Martin Buber, which brought kabbalah to the knowledge of the Western world and to the attention of the environmental movement.32 In Buber’s representation, Hasidism articulated a positive attitude toward nature, since the I-Thou relationship could be had not only with persons but also with trees and animals. Buber’s rendering of Hasidism was vehemently criticized by Ger-shom Scholem and Rivkah Schatz-Uffenheimer. Jerome (Yehudah) Gellman revisits the critique and further endorses it on the basis of a close reading of those very sources that Buber claimed to have used. Defending himself against his critics, Buber admitted that his reconstruction of Hasidic theology and practice cannot be derived from the teachings of the founder of Hasidism, R. Israel Baal Shem Tov (known as the Besht) (1698–1760), but from the teachings of his disciple, R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, and his disciples. By analyzing the texts that Buber used in his reconstruction of Hasidism, Gellman shows that Buber ascribed to his Hasidic authors views that they did not in fact hold. Gellman concludes that neither Buber’s portrayal of Hasidism nor Hasidism itself could serve as a foundation of Jewish ecological theology.

Gellman’s skepticism about Hasidism is further corroborated by Shaul Magid, who focuses on the works of the Besht’s grandson, R. Nahman of Bratslav (1772–1810). R. Nahman wrote homiletical discourses and symbolic tales. In the former, the attitude of the Hasidic master to the natural world is “exclusively pejorative.” Magid explains that for R. Nahman “nature is not identical with the natural world.” Instead, “nature” (teva) is a human construct on the basis of our perception. Nature is deceptive because it “appears perfect … in its stability and predictability.” This appearance “is actually the source of its imperfection.” In contrast to “nature,” R. Nahman posited the “world” (‘olam), a term that is used to “refer to the natural world in a constant state of renewal” from its divine source. It is “unstable, dynamic, and unpredictable.” When we perceive the stability of nature, we actually sever the natural world from its divine creative source. In his homiletical discourses, then, R. Nahman placed nature in “diametrical opposition to miracle and divine providence.” The symbolic tales of R. Nahman, however, reveal a more tolerant attitude toward nature, enabling humanity to live simultaneously within and apart from its external environment. On the basis of a close reading of R. Nahman’s last tale, “The Seven Beggars,” Magid uncovers a view of nature that enables humanity to co-exist with nature but not be part of it.

In her response to the three presenters on the Jewish mystical tradition, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson further problematizes the kabbalistic approach to nature. The notion that nature is a mirror of the divine actually gave rise to two different attitudes toward nature. According to one, the corporeality of nature was to be transcended through kabbalistic sanctifying acts. According to the other, the belief that kabbalah contains the knowledge of the linguistic foundation of the natural world led to a proto-experimental approach to nature, characteristic of so-called practical kabbalah. Tirosh-Samuelson agrees with Gellman and Magid that eighteenth-century Hasidism could not serve as the basis of environmental theology, since its application of the rabbinic sanctification of nature through observance of divine commandments leads to spiritualization, and hence, annihilation of the empirical world.

From Speculation to Action

The rich Jewish tradition, this volume demonstrates, can support a deep respect toward nature that translates into human stewardship of nature. In the twentieth century the Jewish thinker who reconfigured the relationship between God and natural world most elaborately was Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972). Edward E. Kaplan presents Heschel’s “depth theology” of the caring God who “calls for human beings actively to redeem [the world].” Approaching the Bible, not as “human theology but as God’s anthropology,” Heschel’s point of departure was the notion of wonder or radical amazement, which Schwartz has also discussed in this volume in support of his own environmental sensibilities. Kaplan explains how Heschel’s writings were designed to enable the reader to shed or question all habitual ways of thinking, and gradually to begin “to perceive the world as ‘an allusion’ to God, as an object of divine concern.” While Heschel’s outlook was rooted in kabbalah and Hasidism, he used the kabbalistic notion of “allusion” to reawaken in Jews the reverence toward nature. Reinterpreting the Jewish tradition, Kaplan shows, Heschel instructed twentieth-century Jews to develop the notion of “kinship with the visible cosmos” and to grasp the reciprocal relationship between God and the world. The world is the object of God’s concern or love. Heschel presented a vision of interrelatedness of humans, other beings, and God, and emphasized human responsibility to God, “who is both within and beyond nature and civilization.” Kaplan, along with Eilon Schwartz, correctly views Heschel as a major ecological Jewish thinker whose theology could inspire sound environmental policies.

Translating Jewish ecological reflection into action is by no means a simple matter. The volume concludes with essays by Tsvi Blanchard and Mark X. Jacobs that reflect on the challenges to Jewish environmental activism. Blanchard notes the tension between the secular nature of the environmental discourse and Jewish religious commitments. Before Jews could join the environmental discourse, it has been important to realize three things. First, even if Jewish sources harbor a certain conception of the natural world, they did not imagine the ecological situation we face today. It is not self-evident that the solution to the environmental crisis could be found in the traditional Jewish sources. Second, Jews were never in a position to formulate policies for the society at large, but only for their own communities. Third, the ecological movement regards the Bible very critically as the source of a negative attitude toward nature that gave rise to destructive policies. Blanchard proposes a way to overcome these difficulties by focusing on select Talmudic sources that blend religious and secular aspects. This model, he claims, would enable Jews to join the general environmental discourse and to speak as committed Jews. Blanchard shows that the rabbis considered human action and were attentive to scientific information, implying that there is room within the religious tradition itself to consider nondivine aspects. He illustrates how the rabbis considered intentional modifications of the environment and the harmful side effects of improper positioning of certain substances. Like Diamond, Blanchard invites Jews and non-Jews to grasp the general principles of Jewish legal sources and to realize how they can be applied to very practical issues that confront the environmental movement. He concludes that “analysis of the Jewish material might help in drafting possible policy strategies as well as in framing the key questions to be asked and answered.”

The volume concludes with Mark X. Jacobs’s overview of the Jewish environmental movement, its history, accomplishments, and challenges. There is no doubt that the movement has succeeded in raising the awareness of Jews about environmental and ecological matters. The movement has also added a significant Jewish presence to other faith communities in the United States which are deeply concerned about the environmental crisis. However, Jacobs admits that the leadership of the Jewish community lacks passionate commitment to environmentalism and that the very affluence of Jews in North America militates against it. Jacobs voices concern over the tension between the Jewish environmentalists, who are motivated by deep religious insights, and the “relative weak role of Judaism in the lives of American Jews.” Thus, contemporary Jews rather than Judaism are the obstacle to a vital Jewish environmentalism.


This volume intends to contribute to the nascent discourse on Judaism and ecology by clarifying diverse conceptions of nature in Jewish sources and by using the insights of Judaism to formulate a constructive Jewish theology of nature. Given the complexity of the Jewish tradition, it is impossible to generalize about Judaism and ecology. Some voices within Judaism are compatible with contemporary environmentalism, and others are either in direct conflict with it or manifest uneasiness about it. Thus, one voice expresses a deep respect for the natural world created by God that is translated into obligations to protect the natural world from human abuse. This voice is rooted in the view that the human is but a steward of God’s earth and is totally compatible with conservationist policies. Another voice within Judaism highlights the opposition between the human and the natural. Only humans can receive and respond to divine obligations “to be holy as I the Lord am holy,” and only humans can transform the natural world through prescribed acts that sanctify the natural. From this perspective any attempt to identify nature with God is a form of idolatry that Judaism is determined to eradicate. And finally, there is the voice that denies reality to the natural world. The natural world, the world that is accessible to us through the senses, is but a mirror of a divine, noncorporeal reality. Created in the image of God, human beings are most capable of transcending their natural veil, and to fathom or penetrate the ultimate reality beyond the veil. However one interprets this idea, it leads to negative attitudes toward nature, be they indifference, suppression, or manipulation of nature. In short, whatever stance one wishes to highlight results in a different understanding of Judaism vis-à-vis the natural world.

Generalizing about Judaism and ecology is also difficult because Jews today do not agree about the meaning of Judaism. Not only is Judaism defined in both religious and secular terms—and the gulf between religionists and secularists grows ever deeper—religiously committed Jews do not agree about the meaning of the foundational tenets of Judaism or the way of life that should flow from them. Whether one considers the sources of Judaism to be normative, compelling, suggestive, or troubling shapes how one treats what Judaism has to say about environmental matters. This volume respects pluralism in contemporary Judaism and does not seek to impose unanimity and consensus. Yet, precisely because the volume includes thinkers of all branches of contemporary Judaism, it implicitly argues that the current ecological crisis is indeed a Jewish issue. I will go even further and say that because Jews have faced the threat of extinction on account of radically evil, human acts, Jews have a distinctive vantage point from which to speak against the destruction that humans now inflict on God’s creation. If Jews stand in covenantal relationship, and are called to mend the world, Jews cannot ignore ecological matters in the name of more pressing social issues. To protect God’s world from further abuse by humans is a Jewish moral obligation.

As Jews become more ecologically aware, however, Jewish thinkers will have to become more familiar with the contemporary environmental discourse and its nuances debated among deep ecology, social ecology, political ecology, ecofeminism, and conservationism.33 Each of these perspectives has a different understanding of the place of the human in the order of things and the attitudes toward nature that flows from it. A future reflection by Jewish thinkers on ecological matters will also require a deeper immersion in contemporary science, especially the sciences of physics, cosmology, the life sciences, and the cognitive sciences. To speak theologically and philosophically about the desired relationship between humans and the natural world requires holding informed views about the natural world. A Jewish discourse on ecology is thus inseparable from the so-called dialogue of science and religion, in which the Jewish voice is still underrepresented. When Jews enter the dialogue of science and religious dialogue in greater number, they will affirm what medieval Jewish philosophers have taken for granted: since God is truth, there can be no conflict between what is true in science and what is true in Judaism.

As Jews become more conversant with this literature and, hopefully, environmentalists become more informed about Judaism, it may become clear not only how Judaism is compatible with conservationism, but also where Judaism conflicts with the radical activism of Earth First! or with the metaphysical claims of deep ecology. Conversely, as the conversation between Judaism and ecology develops, it might question a strict secularist approach to being Jewish. Judaism is a religious civilization and the sources of Judaism are all religious sources. To speak about environmentalism from a Jewish perspective entails a religious outlook. The volume cannot tell Jews how to define the meaning of being Jewish for themselves. It only charts the issues that must concern anyone who takes Judaism and ecology seriously.

1 The extensive ecological literature cannot be cited here. For readers unfamiliar with it, a good introduction is provided in Ecology: Key Concepts in Critical Theory, ed. Carolyn Merchant (Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press, 1994). A quick perusal of this volume bears my point: environmentalism has had little or nothing to do with Judaism.
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2 Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155 (1967): 1203–1207.
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3 That Arthur Waskow, a Jewish environmental thinker and activist, had to make the case for Jewish involvement in environmentalism in the 1990s attests to the relative limited interest in this topic in the organized Jewish community. See Arthur Waskow, “Is the Earth a Jewish Issue?” Tikkun 7, no. 5 (1992): 35–37.
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4 For further discussion of this point among contemporary Jewish thinkers, consult Eilon Schwartz, “Judaism and Nature: Theological and Moral Issues to Consider while Renegotiating a Jewish Relationship to the Natural World,” in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Martin D. Yaffe (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001), 297–308.
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5 This position is explained most succinctly by Michael Wyschogrod, “Judaism and the Sanctification of Nature,” Melton Journal 24 (spring 1991): 5–6; reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 289–96. Most modern Orthodox thinkers share this viewpoint.
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6 See Steven S. Schwarzschild, “The Unnatural Jew,” Environmental Ethics 6 (1984): 347–62. This essay elicited a serious debate and some serious criticism. See Jeanne Kay, “Comments on the Unnatural Jew,” Environmental Ethics 7 (1985): 189–91, reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 286–88; and David Ehrenfeld and Joan G. Ehrenfeld, “Some Thoughts on Nature and Judaism,” Environmental Ethics 7 (1985): 93–95, reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 283–85. The debate is discussed in Martin D. Yaffe’s introduction to his volume.
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7 See Eric Katz, “Nature’s Healing Power, the Holocaust and the Environmental Crisis,” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal 46 (1997): 79–89; reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 309–20.
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8 It is true that Zionism included religious positions as well. For the religious Zionists the return to the land was understood in terms of being able to perform the land-based commandments of Judaism and thus coming closer to God. For an overview of the function of the land in Zionist thought, consult Arnold M. Eisen, “Off Center: The Concept of the Land of Israel in Modern Jewish Thought,” in The Land of Israel: Jewish Perspectives, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 263–96.
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9 The main ideologue of Socialist Zionism who provided the rationale for the Jewish return to nature was Aharon David Gordon (1856–1922). For analysis of Gordon’s philosophy, see Eliezer Schweid, The Land of Israel: National Home or Land of Destiny, trans. Deborah Greniman (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985); idem, The Individual: The World of A. D. Gordon (in Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1970).
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10 It is instructive to note that Zionism regarded the purchase of land from Arabs as “redemption of land” (ge’ulat ha-qarqa), thus framing a secular activity in religious terms. See Ge’ulat ha-Qarqa be-’Eretz Israel Ra‘aion u-Ma‘aseh, ed. Ruth Kark (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi Publication, 1990). I thank Dr. Ada Schein for directing me to this book.
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11 The kibbutzim, the agricultural settlements created by Socialist Zionism, were most creative in developing new rituals for the Jewish festivals. While rooted in the Jewish tradition, these innovative rituals all celebrated the seasonal cycle of nature and the fertility of the land, but they did not refer to God and did not seek justification in rabbinic sources.
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12 See Susan H. Lees, The Political Ecology of the Water Crisis in Israel (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998); Water and Peace in the Middle East, ed. Jad Isaac and Hillel Shuval (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1994); and Miriam Lowi, Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
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13 For an overview of Israel’s environmental perils and the activities of the environmental movement, see Alon Tal, “An Imperiled Promised Land,” in Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought, ed. Arthur Waskow, 2 vols. (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000), 2:42–71.
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14 The works of Nogah Hareuveni, listed in the bibliography of this volume, are typical examples of this trend.
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15 For responses by modern Orthodox thinkers to White’s charges, see Norman Lamm, “Ecology in Jewish Law and Theology,” in his Faith and Doubt: Studies in Traditional Jewish Thought (New York: Ktav, 1972), 162–85; Jonathan Helfand, “Ecology and the Jewish Tradition: A Postscript,” Judaism 20 (1971): 330–35; idem, “‘Consider the Work of G-d’: Jewish Sources for Conservation Ethics,” in Liturgical Foundations of Social Policy in the Catholic and Jewish Traditions, ed. Daniel F. Polish and Eugene J. Fisher (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 134–48; idem, “The Earth Is the Lord’s: Judaism and Environmental Ethics,” in Religion and Environmental Crisis, ed. Eugene C. Hargrove (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 38–52; Aryeh Carmell, “Judaism and the Quality of the Environment,” in Challenge: Torah Views and Science and Its Problems, ed. Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb (London and Jerusalem: Feldeim Publishers, 1976), 500–25.
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16 The rise of Jewish interest in environmental issues reflects in part a growing realization that the ecological crisis is a religious issue and that world religions have been crucial to the shaping of human attitudes toward the physical environment. The emergence of a religious ecological discourse during the 1970s and 1980s was concomitant with the flourishing Religious Studies as an academic discipline committed to the comparative study of world religions. Typical examples of comparative religious ecological discourse in which Judaism is represented are Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue, ed. Steven C. Rockefeller and John C. Elder (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992); and Worldviews and Ecology, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1993; reprint, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996).
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17 The organization was associated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and its main activity was to publish educational material. The materials are available in Judaism and Ecology, 1970–1986: A Sourcebook of Readings, ed. Marc Swetlitz (Wyncote: Shomrei Adamah, 1990).
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18 A representative sample of Jewish environmental writings in America is Ecology and the Jewish Spirit, ed. Ellen Bernstein (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998).
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19 For an overview of these themes, consult the essays in Judaism and Ecology, ed. Aubrey Rose (London: Cassell, 1992).
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20 For a succinct expression of the covenantal model for Jewish ecology, see Bradley Shavit Artson, “Our Covenant with Stones: A Jewish Ecology of Earth,” Conservative Judaism 44, no. 1 (1991): 25–35; reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 161–71.
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21 For an overview of the relevant sources, consult Torah of the Earth, ed. Waskow, 1:212–14, which includes information about Jewish organizations committed to environmentalism.
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22 Michael Wyschogrod, “The Sanctification of Nature in Judaism,” in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 294.
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23 On Deep Ecology, consult Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions (Boston and London: Shambhala, 1995). In many respects, however, there is quite an overlap between Green’s reflections and the views of deep ecology. The reason for it is historical. Many of the insights of deep ecology, especially as outlined by Arne Naess, are indebted to the philosophy of Spinoza, who was, in turn, familiar with kabbalah.
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24 Eisenberg’s reading is in accord with the consensus among developmental anthropologists who believe that toolmaking is the determining mark of homo sapiens. For a summary of the debates among anthropologists, consult Ian Tattersall, The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution (New York: Oxford University, 1995).
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25 A main concern of the environmental justice movement is the dumping of toxic wastes in poor neighborhoods that are populated predominantly by African Americans. Environmental justice is thus commonly conflated with the accusation of racism and pertains as well to Mexican Americans and to Native Americans. See Robert Bullard, “Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” in Ecology, 254–65, and the literature cited there.
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26 Kraemer’s conclusion, as well as that of other contributors in this volume, accord with ecological thinking that highlights respect for nature. See Paul W. Taylor, “The Ethics of Respect for Nature,” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, ed. Michael Zimmerman et al. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993), 71–86.
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27 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” Tradition 7 (1965): 5–67.

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28 See Lenn E. Goodman, On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).
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29 For exposition of Spinoza’s theory, see Richard Mason, The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 142–46.
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30 See David Ehrenfeld and Philip J. Bentley, “Judaism and the Practice of Stewardship,” Judaism: A Quarterly Journal 34 (1985): 301–11; reprinted in Judaism and Environmental Ethics, ed. Yaffe, 125–35.
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31 Whether Jews should be vegetarians is one of the themes of Jewish ecological discourse. For an overview, see Louis A. Berman, Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition (New York: Ktav, 1982).
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32 For an example of Buber’s influence on the contemporary ecological discourse, consult Brian J. Walsh, Marianne B. Karsh, and Nik Ansell, “Trees, Forestry, and the Responsiveness of Creation,” in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge, 1996), 423–35. The most influential aspect of Buber’s philosophy was his utopian communitarianism that envisioned “a cooperative world culture emerging out of regenerated regional cultures that arise in turn out of a regenerated human spirit”; see John Clark, “A Social Ecology,” in Environmental Philosophy, ed. Zimmerman et al., 419.
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33 An excellent anthology of environmental writings that presents the various schools of environmental thinking is Zimmerman’s volume cited above.
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Copyright © 2002 Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.
Reprinted with permission

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