by Howard Pasternack
In the beginning of God's creation of Heaven and Earth, the Earth was without form and empty. Later, God filled the earth with many forms of life: plants, animals, insects, fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, fungi, microorganisms, and other creatures, including humans. Among the humans, God chose a select group, the Jews, to receive God's message, and to be God's mouthpiece on Earth. Bezrat Hashem, one day everyone on Earth will understand and appreciate that it was God Who created all of the living things and their complex habitats that enable us all to live and eat and breathe here.
The question I would like to pose in this essay is this: If it is Am Yisroel's role to be the link through which the rest of humanity will ultimately come to know and worship God, and to realize that all life is His creation, then wouldn't a key part of this role be to stand up for the preservation of this awesome creation of Hashem?
Many sources talk about how man can come to know the greatness and majesty of Hashem through a love and respect for Nature and by otherwise studying His creation. Rambam, in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah (2:1-2 and 4:12) tells us that the path to the mitzvot of Ahavat Hashem and Yirat Hashem is to contemplate on God's wondrous deeds and creations, and appreciate the sublime wisdom that is the yesod, the foundation of creation. In Chovos Halevovos (Vol.1, Part 2), we learn how man can become so accustomed to the benefits of creation that he will habitually take them for granted, and fail to discern their holy Source. We also learn that it is our duty to overcome this habit by studying creation, for thereby we can learn to treasure the wisdom of the Creator.
Unfortunately, in today's world of concrete and glass and metal, of bagged salad and meat in styrofoam trays, of instant dinners and machine-mediated interaction with people and with nature, many of the miracles of creation are shielded from our view. It is difficult to appreciate what we cannot see.
In addition, as we move further away from a rural agrarian society towards an urban technological one, human beings as individuals have relinquished their direct custodianship over the land to large collective entities -- mostly corporations. Most of the food we buy in supermarkets is now grown on large "factory farms" owned by corporations. The Human face of custodianship has largely been erased. Instead, abstract faceless entities, whose dealings and decisions are frequently beyond the discernment of the general public, are the new custodians of the land. Without direct interactions with nature, and as long as nature is hidden from view, our moral link to it is lost. Our sensitivity to it is lost. Out of sight, out of mind.
So, today, how will Mankind find the inspiration to make that sublime connection, to discover God in Nature, especially if we turn Nature into a giant cesspool of toxic waste, plastic packaging, smog and extinct species? Man's impact on the Earth, on its habitability for all forms of life (including Man himself) has been highly destructive. While many areas of halacha permit some degree of destruction as long as some benefit can be gained (eg. killing animals for food), we must nonetheless question the wisdom of destroying so much that we deprive future generations of such benefit, and indeed deprive ourselves of the benefits of toxin-free air, water, soil and food.
Sensitivity and Sechel
In Rav S.R. Hirsch, Bereshis 2:15 tells us: "it is by virtue of man's moral conduct and his conscientious use of the bounties of nature that nature itself receives not only aid for its development toward its purpose, but also the conditions for its very survival. Hence our Sages juxtapose the concepts of cultivation and care with Torah and the observance of the Divine Commandments, which comprise the totality of man's purpose." Thus, Man has the power to threaten the survival of nature itself, and the continued survival of nature depends on the way that Man uses it.
We now ask: is it appropriate for a Jew to have little or no sensitivity to the harm being done to Creation, to ourselves and to future generations? In order to develop an appreciation for the magnitude of the problem, let us have a brief overview of the nezek, the damage being done to Creation. (Note: You need not simply take my word for what's happening -- do some reading yourself. Use your sechel, and sort between the hype and the science, the agendas, the lone crackpots, and the real physical measurements, the mouthpieces for interest groups and the publications in peer-reviewed journals.)
Here are just a few
examples of the damage
Bal Tashchit or Ba'al Tashchit ?
As a species, we are showing ourselves to be terribly incompetent at the "conscientious use" of nature, leading to the mess we see today.
We live in the greatest golden age in history, with many wonders never before imagined. But there is a price for this wealth and prosperity that we are beginning to finally pay ... and which our progeny will pay even more heavily. Must we be so completely insensitive to this price? It is a Torah attitude to say: "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die"?
For comparison to our current attitudes, below are examples of Torah thoughts on these matters:
"Tzadikim and elevated people of good deeds do not waste even a mustard seed in this world. They become sorrowful with every wasteful and destructive act that they see, and if they can, they use all their strength to save everything possible from destruction. But the wicked are not thus; they are like demons. They rejoice in the destruction of the world, just as they destroy themselves ... For destroying things other than those explicitly mentioned in scripture, a person should be flogged with the lashes of disobedience." - Sefer HaChinuch 529
"When the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the first man, he took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: 'See my works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are; and I created all of it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world because if you spoil it, there will be no one after you to repair it'" - Kohelet Rabba 7:13. Maharzav adds that this warning applies to all of humanity, throughout the generations, and not just to Adam.
"But whoever breaks utensils, tears garments, demolishes a building, stops up a fountain and willfully destroys food violates the prohibition of 'you shall not destroy', and shall receive lashes deRabbanan." - Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Melachim 6:10
We are to "regard things as God's property and use them with a sense of responsibility for wise human purposes. Destroy nothing! Waste nothing! Do not be avaricious!" Rav S.R. Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 56, Para. 401
"If you regard the beings beneath you as objects without rights, not perceiving God Who created them... then God's call proclaims to you: 'Do not destroy anything! Be a man! Only if you use the things around you for wise human purposes, sanctified by the word of My teaching, only then are you a man, and have the right over them which I have given to you as a man. However, if you destroy, if you ruin - at that moment you are not a man, you are an animal, and have no right to the things around you. As soon as you use them unwisely, be it the greatest or the smallest, you commit treachery against My world, you commit murder and robbery against My property, you sin against Me!' Rav S.R. Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 56, Para. 397
Bal tashchit prohibits us from wasting fuel T.B. Shabbat 67b
To teach people not to waste clothes, we must tell them that anyone who buries the dead in an expensive garment, or in too many garments, violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit, since it is better to give the garments to the poor. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 14:24
The gedolim of the generation prayed to end a famine, but failed because the generation had been unworthy to receive Divine assistance in spite of these prayers. How do we know this is the reason? Because the famine began when Rav Yehuda saw two people tossing bread around as a toy, and gave them an angry stare T.B. Taanit 24b. The meaning here is that wastefulness during times of abundance, and the attitudes behind such wastefulness, are what bring famine.
Mitzvoth bein adom l'olam
We often classify mitzvoth into bein adom l'makom and bein adom l'chavero, but there is another class that emerges upon examination: bein adom l'olam: between man and Creation. What kind of picture emerges when you look at Hashem's directives?
What is the common theme? Do not be careless about such fundamental distinctions in the world as life & death, animal and vegetable and other basic classes of creation. Show respect for life, for living things, and for our connections to God's life-giving force. Recognize the value and the holiness of creation and do not be oblivious to the natural order.
Creation is not just a commodity to be thoughtlessly exploited. Today's entire economic structure is founded on the commoditization of God's creation. Everything is treated a commodity, a unit, a thing without a soul or essence, produced in unfathomable mass quantities. Automation and mass production have made it possible to feed, clothe and house more people than before, but the system is flawed and we are beginning to pay a terrible price for this, which can undo all of the good that has been achieved.
When we say a bracha before or after eating something, we show some of the required sensitivity, recognizing that we are benefitting from God's creation. But does the bracha then become a joke when we throw half a chicken in the garbage because we neglected to re-refrigerate it after the meal? Our generation suffers from the curse of abundance: We have been lulled into believing that chicken is money, and nothing more. We routinely waste half a chicken here, a few fish there, a few pieces of cow. These animals die for nothing, to end up in a landfill, mummified with piles of disused broken plastic and metal, sealed in concrete for eternity.
Will God let it get worse?
In parshas Noach, God promised never to destroy all life on Earth again.
However, He did not promise that he would not let us destroy most of it ourselves.
Many believe that God would never let this happen. But who can honestly claim to know the mind of God? One must be careful in asserting what God will or will not allow, especially in the generation after the Shoah. If God allowed the horrors of the extermination camps and the murder of 6 million of His people, then we know that He does indeed allow terrible things on such a scale.
But we need not rely on the Shoah alone to suggest that man can destroy on a global scale. In case we need reminding, here are just a few of our "achievements" over the past century:
· The emergence of cities in Africa has created the opportunity for HIV to pass from tribal bush meat hunters to the larger population. The number of deaths from AIDS in the past 25 years has now surpassed 20 million, with 40 million currently infected globally. As the virus spreads, health care workers face greater risks and must exercise more caution to avoid exposure. A small exposed cut, a bloody nose, a manicure ... these will all eventually become objects of fear.
· Cancer causes 7 million deaths every year, 12.5% of all deaths worldwide. Most of these are completely preventable, yet the rate is rising.
· The ongoing killing in Darfur (200,000 dead so far)
· Rwanda (800,000 dead)
· All 20th Century genocides combined: 18 million dead
· World War One: 15 million dead
· World War Two: 55 million dead
· USSR: killings under Stalin: 20 million
· China: killings under Mao Tse Tung: 40 million
· Russian Civil War: 9 million dead
· Chinese civil war: 2.5 million dead
· Combined 20th century wars, genocides and political killings: well over 150 million dead.
This is the legacy of the past century: Man's ancient inclinations meet the power of modern technology. How can anyone honestly assert that more of the same cannot continue to happen?
This leaves the question: what attitude shall we take to all of this? Many say that we should have emunah in technology as our saviour. But does Torah say it's kosher to give ourselves permission to destroy wantonly, believing and trusting in technology's ability to dig ourselves out of any trouble we get into? Can a believing Jew seriously go along with society's trend of digging ourselves deeper into this hole, all the while passively counting on technology to come to the rescue?
Similarly, we must not passively wait for God to take care of it. A Jew may hope for miracles but must not rely on miracles. Rather, our purpose is to make the tough decisions that we are faced with, bringing resources to bear that are within our sphere of influence. It is not our purpose to sit back, destroy whatever we want, and say "God will save us". This is not a Torah attitude. Do not test God -- God has allowed us to destroy this much already.
Besides, counting on a technological fix is just plain silly -- the scale is too large. These problems were created over many decades of spewing by billions of people. How can we count on politicians who can barely get a pot-hole fixed, to organize the construction of some giant space mirror or a continent-sized CO2 extraction device, or a titanic grid of thousands of wind-powered electric freezers for the Antarctic? And forget about a mass exodus to another planet -- we can barely get our 20-year-old space shuttles running twice a year, and even those will explode on re-entry if a piece of foam falls on them during lift-off. Imagine evacuating billions of people, or even a million! I hear people talk about these technologies as though they are real options -- but they are outright fantasy, drawn from watching too much television.
A dilemma for this generation
Jews have generally been associated with liberal causes, but this has changed in recent years. In this generation, a collision of interests has led the political Right into a pro-Israel position, thus attracting Jewish support. Today, the political Left favours environmental protection, while the Right favours commercial interests even to the point of allowing serious environmental damage. So, Jews now have a dilemma: Supporting causes whose aim is to save the planet (which we depend on for life) means supporting and allying with people who are likely to be anti-Israel.
In certain ways, the dilemma is a false one. The fact that environmental protection is a value held more by the Left does not stop it from being a Torah value. Rather, it exists as one value among a matrix of Torah values -- including the value of protecting the lives of Jews in Israel. This is no more of a dilemma than Kashrus versus Shabbos -- there is plenty of room for both; it is merely a matter of how much of our time and resources we wish to put into each. It is a matter of weighing and balancing values that inhabit a matrix of values, which also includes health and parnassa and davening and learning and chesed and so forth. Prioritizing one's values is a common exercise. The values of protecting Israel and the capacity of the planet to support life are not mutually exclusive. One may engage in both without any loss to Torah. Indeed, protecting Israel and protecting Creation are rooted in the same core value: the value of pikuach nefesh -- saving human lives.
Nevertheless, we also cannot ignore the reality that, in the political realm, this dilemma may be very real. In voting for a candidate, we may be forced to choose between conflicting positions and conflicting values. Though it may be tempting to see one stance as all good and the other as all bad, that is not necessarily the truth. Neither the Right nor the Left reflects a complete Torah perspective on all issues. It is also not so simple to maintain that support of Israel must always triumph over environmental protection, which is still another Torah value. In certain situations, it will make sense to direct one's resources towards Israel instead of environmental protection, but one must make such a choice with the awareness of a tension between competing Torah goals. This will sometimes entail a careful investigation of the relevant issues to ensure doing justice to the breadth of Torah values. It may also call upon us to continue to push the Right on various environmental issues, even while supporting their pro-Israel stands. After all, we need not agree with the Right on every issue, in trade for their support of Israel. How much fealty do we really owe the Right on issues unrelated to Israel, such as turning a blind eye to legislation removing limits on large-scale pollution by corporations? If the political Left happened to be pro-Israel in this generation, and the Right were anti-Israel, then perhaps the Torah value of protecting Creation might not be so clouded as it is today.
Stand up and earn the Geula
There are three possible scenarios in which Moshiach will come:
1. After a time limit runs out, specifically in the year 6000 in the Hebrew calendar.
2. If our collective merit has grown so great that we have reached a high enough level to have earned Geula as a reward.
3. If our collective sin has grown so much that we have descended so low that only Moshiach can save us.
Hillel said "in a place where there are no men, be a man" (Avot 2:6). We have a Torah obligation to protect God's Creation. But if we throw up our hands, and declare that "the environment is a problem for the goyim, not for us" or give some other excuse for counting on Messianic Option #3, then we become modern-day followers of Jacob Frank. It is not a Torah attitude to announce that we're satisfied with sin and destruction as a perfectly good path to Geula.
We say the bracha "Dayan HaEmet" when a tragedy strikes, especially for incidents that are unexpected or out of our control. But this bracha becomes absurd when we have created the tragedy through our own neglect, and have had ample time to understand and prevent it. Is there a bracha for mass suicide through sheer apathy?
This is an opportunity to lead, to show our mettle. Over the next few generations, things are going to get much much worse. If we claim to be the true representatives of God, what will people say if we do nothing while Creation is ruined? Our silence on this issue, as a group, as Am Yisroel, could prove to be the biggest chilul Hashem in history.
Canfei Nesharim ("the wings of eagles") is an organisation dedicated to educating about the importance of protecting the environment from the perspective of Jewish tradition and Halacha.
The Jewish Nature Centre of Canada, Torat HaTeva provides vibrant and meaningful Jewish educational experiences that: promote ecological awareness, build community ties, encourage action towards global responsibility and stewardship (Tikkun Olam), and provide models for spiritually and ecologically sustainable Jewish living.
Your carbon footprint
Latest News on Environmental Changes:
Chemicals Within Us: http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0610/feature4/index.html
Body Burden http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden/
National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/
More upcoming studies: http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/local/16167884.htm
StatsCan to test 5,000 people for toxins: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061222.TOXIC22/TPStory/Environment
Increasing exposure to phthalate plasticizers linked to unprecedented declines in fertility rates and semen quality that have been observed in people during the 2nd half of the 20th century
Plastic: What's in it, and is it safe? http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/consumers/plastic.html
CDC study links smog with Asthma
CDC Asthma Study http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/06facts/asthma1980-2005.htm
Asthma: A Growing Epidemic http://www.ncsl.org/programs/environ/envHealth/ehasthma.htm
Asthma and the Environment: A Strategy to Protect Children http://aspe.hhs.gov/sp/asthma/appxd.pdf
Environmental triggers of Asthma http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HEC/CSEM/asthma/docs/asthma.pdf
The planet is losing species faster than at any time since 65 million years ago
Three of the four Gorilla sub-species expected to be extinct within a decade
Sewage Sludge as Fertilizer
Researchers Link Increased Risk Of Illness To Sewage Sludge Used As Fertilizer
Long-term effects of metals in sewage sludge on soils, microorganisms and plants,
Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology
Sewage sludge legal to use as fertilizer on crops
E. coli O157:H7 and the Spinach Scare http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/FST-19.pdf
Simple change in cattle diets could cut E. coli infection, USDA and Cornell scientists report
THE EFFECT OF DIET ON E. COLI 0157:H7 IN CATTLE
Pre-harvest factors influencing the acid resistance of Escherichia coli and E. coli O157:H7
World Cancer Rates: http://www-dep.iarc.fr/
Summary of World Cancer Report http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/print.html
NASA - Small-Scale Logging Leads to Clear-cutting in Brazilian Amazon
Boreal Forest soils absorb Mercury pollution, and so clear-cutting frees the trapped mercury to run into lakes http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2003/may/science/be_mercury.html
Deforestation Threatens Canada's Boreal Plains http://www.ec.gc.ca/science/sandemay02/article4_e.html
Chicken, poultry in factory faming
Over 70 percent of all broiler chickens grown in the U.S. are fed "roxarsone", a form of Arsenic used to kill intestinal parasites called "coccidia" http://scienceline.org/2006/09/20/env-wenner-arsenic/
Undercooked turkeys can harbour superbugs http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6820&print=true
Antibiotic Resistance: Playing Chicken With Essential Drugs
How chickens are really treated at the megafarms you get your eggs from:
De-beaking of chickens http://www.hsus.org/farm/multimedia/gallery/layers/debeaking.html
Hormones in beef
Why Europe has banned the use of hormones in beef
Accidental gynecomastia in children http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=14156671
Impact of exogenous estrogens http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/12/4/341
Freakshow meat on your table in 5 years
grow edible meat in culture from a few animal cells http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3302/05.html
Lab-grown steaks nearing the menu http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3208&print=true
Test-Tube T-Bones on the Horizon http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,druck-373796,00.html
meat grown on kitchen counter http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2006/03/27/lab-meat-200602.html
Test Tube Meat Nears Dinner Table http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,71201-0.html?tw=wn_technology_2
Millions Against Monsanto http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm
Monsanto bullys farmers via lawsuits into accepting GM seeds
Monsanto sues farm for raising dairy cows hormone-free, and for saying so on their milk packaging
Monsanto's GE Crops Spawn Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in North Carolina
20 questions on genetically modified foods http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/
Genetically Modified Foods:Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?
Canadians are Guinea Pigs: Biologist http://home.intekom.com/tm_info/rw10208.htm#10
'Superweeds' invade farm fields; Canola plants are almost pesticide-proof, experts say
GMO Technology a gentle genie or a tyrant?
Plant bacterium used in GM foods can transfer plant tumors to humans
American long-grain rice has become widely contaminated with genes from an experimental, gene-altered rice
Antibacterial soaps in soil
Antibacterial Soap ends up in sewage sludge that is spread on farm fields across the country
Mercury and other airborne toxins released from burning coal
Coal-fired power plants are the nations largest source of mercury air emissions
A better use for coal than burning it http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html
How Air Pollution from Power Plants Threatens the Health of Americas Children
Mercury in Fish
Advisory for Kosher Consumers http://fn.cfs.purdue.edu/fish4health/FishAdvisory%20Kosher%2006.PDF
Mercury warnings for NY State http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/fish/fishregs/fishhealthadv.html
Mercury and Fatty Acids in Canned Tuna, Salmon, and Mackerel
Transgenic Fish Coming http://www.i-sis.org.uk/TFC.php "Transgenic tilapia, modified with pig growth-hormone, were three times larger than their non transgenic siblings."
The Coming of Biotech Animals http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2001/101_fish.html
Transgenic fish could threaten wild populations http://www.purdue.edu/UNS/html4ever/0002.Muir.trojan.html
Careful risk assessment needed to evaluate transgenic fish http://calag.ucop.edu/0603JAS/pdfs/BiotechFish.pdf
Cancer Promoting Transgenic Rice http://www.i-sis.org.uk/CPTR.php
Bayer's herbicide-resistant "Liberty Link" Rice escapes, creating Superweeds
Monsanto & Gene Giants Spread Genetic Pollution http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/pollution.cfm
American long-grain rice has
become widely contaminated with genes from an
experimental, gene-altered rice
Miracle Drugs vs. Superbugs: Preserving The Usefulness Of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are losing their punch as microbes learn to resist them
Acquisition of easy transmissability to humans
H5N1 emerges in high-density industrial-scale poultry farms
Surveillance, prevention and
disease management of Avian Influenza in the EU
2006 was the international year of desertification http://www.iydd.org/
(happens to be the 1st UN event ever held in Israel http://www.iydd.org/documents/iydd_docs/Israelconferencenov2006.pdf)
Teflon, PTFE nonstick coatings
Damaged Ozone Layer and increase of UV rays
Climate modelling: Measurements and assumptions, evidence and inference
Penetration of Human-Induced
Warming into the World's Oceans
Warming the World's Oceans
Behind the Hockey Stick
Climate change: 'One degree
and we're done for'
Is the hydrologic cycle
Global Hydrological Cycle
with Global Warming
contribution to the 19002000 global surface warming
Why it's necessary to look
at real, empirical observations and not just computer
Global Warming Discussion on Scientific American site
Sea level rise:
Sea Level May Rise 40
Percent Higher Than Predicted
Sea Level and Climate http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs2-00/
Images of what the
coastlines would look like after various amounts of water
Algae gone wild