Judaism: beliefs about care of the planet
The relationship between human beings and the earth is increasingly complicated and urgent. Every day there are stories about pollution, global warming and animal species facing extinction. Religion is responding with views on the enviroment and our responsibility for it.
Although human beings are seen as the most intelligent life form on earth, they are responsible for almost all the damage done to the planet. If we imagined the earth is aged 46, all the damage done has taken place in the last 60 seconds of the earth's life.
Jews believe that the one G-d whom they worship created the heavens and earth and all forms of life in the six days of creation. Jewish teaching about caring for the environment comes from the Bible:
Then G-d said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' … G-d blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'
Genesis 1:26 and 28
Because of this passage, people see themselves as being responsible for the world which G-d created and they have to make their own decisions about how to do this.
The Jewish Scriptures do not have a lot to say about the environment. In the Torah (major Jewish prayer) the Jews were told to rest the land once every 50 years so that it would produce more in the future (Leviticus 25:8-11). They were also ordered not to destroy trees when they were attacking a city:
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people that you should besiege them?
Respect for trees is also shown in the annual festival of Tu B’Shevat (New Year for Trees), which takes place on fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shevat. This has been particularly important since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 as Israelis have tried to reclaim the desert by planting trees.
Every year, at the New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah, Jews give thanks to G-d for the creation of the world because, although humanity has the role of steward, the Tenakh (the collected 24 books of the Jewish Bible) shows that the earth is still G-d’s possession:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
Jews should also show respect to animals:
You shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing.
The righteous one knows [the needs of] his animal’s soul.
In the Assisi Declarations of1986 Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg said that:
When the whole world is in peril, when the environment is in danger of being poisoned and various species, both plant and animal are becoming extinct... it is our Jewish responsibility to put the defence of the whole of nature at the very centre of our concern… The encounter of G-d and man in nature is thus conceived in Judaism as a seamless web with man as the leader and custodian of the natural world.
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