At present, there are two Jewish theological arguments on Climate Change available:
1. Tikkun Olam, To Repair the World
2. The Purification Model (Click to download CCAR Journal article)
TIKKUN OLAM, To Repair the World, has been the root theology of all Jewish Social Action for decades. In the environmental world, this theology has been invoked since the founding of the modern environmental movement in the 1960’s. In its basic form, repairing the world is a moral imperative to find and implement solutions for the problems that inflict humankind. God gave human beings the creation to tend and till, but now the creation is in terrible shape. Our Jewish responsibility is to repair the damage inflicted upon the planet.
The issue with the Tikkun Olam model is that after seventy years as the primary theology for action, it has failed to promote large scale or systemic responses. Part of the problem of the Tikkun Olam model, which has been wonderfully effective in Social Justice, is that it is a simple, straightforward process of educate, organize, advocate, and win legislation that addresses the issue. In contrast, Climate Change has no elegant solution. Climate change can only be addressed through complicated interrelated processes and solution sets that require legislation, behavior modification, and transformation of all carbon producing activities of human beings (which is just about everything, including economies).
Further, invoking Tikkun Olam for climate action disenfranchises Orthodox communities. In Orthodox theologies, Tikkun Olam is understood exclusively as removing idolatry from the world in order to repair. Social justice issues are not framed through the lens of Tikkun Olam.
However, Tikkun Olam is the best-known theology across progressive denominations in the Jewish World. The invoking of the term is immediately understood as a call to action.
THE PURIFICATION MODEL or The Biblical Temple Model starts with an assumption the entire globe has become God’s sanctuary. As such, God’s creation has become ritually impure, and just as the ancient Temple had to be purified (twice), the planet must be ritually purified. The impurities are pollution, greenhouse gases, and toxic wastes that have sullied every aspect and geological point of the planetary ecology.
The process for purification of the First Temple is presented in 1Chronicles. The recorded process involved purifying the priests, then the vessels of the Temple, and finally, the Temple itself. This three-layer process more accurately represents the complicated processes necessary to reduce the carbon footprint. People have to change their carbon-producing behaviors, the consumables they use and the food they eat must change, and then the large and expensive initiatives to ultimately stop carbon emissions must be implemented.
The first issue with the Purification Model is that it is new. (Publication of the model is set for Winter 2020 in the Reform Jewish Quarterly, the CCAR Journal.) The second issue is the use of purification as a theology, which was abandoned by the progressive movements at their founding. However, the history of the non-use of purification does not negate its use in a climate change model where every human being, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or gender preference, must be purified. Everybody must change their behaviors.