Adapting Jewish sources to the topics and issues of Climate Change is a challenge. Climate change is a recent phenomenon, with no similar constructions to draw upon from the past. Our ancestors did not know the term שינוי אקלים (shinui aklim) climate change, because it did not exist.
What were primary concerns for social action such as ecology, pollution, and environment have been subsumed under the banner of climate change for good reason. In past years, there have been calls to save the polar bear, but in the new paradigm of active, fast-paced climate change, saving the polar bear means saving the arctic, which means ceasing to burn fossil fuels and turning away from other carbon-producing behaviors. As in decades past, saving the polar bears still means protecting the Arctic National Refuge from . . . fossil fuel drilling.
Further, the concept of environmental justice is relatively new in the Jewish world. Disproportionate amounts of energy infrastructure are located in poor and vulnerable neighborhoods. The pollution is devastating, with increased levels of cancer, respiratory ailments, and other medical conditions over long periods of exposure. These neighborhoods under siege are mostly inhabited by people of color from low- and moderate-income households. Who will speak for them if we do not?
Still, the Jewish tradition is rich and replete with possibilities.
God call the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas. Then God saw that this was good.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; make and female He created them. God Blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”
Adonai God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till and tend it.
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky – everything with which the earth teems – and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.
When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Adonai. Six years you may sow your field and and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of Adonai: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce – you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.
But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a human, to come away from in the siege?
The earth is withered, sear;
The world languishes, it is sear;
The most exalted people of the earth languish.
For the earth was defiled
Under its inhabitants;
Because they transgressed teachings,
Broke the ancient covenant.
That is why a curse consumes the earth,
And its inhabitants pay the penalty’
That is why earth’s dwellers have dwindled,
And but few men are left.
The arid desert shall be glad,
The wilderness shall rejoice
And shall blossom like a rose
It shall blossom abundantly,
It shall also exult and shout.
It shall receive the glory of Lebanon,
The splendor of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall behold the glory of Adonai,
The splendor of our God.
I brought you to this country of farmland
To enjoy its fruit and its bounty;
But you came and defiled My land,
You made My possession abhorrent.
You have made him master over Your handiwork,
laying the world at his feet,
sheep and oxen, all of them,
and wild beasts, too;
the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea,
whatever travels the paths of the seas.
The earth is Adonai’s and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants.
For Mine is every animal of the forest,
the beasts on a thousand mountains
I know every bird of the mountains,
the creatures of the field are subject to Me.
Were I hungry, I would not tell you,
for Mine is the world and all it holds.
Those who live at the ends of the earth are awed by Your signs;
You make the land of sunrise and sunset shout for joy.
You take care of the earth and irrigate it;
You enrich it greatly,
with the channel of God full of water;
You provide grain for men;
for so doing You prepare it.
Soaking its furrows,
leveling its ridges,
You soften it with showers,
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your bounty;
fatness is distilled in Your paths;
the pasturelands distill it;
the hills are girded with joy.
The heaven is Yours,
the earth too;
the world and all it holds–
You established them.
In His and are the depths of the earth;
the peaks of the mountains are His.
His is the sea, He made it;
and the land, which His hands fashioned
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult;
let the sea and all within it thunder,
the fields and everything in them exult;
then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy. . .
Let the sea and all within it thunder,
the world and its inhabitants;
let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains sing for joyously together. . .
He turns the rivers into a wilderness,
springs of water into thirsty land,
fruitful land into a salt marsh,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
The heavens belong to Adonai
but the earth He gave over to man.
A righteous man knows the needs of his beast,
But the compassion of the wicked is cruelty.
There is hope for a tree;
If it is cut down it will renew itself;
Its shoots will not cease.
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you,
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you.
Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this?
You alone are Adonai. You made the heavens, the highest heavens, and all their host, the earth and everything upon it, the seas and everything in them. You keep them all alive, and the host of heaven prostrate themselves before you.
If you would like to see these Bible verses used in a religious setting, check out Steve Jurovic’s “Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change.” Available on Amazon. (Full disclosure: Steve is a member of North Caroline IPL and his wife is a rabbi.)
Rabbi Zutra said: He who covers an oil lamp or who uncovers a kerosene lamp for no purpose violates the prohibition of bal tashlich, wastefulness. Do not destroy, since by doing so the fuel burns more quickly.
Pirke Avot 2.21
Rabbi Tarfon says; The day is short, and the task is great, and the workers are sluggish, and the wages are high, and the Master of the house is pressing.
Ecclesiastes Rabba 13.1
When the Holy One, Blessed be He created the first man, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, ‘Behold My works, how beautiful and commendable they are! All that I have created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and destroy My universe; for it you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.