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A Jews Responsibility to the Environment: Nature Vs. Human

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A Jews Responsibility to the Environment: Nature vs. Human

Does Judaism address the relationship between persons and nature? Yes, the question is not whether Judaism addresses this issue, but what precisely it is that the Jewish tradition teaches. From common concepts, we know that in the Jewish religion Nature and Humans have respect for each other by following the bible. The challenge ahead of us is the common challenge of science and religion together, such as to discover and implement the means of assuring the physical survival of humanity on Earth and assuring the spiritual survival of a more humble and more modest humanity on this, G-d's earth.

The framework for Judaism's teachings on the environment emerges from the dynamic tension between two verses at the beginning of Genesis. In Genesis 1:28, G-d blesses the newly created humans, "...Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it; have dominion over...every living thing...." This apparent grant of absolute power is a basis for the extraordinary assertion that the Bible was at fault for human exploitation of nature. In Genesis 2:15, G-d takes the newly created human,"... and placed him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate it and to guard it." This verse imposes upon humans a stewardship relationship to the world in which they live.

First off, the human's right to exploit nature is severely circumscribed in the Bible. For example, one of the most essential religious institutions of Jewish civilization is the Sabbath. The central character of the Jewish Sabbath is prohibition against melacha, which is usually translated as "work", on the Sabbath day. Jewish tradition insists that the notion of melacha does not relate to the physical effort expended and to the creative result of the behavior. Rather, the Rabbis insist, the prohibition is addressed to the attempt to prevent the productive transformation of objects, whether natural or man-made. Therefore, while it may be permissible to rearrange the furniture within one's home, it would not be permissible to turn on a light switch or drive a car, etc. The point is that the essence of the prohibition against melacha on Shabbat is to teach us that the productive manipulation of the environment is not an absolute right.

Let's look at another instance of such limitation. The laws of the sabbatical year teach that not only are the powers of the individual consumed under the general rights of the community, but also that individuals do not have the right of exclusive dominance over their own property. These teachings emerge from the biblical indications that persons have a duty to allow their land to lie fallow during this entire year. Beyond which, according to rabbinic understanding of the Bible, there is no absolute right of exclusion during this year, that is, persons may enter upon the property of another in order of take growing crops which they need to sustain themselves and their families. Clearly, it's in the Torah and Jews follow these biblical indications to heart.

Such teachings come as no surprise to us, but unfortunately it did to me in the beginning because I was unaware of all of this information. The Hebrew language itself conveys the same powerful message through the absence of a single word through which the concept of absolute ownership can be conveyed. All Hebrew words, which are commonly used to express ownership, in reality, only express the notion of possession. Thus, ownership is the one powerful message in the Hebrew language that describes it.

It is not only on the symbolic plane and on the linguistic plane that the teachings of Torah address the relationship between humankind and nature. On the direct practical level, there are dozens of Torah laws, which regulate in great detail what we may and may not do to the environment. The Torah prohibits the crossbreeding of different species of animals, as it bans the transplanting of branches of differing species of fruit trees, and the intermingling of seeds in planting. For example, In Genesis 1:29, "And G-d said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food." The Torah, there and elsewhere,



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