Jews must save environment


WASHINGTON (JTA) – As the energy crisis and the ominous reality of global warming loom larger in the public’s mind, there is little doubt the United States must immediately engage this issue head on. Fortunately the solution to both concerns require the same shifting of policies, the same courageous actions and the same discipline.

Carbon emissions that are destroying the earth of our children and grandchildren, and a world dependent on tyrants such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are not realities in which Jews can safely relax.

The Jewish community, which has a particular stake in this race because of Israel’s vulnerability to enemy nations whose power is derived from the flow of petrodollars, must do more.

[photo gutow align=right] Recently I sat with a group of 15 senators in Washington and presented the concerns of the Jewish community about energy and the environment. Among the key leaders on hand from leading Jewish organizations were David Harris of the American Jewish Committee and Howard Kohr of AIPAC. Harris made a presentation on Israel; Kohr presented on Iran.


The senators clearly saw climate and energy policy as a paramount concern of the day, and the responsible question is if our community is paying enough attention to these issues. Sadly, it is not.

The Jewish community is right to make Israel’s safety and thwarting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons top priorities, but energy independence and global warming are equally important in the long run and deserving of the same level of attention.


While our tradition may not favor a particular policy, it is hardly silent. Deuteronomy explicitly forbids destroying fruit-bearing trees when attacking a city. The verses ask the question: “Are the trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” Our tradition understands that trees are not able to act in their own self-defense and need even more protection than humans. The Torah and the Talmud say that Jews are not allowed to destroy or waste anything.


Unfortunately, this fundamental rabbinic mandate of “not destroying anything,” known rabbinically as “bal taschkit,” is not well known. It should be. In Psalms the Lord says that the Earth “is the Lord’s and everything that is in it.” As Jews, action in the world is a basic fabric of our theology and the most important proof of faith in God. Indeed, to be silent and dormant flies in the face of the fundamental nature of Judaism.

From a holistic standpoint there are two sides of the energy equation: We can use less oil and we must increase production of power from existing renewable sources. We must reduce our bloated energy consumption by tapping into the strength of our disciplined tradition and being more cognizant of what we consume. We must open our minds to the continuing dialogue of new and innovative solutions. We must also seek out alternative sources of energy such as wind power, solar power, bio-fuels and geothermal heat to address our current energy demands.

Investments in the use of these fuels are investments this country must make.

At home, in our synagogues and in our communities we can take substantive actions by reducing our energy footprint, making smart consumer choices, driving less and exchanging inefficient light bulbs for efficient CFL bulbs. As activists, you can make a difference by holding events, and calling and writing your senators, congressmen and other elected officials to tell them that you believe America deserves a smart, comprehensive energy policy.

We are in a battle for survival. Our physical world, our immediate and future security, even the air we breathe are at great risk. We are a people who from our history understand the need to engage. Energy conservation and reducing greenhouse emissions are not luxuries for those who just want to see a “better world,” they are necessities and an obligation we have to the world.

After all, the Earth is really not ours; it is the Lord’s and it should not be wasted or destroyed.

Discipline, innovation and investment will not wait for the next decade or even the next year – they are needed now. Buckminister Fuller, a sage though not a Talmudic one, stated: “If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”

It is our call.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Recommended from JTA