The foundation of the Jewish relationship with the environment stems from Genesis 2:15 which states: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”
Later rabbinic commentary on that verse adds detail to God’s instructions to Adam: “Look at My works! How beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And everything I made, I created for you. Be careful [though] that you don’t spoil or destroy my world—because if you spoil it, there is nobody after you to fix it.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). As modern stewards of creation we too must be especially careful not no destroy this earth beyond repair.
Insight from tradition
Jewish tradition emphasizes many additional values speaking to our nation’s need for energy policies that are environmentally responsible and that pay due attention to the public health and safety of both present and future generations. Humankind has a solemn obligation to improve the world for future generations.
Among the many insightful Jewish environmental quotes and ancient teachings, these are some of the most poetic texts dealing with environmental integrity and eco-justice:
Rabbi Pini Hecht from Cape Town’s Marais Road Shul (left) does a reading at SAFCEI’s multi-faith prayer vigil outside Parliament, 2018.
Image © SAFCEI.
Genesis 9:9-10: “Behold, I establish my Covenant with you, with your children after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle and of every wild animal of the earth with you.”
Psalm 33:5: “God loves righteousness and justice; the Earth is full of God’s loving-kindness.”
Rabbi Isaac b.Sheshet, Resp. 196, 14thc: “One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.”
Genesis Rabah 10:7, Shabbat 77b, and Exodus Rabah 10:1. “Of all the things God created, nothing was created in vain — not even the things you may think unnecessary, such as spiders, frogs or snakes. All beings are part of the greater scheme of creation of the world.”
The principle of pikuach nefesh – saving lives above all else – is the greatest Jewish moral obligation. In order to fulfill this obligation we must do everything in our power to protect the environment as a vehicle for saving the lives of millions of humans and diverse species worldwide, especially those unable to adapt to a changing climate.
“It is not required of you to complete the task but neither are you free to desist from it”