The Environmentally Conscious Jewish Home
For Jewish families, caring for the environment could be part of a wider consciousness of living in a world that is a divine gift.
The second principle is that to take responsibility for our health and well being. (This is how rabbinic midrash [commentary] interprets the words "Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously" in Deuteronomy 4:9). For, example, the consumer is required to know how household products affect well being and act accordingly.
Third, as an integral part of accepting responsibility for one's wellbeing, one likewise accepts the need to think of future generations:
"One day while walking on the road he [Honi the Circle-Drawer] noticed a man planting a carob-tree. Said Honi to the man: "You know that it takes seventy years before a carob-tree bears fruit; are you so sure that you will live seventy years and eat therefrom?' 'I found this world provided with carob-trees,' the man replied. 'As my ancestors planted them for me, so I plant them for my progeny.'"(Babylonian Talmud Ta'anit 23a).
The assumption of a future means preparing one's children, (meaning the next generation) to take up the reins. Thus, in the daily recitation of the
Sh'ma, the declaration of the oneness and uniqueness of God, the Jew is told that whenever opportunity knocks--when one wakes up in the morning, when going for a daytime walk or when getting ready for bed at night -- one must "teach [the] children." Clearly implied in the Sh'mais the idea of incorporating teaching into home life.
Finally, Jewish law addresses the question of how to dispose of still usable items. This question is dealt with in the concept of bal tashhit that is, the idea of "you shall not destroy" (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). It implies, for instance, that household products of value that are no longer being used should be shared with others (especially the needy) who can use them. To destroy something is considered to be a kind of theft.
A few examples will perhaps help readers to either change or expand on their environmental consciousness. These examples (which readers will recognize as including some of the "R's" of the environmental movement) may be categorized into four groups: 1) use, 2) re-use, 3) reduction and 4) recycling.
First of all, one should look at the products found in the home. Are there safer alternatives that one may use? For example, one may use baking soda instead of scouring powder that might adversely affect one's water resources.
Newspapers make great cleaning rags for windows, mirrors, and chrome surfaces. For these cleaning jobs, one should use old newspapers instead of paper towels. While on the subject of cleaning, one may likewise effectively clean floors by using either plain boiling water or a vegetable-based floor soap. The water left from the washing is rich in plant nutrients. Once cooled, the gray water may be poured into the garden.
One must accept that there is a change in the seasons, both inside and outside of one's home. In the winter, it might be nice to walk around one's home in a short-sleeved shirt, but it is energy wasteful. One should instead put on a sweater and lower the thermostat. Surprisingly, this notion of dressing right for the weather is dealt with in Proverbs 31: 21, in the passage known as Eshet Hayilor "Woman of Valor": "She is not worried for her household because of snow, for her household is dressed in crimson.[wool]."
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