Nature & the Environment 101

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In its legal culture as well as its ethical literature, Judaism takes note of the need to care for the natural environment. Jewish law forbids the wanton destruction of natural resources, taking its cue from a biblical prohibition against cutting down fruit trees in the course of laying siege to a city in warfare. The biblical law of a sabbatical year every seventh year, during which all land lies fallow, may also be an embodiment of an insight about environmental sustainability.

Contemporary Concerns

Jewish sources offer insights for policy making on issues of contemporary concern. Jewish law displays a concern for the integrity of species, for example, and it offers a model of land use policy that integrates green space into urban design. The environmentally aware Jewish home is one in which Shabbat becomes a model for relating to the environment in a less coldly instrumental way, and holidays and other observances are undertaken with care for their environmental impact.

Environmentally conscious Jewish living is not a new concept. A popular medieval pietistic work, Sefer Hasidim, asserts that righteous persons grieve when even a single mustard seed is wasted. Today's Jewish environmental activists argue that we need not institute a rigorous "mustard seed test" to discern that Jewish families and communities have a long way to go before the tradition's insights into the need to protect the fragile and splendid natural environment are embodied in practice.

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