Traditional Jewish Teachings on Nature and the Environment

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Rabbinic law also innovated environmental legislation of other sorts.  Civic concerns alone, without wider ecological considerations, were sufficient, to make the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud promulgate laws requiring safe waste disposal, the location of what today would be called industrial zones at a distance from settled areas, and the provision of open spaces at the periphery of towns.

Environmental considerations may also underlie the institution of a sabbatical year. The Torah, as understood by the Jewish tradition, requires that every seventh year, Jews farming in the Land of Israel let their land lie fallow and that debts (incurred in biblical times by farmers when crops were insufficient) be forgiven. After seven sabbatical cycles, a Jubilee year is to be observed, during which all non-urban landholdings revert to their original owners or their heirs. These laws provide a mechanism for leveling differences of wealth in society: in addition, they seem to embody a legal principle that the earth is owned not by its human occupants but by its Creator. In the words of Leviticus 25:23, which provide a motivating clause for the preceding sabbatical and jubilee laws: “for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.”

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