Caretakers of Creation

Question

I know Judaism emphasizes a person’s responsibility to not harm other people. What about our responsibility to the natural world — such as global warming and pollution?

2 weeks

Answers

  1. What a hot topic! According to Judaism we are definitely responsible not to cause any environmental problem, and to fix any damage we can. And if we think about it, I think it’s clear that this responsibility is really no different than our obligation not to harm other people. If we damage the environment we are really causing harm to ourselves as well since the “fallout” from such damage sooner or later affects human life as well.

    Our Sages teach that this responsibility began in the Garden of Eden. When God created Adam and Eve, He showed them all the trees in the Garden of Eden and told them, “Look at what I made — how beautiful and exquisite they are! Take care not to spoil or destroy My world because if you spoil it, there will be no one after you to repair it.” Rabbi S. R. Hirsch adds that “environmental abuse” is actually a type of theft and a crime of “treachery, murder and robbery” against God’s world.

    We find that the Sages prohibited burning wood from olive trees and grape vines on the altar. According to one opinion this was to avoid air pollution, since these types of wood burn with a great deal of smoke. (Baba Kama 82b)

    Judaism’s attitude toward protecting nature is not just for tangible results in the present; the Torah also teaches to plan preservation strategies for the future. The Talmud relates that the Sage Choni HaMe’agel was walking on the road. He saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked the man, “How long until this tree will produce fruit?” The man answered that it will take seventy years. Choni asked him, “Are you sure that you’ll still be around in seventy years?” The man replied, “Just as my fathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children.” (Ta’anit 23b)

    We see from all these sources that we must take responsibility for maintaining and preserving God’s Creation not only for the here and now, but also for the benefit of posterity. This is something that must be taken very seriously, and we are required to follow the guidance of the experts in taking practical measures of conservation and preservation to save the world from irresponsible and destructive consumption.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team