Answers

  1. The idea you suggest was promoted by Arnold Toynbee whose superficial reading of the Torah and ignorance of other traditional Jewish sources brought him to the erroneous conclusion that the Bible is the cause of human exploitation of nature. This group even advocated pagan deification of nature in an attempt to teach mankind to respect the environment.

    This alleged license to dominate and subdue the earth is qualified in the very next chapter of the Torah as a mandate to guard and protect the world: “And God took man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). The Torah attitude is not to conquer the world by raping and destroying its resources, but rather to both permit and require: cultivation with concern, progress with restraint, growth with conservation and technology with preservation.

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch describes the magnitude of this mandate in no uncertain terms: “‘Do not destroy anything!’ is the first and most general call of God, which comes to you….If you regard the beings beneath you as objects without rights, not perceiving God Who created them…you have no right to the things around you….If you use them unwisely, you commit treachery against My world, you commit murder and robbery against My property….With this call He represents the greatest and the smallest against you and grants the greatest and the smallest a right against your presumptuousness” (Horeb, London: Soncino Press, 1962, ch. 56, #397).

    The Jewish Scriptures, so full of references to nature and its sublime grandeur, inspire respect and appreciation for the environment. In fact, Maimonides declares that meditating on nature is a main way to fulfill the commandment to “love God with all your heart” (Mishne Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:2). Both of these ideas are behind the Jewish practice to pronounce blessings over natural phenomena such as a rainbow, lightning, shooting stars, the first blossoms of a tree, and many more. In addition, Jewish law provides comprehensive legislation on issues such as preservation, conservation, animal welfare, species preservation, sanitation and pollution.

    The number of sources that deal with environmental issues is vast, but here are a few:

    Preservation: The Torah’s emphasis on preservation of the environment is perhaps most apparent in its emphatic opposition to waste. In Sefer HaChinuch, Rabbi Aaron HaLevi of Barcelona writes, “This is the way of pious and elevated people…they will not waste even a mustard seed, and they are distressed at every ruination and spoilage they see, and if they are able to save, they will save anything from destruction with all of their power…Every person is obligated to master his inclinations and conquer his desires” (Sefer HaChinuch 529).

    Conservation: Shabbat is a weekly rest for people, animals and the natural world. This weekly rest culminates in shemita, when all fields lie fallow for an entire year, bringing rest and rejuvenation to the earth. The Torah also orders the preservation of green belts around cities: “You shall measure from outside the city two thousand cubits on the eastern side, two thousand cubits on the southern side, two thousand cubits on the western side, and two thousand cubits on the northern side, with the city in the middle; this shall be your cities’ open spaces” (Numbers 35:5).

    Animal Welfare and Species Preservation: There are many commandments regarding animal welfare, such as feeding animals before the owner eats, preserving their health, alleviating their work load and more. In addition, Nachmanides suggests that prohibitions such as mixing species (kilayim), slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day, taking the mother bird together with the eggs and castration are to ensure the preservation of all species (Lev. 19:19, Deut. 22:6). In fact, these laws against grafting

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team