The Original “Green New Deal”

Question

Doesn’t the verse “…Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it; have dominion over…every living thing….” (Genesis 1:28) seem to teach disrespect and egocentric insensitivity to the environment. What is Judaism’s attitude to environmental issues?

6 months

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 with 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’s attitude is not to conquer the world by raping and destroying its resources, but rather to 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.”

    The Torah, with countless references to nature and its sublime grandeur, inspires respect and appreciation for the environment. Maimonides declares that meditating on nature is a main way to fulfill the commandment to “Love God with all your heart.”

    Accordingly, we can understand why it is widespread Jewish practice to say 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 environmental issues, such as preservation, conservation, animal welfare, species preservation, sanitation and pollution.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team