Ecology and Religion: Ecology and Judaism
Ecology and Religion: Ecology and Judaism
ECOLOGY AND RELIGION: ECOLOGY AND JUDAISM
Judaism is rooted in two core beliefs: that God is the sole Creator of the universe and that God's will was revealed to Israel in the form of law, the Torah, as part of an eternal covenant. The dialectical relationship between the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of revelation, between nature and Torah, between what is and what ought to be, frames Jewish attitudes toward the natural world, reflecting changes over time.
Biblical cosmology envisioned an earth encompassed by a sphere of water, over which God's wind (ruah ) hovers. Although the details of the creative act remain open to interpretation and debate, the act itself was broadly understood as one of establishing boundaries, separating heavens from earth, dry land from water, animate from inanimate things, human beings from other animals. Boundary formation at creation would serve as the rationale for the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the permitted and the forbidden in the legal parts of the Bible and in post-biblical Judaism.
In rabbinic Judaism (first to sixth centuries), cosmological speculations (maʾaseh bereshit ) were regarded as esoteric lore to be divulged only to the initiated few (Mishnah Hag. 2:1). Although the rabbis debated the details of the biblical creation narrative, the dominant view was that the earth and the heavens are like "a pot with a cover." The "cover" was identified with the firmament (raqiʾa ), itself composed of water and stars of fire that coexist harmoniously (J. T. R. H. 2:5 58a), although it was believed that there were more than one firmament (Hag. 12b). The sun and the moon were believed to be situated in the second firmament, and beneath the earth there was the abyss.
In the Middle Ages, Jews reinterpreted the biblical creation narratives and rabbinic cosmological speculations in light of Greek and Hellenistic science and philosophy. Whether the world was created ex nihilo or out of a pre-existing matter was hotly debated. Moses Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135/8–1204) held that the origin of the universe was beyond the ken of human reason and remained ambiguous whether God created the world ex nihilo or out of pre-existing matter. Unlike Maimonides, Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides, 1288–1344) argued that creation out of pre-existing matter is scientifically demonstrable and is in full accord with Aristotelian science.
Like its Muslim counterpart, medieval Jewish Aristotelianism was interlaced with Neoplatonic themes. The separate intelligences were said to emanate from God and the corporeal world emanated from the celestial spheres. Many Jewish thinkers understood creation to mean emanation and depicted the universe as a hierarchical great chain of being in which each thing occupies its natural place and acts in accord with its inherent telos. Whereas the doctrine of creation emphasizes the transcendence of God and the total dependence of all created beings on God, the doctrine of emanation highlights the immanence of God, viewing the natural world as an extension (albeit most remote) of divine reality. Both transcendentalist and immanentist outlooks informed medieval Jewish thought, but one view is not necessarily more "green" or "environmentally friendly" than the other.
During the early modern period, Jewish philosophers became increasingly more interested in the flora and fauna of their natural environment, and Jewish philosophical-scientific texts abound with information about minerals, plants, and animals. Yet such information was still framed by the theological assumptions of medieval rationalism: The natural world could be understood in light of the revealed Torah since it was the blueprint of creation. Jewish thinkers were also rather slow to respond to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and most rejected Copernicus's heliocentric theory on religious grounds. While a small cadre of Jews earned doctorate degrees at European universities, especially in medicine, interest in natural sciences remained marginal among Jews. Instead, the study of halakhah (Jewish Law) and Qabbalah (Jewish mysticism) preoccupied Jewish intellectual interests, and both endeavors were textual, self-referential, and abstract.
With the onslaught of modernity and the secularization of culture, Jews began to re-examine their tradition, and many found it wanting precisely because Jewish life was divorced from nature. When Jews were granted civil rights, they flocked to the universities, excelling in the natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. Embracing science as a substitute to traditional Torah study, Jews no longer regarded the Bible as the source of truth about the physical world; cosmology now belonged to "science" rather than to "religion." As a result, Jewish philosophers no longer reflected about the origin of the universe, but instead focused on explicating the religious and existential meaning of the doctrine in relation to the doctrines of revelation and redemption.
Descriptions of Nature in Jewish Sacred Texts
The doctrine of creation facilitates an interest in the natural world that God created. The more one observes the natural world, the more one comes to revere the creator because the world manifests the presence of order and wise design in which nothing is superfluous. Psalms 19:1 expresses the point poetically: "The heavens are telling the glory of God / and the firmament proclaims his handiwork." Psalms 148 depicts all of creation as engaged in praising God and recognizing God's commanding power over nature. Nature also fears God (Ps. 68:9); it observes the relationship between God and Israel and expresses either sorrow or joy at the fortunes of the Israelites (Jl. 1:12; Am. 1:2; Jon. 3:7–9; Is. 14:7–8). In the Psalms, however, awareness of nature's orderliness, regularity, and beauty never leads to revel in nature for its own sake. Nature is never an end but always points to the divine Creator who governs and sustains nature. The emphasis on orderliness of creation explains why in Judaism one does not find glorification of wilderness and why the cultivated field is the primary model for the created universe in the Bible.
The Bible abounds with references to the natural world and figurative usage of natural elements to teach about the relationship between God and Israel. In one famous parable, fruit trees and vines willingly serve the human in ritual observance by providing oil, fruit, and wine (Jgs. 9:8–13). Conversely, nature does God's bidding when it serves to punish and destroy the people of Israel when they sin; indeed, ungodly behavior leads to ecological punishment. Since God is the sole Creator, it is God's prerogative to sustain or to destroy nature (Ps. 29:5–6; Zec. 11:1–3; Hb. 3:5–8). Nature itself becomes a witness to the covenantal relationship between Israel and God, and the ongoing drama of righteousness, chastisement, and rebuke. Mostly the Bible emphasizes divine care of all creatures: God provides food to all (Ps. 147:9), God is concerned about humans and beasts (Ps. 104:14; 145:16), and God's care is extended to animals that can be used by humans such as goats and rabbits (Ps. 104:18) as well as to lion cubs and ravens that do not serve human interest. Because God takes care of animals, they turn to God in time of need (Ps. 104: 21; 27; 147:9; Jb. 38:41).
The rabbis were concerned about the relationship between revealed morality (prescriptive law) and the laws of nature (descriptive laws), but the rabbinic corpus harbors diverse, and even conflicting, views. One theme highlights the regularity of nature and its indifference to human concerns: "nature pursues its own course" (olam ke-minhago noheg ; B.T. A. Zar. 54b). Accordingly nature is independent of the revealed Torah and the laws of nature are different from the laws of the Torah. A contrary viewpoint, however, holds that the natural world is contingent upon the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people; had they rejected the Torah, the world would have reverted to primeval chaos. The link between nature and the moral conduct of humans is expressed in yet a third view, that original natural order was perfect but suffered a radical change as a result of human original sin (B. T. Kid. 82b). A fourth view posits "the animals of the righteous" as models for human conduct. Since these animals live in perfect harmony with their Creator, humanity has much to learn from them, in terms of not only the principle of observing God's will but also specific lessons (B. T. Pes. 53b). Finally, there is a rabbinic teaching that not only do animals observe the moral laws, but all of nature is perceived as fulfilling the will of God in the performance of its normal functions (J. T. Peah 1:1).
The relationship between Torah and nature was the core of medieval philosophical speculations. Thus for Maimonides and Gersonides, God is the supreme telos of the universe, the intelligible apex of the entire cosmos accessible through philosophy and culminating in prophecy. Viewing nature itself as "wise," the goal of the medieval philosopher-scientist was to fathom the wisdom of nature in order to attain the ultimate end of human life: the knowledge of God to the extent this is possible for humans.
The notion that the Torah is the paradigmatic blueprint of nature was elaborated and radicalized in Qabbalah. Focusing on the linguistic aspect of the creative act, the qabbalists regarded the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the building blocks of the created world, whose permutations account for the diversity of nature. This approach to nature assumed magical and theurgic dimensions: The one who knows how to decode the Torah can manipulate the physical environment (hence Qabbalah was closely associated with magic, astrology, and alchemy) and even affect and impact God's inner life (namely, reunify the feminine and masculine aspects of the Godhead). While qabbalistic texts abound with symbols derived from the natural world, corporeal nature was regarded as evil to be transcended or spiritualized.
Qabbalah gave rise to Eastern-European Hasidism in the eighteenth century. Hasidic theology treated all natural phenomena as ensouled: Divine sparks enlivened all corporeal entities and not just human beings. The divine sparks sought release from their material entrapment. Through ritual activity, the Hasidic master attempted to draw closer to the divine energy, the liberation of which would result not only in the sanctification of nature but also in the redemption of reality and its return to its original, non-corporeal state. The worship of God through the spiritualization of corporeal reality (avodah ba-gashmiyut ) became a major Hasidic value.
Qabbalah and Hasidism contributed to the bookishness of Jewish culture and the alienation of traditional Jews from the natural world. With the rise of modernity, the very lack of Jewish interest in nature was cited by the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) as the reason for Jewish backwardness. Only the return to nature could modernize the Jews, enabling them to recover their lost vitality and integrate as equals into modern society. The literature of the Haskalah movement in the nineteenth century is full of descriptions of nature, emphasizing its beauty, wisdom, and moral power.
The return to nature was one of the major goals of Zionism, the Jewish secular nationalist movement that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century in response to virulent anti-Semitism. The Zionist movement succeeded in reversing the traditional Jewish lifestyle and creating a new type of Jew, one who was rooted in nature rather than in sacred texts, but Zionism also illustrates the complex relationship between Judaism and ecology. In the State of Israel, intimate familiarity with the landscape of the land of Israel, its flora and fauna, and concern for the preservation of the physical environment are popular among secular Israelis. Yet environmentalism is generally not legitimated by appeal to the religious sources of Judaism.
The creative interweaving of Judaism and ecology belongs primarily to North America. Since 1970, considered the beginning of Jewish environmentalism, Jewish scholars (first Orthodox and later Reform and Conservative) have responded to the charge that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the cause of the environmental crisis. Jewish environmentalism has raised awareness about ecological problems such as pollution of natural resources, deforestation, erosion of topsoil, the disappearance of species, climatic changes, and other ecological disasters brought about by the industrial revolution, human greed, and unbridled consumerism. The nascent literature of Jewish environmentalism has shown that Jewish sacred texts and practices express concern for the earth and its inhabitants, and that the rhythm of Jewish religious life is rooted in the cycles of nature. Since 1993, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has coordinated a broad range of educational activities and brought a distinct Jewish voice to policy making on municipal, state, and federal levels.
Legal and Ethical Positions Regarding the Environment
In Judaism, Scripture frames legal and ethical positions regarding the environment. While clearly privileging the human perspective, the Bible places on humans special responsibilities toward the environment. Only the human species is said to be created "in the image of God" (Gn. 1:26), although humans, like other animals, were fashioned from the dust of the earth to which they return at death. Creation in the image of God did not entail a license to subdue and exploit the earth, as many environmentalists erroneously charge, but the task to protect God's created world. By following divine commandments, humans can sanctify nature and endow it with religious meaning. Nature itself is not sacred or holy, but it becomes sacred when humans interact with it in the framework of observing God's commandments. Jewish environmental responsibility is exemplified in the relationship between the people of Israel and the land of Israel, the land that belongs to God but which God gave to Israel, the chosen people, as collateral of the eternal covenant.
Various land-based commandments in the Bible express the belief that God is the rightful owner of the land of Israel and the source of its fertility. The Israelites working the land are but God's tenant-farmers who are obligated to return the first portion of the land's yield to its rightful owner in order to insure the land's continued fertility and the farmer's sustenance and prosperity. Accordingly, the first sheaf of the barley harvest, the first fruit of produce, and two loaves of bread made from the new grain are to be consecrated to God.
Scripture pays special attention to trees. Leviticus 19:23 commands that, during the first three years of growth, the fruits of newly planted trees or vineyards are not to be eaten (orlah ) because they are considered to be God's property. When Israel conducts itself according to the laws of the Torah, the land is abundant and fertile, benefiting its inhabitants with the basic necessities of human life—grain, oil, and wine—but when Israel sins, the blessedness of the land declines, and it becomes desolate and inhospitable. When the alienation from God becomes egregious and injustice overtakes God's people, God removes them from the Holy Land. Thus the well-being of God's land and the moral quality of the people who live on the land are causally linked and both depend on obeying God's will.
Bal tashchit ("do not destroy")
The main legal principle of Jewish environmental ethics concerns the protection of vegetation, especially fruit-bearing trees. In war times, fruit-bearing trees must not be chopped down while a city is under siege (Dt. 20:19). This commandment is undoubtedly anthropocentric, but it indicates that the Torah recognizes the interdependence between humans and trees, on the one hand, and the capacity of humans to destroy natural things on the other. The Jewish legal tradition thus requires that one carefully weigh the ramifications of all actions and behavior for every interaction with the natural world; it also sets priorities and weighs conflicting interests and permanent modification of the environment.
Tzaʾar baʾalei hayyim ("distress of living creatures")
Although the Jewish tradition places the responsibility for management of God's creation in human hands, the tradition also recognizes the well-being of non-human species: Humans should take care of other species and be sensitive to the needs of animals. Cruelty toward animals is prohibited because it leads to other forms of cruelty. The ideal is to create a sensibility of love and kindness toward animals in order to emulate God's attribute of mercy and fill the commandment "to be Holy as I the Lord am Holy" (Lv. 19:2). Thus Deuteronomy 22:6 forbids the killing of a bird with her young because it is exceptionally cruel and because it can affect the perpetuation of the species. This commandment is one of seven commandments given to the sons of Noah and is therefore binding on all human beings, not just Jews.
The tradition prescribes particular modes of slaughter that are swift because they are performed with a sharp, clean blade. In Hasidism this principle was combined with the belief in the transmigration of souls into non-human bodies and the development of elaborate slaughtering practices designed to protect the human soul that may have transmigrated into the body of the animal about to be slaughtered. The concern for unnecessary suffering of animals is applied today to the industrial farming of animals for human consumption and with the use of animals in scientific experimentation.
Social justice and ecological well-being
The most distinctive feature of Jewish environmental legislation is the causal connection between the moral quality of human life and the vitality of God's creation. The corruption of society is closely linked to the corruption of nature. In both cases, the injustice arises from human greed and the failure of human beings to protect the original order of creation. From a Jewish perspective, the just allocation of nature's resources is indeed a religious issue of the highest order. The treatment of the marginal in society—the poor, the hungry, the widow, the orphan—must follow the principle of scriptural legislation. Thus, parts of the land's produce are to be given to those who do not own land. By observing the particular commandments, the soil itself becomes holy, and the person who obeys these commandments ensures the religio-moral purity necessary for residence in God's land.
The connection between land management, ritual, and social justice is most evident in the laws regulating the sabbatical year (shemittah ). During the sabbatical year, it is forbidden to plant, cultivate, or harvest grain, fruit, or vegetables, or even to plant in the sixth year in order to harvest during the seventh year. Crops that grow untended are not to be harvested by the landlord but are to be left ownerless (hefqer ) for all to share, including poor people and animals. The rest imposed during the sabbatical year facilitates the restoration of nutrients and the improvement of the soil, promotes diversity in plant life, and helps maintain vigorous cultivars.
In Judaism the ethics of duty are complemented by the ethics of virtue. The very virtues that rabbinic Judaism found necessary for standing in a covenantal relationship with God are the virtues that enable Jews to be the stewards of God's creation. The rabbinic tradition highlights the merits of humility (anavah ), modesty (tzniʾut ), moderation (metinut ), and mercifulness (rahmanut ), all of which are ecologically beneficial.
Important Rituals and Symbols
Ancient Israel was an agrarian society that lived in accord with seasonal rhythms and celebrated the completion of each harvest cycle by dedicating the earth's produce to God. Therefore, the Jewish tradition is rich with rituals that use natural objects and with symbolic language that is linked to natural phenomena. The rituals sanctify nature, making holy corporeal, physical reality.
Originally celebrating the end of the summer harvest and the preparation for the rainy season in the land of Israel, the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot was associated with the redemption of Israel from Egypt. In Leviticus 23:42, Israel was commanded to dwell in booths (sukkah ) for seven days so "that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt." Removed from the protection of their regular dwellings, the Israelites were compelled by the temporary booths to experience the power of God in nature more directly and become even more grateful to God's power of deliverance. The rabbis elaborated the symbolic meaning of the sukkah, viewing it as a sacred home and the locus for the divine presence. They homiletically linked the four species (citron, palm, myrtle, and willow) used to celebrate Sukkot to parts of the human body, types of people, the four patriarchs, the four matriarchs, and even God. The festival of Sukkot was concluded by yet another festival, known as Shemini Atzert (Eighth Day of Assembly), which included prayers to God to deliver rain.
Tu BʾShevat (New Year for Trees)
A post-biblical festival that illustrates how humans sanctify nature is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, which coincides with the time almond trees bloom after the period of winter dormancy. The day was celebrated as "the new year for trees" (rosh ha-shanah la-ilanot ) paralleling the birthday of the world in the month of Tishrei. During the Middle Ages, when Jews no longer dwelled in the land of Israel, the festival assumed a new symbolic meaning, with new prayers and new customs. Fruits grown in the land of Israel were eaten by Diaspora Jews, and a special set of Psalms was added to the daily liturgy. The most elaborate ritual for the festival was constructed in the sixteenth century by qabbalists, for whom the land of Israel was no longer merely a physical place but rather a spiritual reality. Modeled after the Passover service, the qabbalistic ritual for the "new year for trees" endowed it with the capacity to restore the flow of divine energy to the broken world.
The most original environmental ritual in Judaism is the Sabbath, the introduction of imposed rest on nature. On the Sabbath, humans create nothing, destroy nothing, and enjoy the bounty of the earth. Since God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath is viewed as completion of the act of creation, a celebration of human tenancy and stewardship. Sabbath teaches that humans stand not only in relation to nature but in relation to the Creator of nature. Most instructively, animals are included in the Sabbath rest (Dt. 5:13–14). There are specific cases in which it is permissible to violate the laws of the Sabbath in order to help an animal in distress. The observance of the Sabbath is a constant reminder of the deepest ethical and religious values that enable Jews to stand in a proper relationship with God.
Modern Jewish Ecological Thinking
The traditional Jewish ethics of stewardship or responsibility toward nature find an interesting advocate in the founder of modern Orthodoxy, Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888). For him nature has a theological significance because not only is nature a model for the observance of its laws, but also it places on humans its own demands or commandments. Hirsch suggested that responsibility toward non-human creatures is commanded because empathy toward them is almost impossible. Because it is impossible for humans to understand these creatures, these laws appear irrational, binding humans to the world that is alien to them. Nature is a source of religious and moral commitment.
Human religious responsibility toward nature is also emphasized by Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1903–1993), the spiritual leader of modern Jewish Orthodoxy in the twentieth century. Soloveitchik interpreted the two creation narratives in the Bible as two paradigmatic human postures toward nature. The first narrative presents "the majestic man" (Adam I) who celebrates the unique position of the human in creation. Creative, functionally oriented, and enamored of technology, Adam I aims to achieve a "dignified" existence by gaining mastery over nature. By contrast, the second creation narrative presents the "covenantal man" (Adam II), the human who was commanded "to till and tend" the earth. Adam II eschews power and control; he is a non-functional, receptive, submissive human type who yearns for a redeemed existence, which he achieves by bringing all of his actions under God's authority. The two postures exist simultaneously and remain permanently at war with each other within every religious Jew. Soloveitchik thus warned against the modern glorification of humanity (Adam I) that brought about the destruction of nature and pointed to religious commitment (Adam II) as the only response to our ecological and existential crisis.
Long before Soloveitchik, Aharon David Gordon (1856–1922), the spiritual leader of Labor Zionism, was keenly aware of the crisis of modernity and the causal connection between technology and human alienation from nature. Settling in Palestine in 1904, Gordon joined the agricultural settlements in order to create a new kind of Jewish life and Jewish person. He viewed humans as creatures of nature but warned that humans are in constant danger of losing contact with nature. For Gordon, the regeneration of humanity and of the Jewish people could come only through the return to nature and the development of a new understanding of labor as the source of genuine joy and creativity. Through physical, productive labor, humanity would become a partner of God in the process of creation. Rejecting the traditional Jewish focus on Torah study, Gordon viewed labor as a redemptive act, provided that the means humans employ are in accord with the divine order of things, that is, with nature. Gordon's "religion of labor" was a transvaluation of traditional Judaism.
Another Zionist leader, Martin Buber (1878–1965), reinterpreted traditional Jewish values in order to address the dilemmas of modern Jewish life. If the tradition understood the covenant to be law-centered, Buber insisted that the covenantal relationship culminating in revelation means a direct, non-propositional encounter with the divine presence. According to Buber, humans relate to the world either directly and unconditionally ("I-Thou") or indirectly, conditionally, and functionally ("I-It"). The "I-Thou" modality means a direct encounter that encompasses all of one's personality and treats the other as an end rather than as a means. The "I-It" relationship has a purpose outside the encounter itself and involves only a fragment of the other, not the entire person. Buber's ideas became ecologically relevant and influential because he extended the "I-Thou" relationship to an encounter with nature. In treating nature as a "Thou" rather than an "It," Buber personified natural phenomenon and recognized not only the need of humans to communicate with natural objects but also the inherent rights of nature as a "Thou" that waits to be addressed by the wholeness of one's own being.
Buber's colleague and successor as the leader of adult education in Germany, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), is considered the most influential Jewish ecological thinker. A scion of a Hasidic family who received modern university training, Heschel escaped the Nazis in Germany, eventually settling in the United States in 1944. Intent on reversing the negative impact of modernity, which some suggest led to the atrocities of the Holocaust, Heschel's ecologically-sensitive depth theology spoke of God's glory as pervading nature, leading humans to radical amazement and wonder. Heschel viewed humans as members of the cosmic community and emphasized humility as the desired posture toward the natural world. Recognizing human kinship with the visible world, Heschel celebrated God's presence within the world, but he also insisted that the divine essence is not one with nature. God is simultaneously transcendent and immanent. Heschel's ecological teachings have been translated into concrete educational programs at the Abraham Joshua Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Tel Aviv.
The attempt to anchor Jewish environmentalism in the religious sources of Judaism was one characteristic of the Jewish renewal movement from the 1970s and 1980s. Environmental activists who were born Jews found their way back to the sources of Judaism by recognizing their ecological wisdom. Founded by Ellen Bernstein, the organization Shomrei Adamah (Keepers of the Earth) popularized the idea of Jewish environmentalism, revived nature-based Jewish rituals—such as the ritual meal for the minor holiday Tu BʾShevat, and organized wilderness trips with a strong Jewish component. The most significant ecological thinker in the Jewish renewal movement is Arthur Waskow, who coined the term "eco-kosher" to highlight the connection between human mistreatment of the natural world and social mistreatment of the marginal and the weak in the society. His concern for ecology is part of a deep passion for justice, and his recommendations include the cultivation of self-control, moderation in material consumption, sustainable economic development, and communitarianism.
While Waskow's environmentalism is linked to Heschel's social activism and indebted to social ecology, another disciple of Heschel, Arthur Green, has attempted to anchor Jewish ecological thinking in Qabbalah and Hasidism, the other dimension of Heschel's legacy. Adopting the ontological schema of Qabbalah, Green maintains that all existents are in some way an expression of God and are to some extent intrinsically related to each other. From the privileged position of the human, Green derives an ethics of responsibility toward all creatures that acknowledges the differences between diverse creatures while insisting on the need to defend the legitimate place in the world of even the weakest and most threatened of creatures. For Green, a Jewish ecological ethics must be a torat hayim, namely, a set of laws and instruction that truly enhances life.
While the Jewish tradition is rich with ecological wisdom, serious challenges are still posed to the future of the nascent Jewish environmental movement. First, the well-being of the natural world is still regarded as a marginal issue on the agenda of Jewish leadership, perhaps because Jews are generally preoccupied with the protracted Israeli-Arab conflict, relations between the State of Israel and Diaspora communities, Jewish-Christian dialogue, pluralism within Judaism, and gender equality. On a grassroots level, Jewish individuals are raising environmental issues and organizing educational activities to bring the ecological insights of Judaism to the attention of Jews, but it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in capturing the imagination of most Jews. Second, there is a conceptual gap between the religious nature of the Jewish tradition and the secularist outlook of the environmental movement. Thus, while in the State of Israel there is a vibrant environmental movement, its activities are secular and not legitimated by Jewish religious sources. In America, the Jewish environmental movement that speaks in the name of the religious tradition must translate its values and sensibilities to the language of the secular environmental discourse, and in some cases, as with nature-based feminist spirituality, Jewish environmentalism stands in direct conflict with self-conscious Neopagan sensibilities. Third, Jews all over the world share the habits of a consumerist society that puts a major stress on the limited natural resources of the planet. There is no indication that Jews, as a whole, will be interested in scaling down their lifestyles and markers of social mobility that they fought so hard to obtain. Ironically, it is the return to the oldest values in Judaism that might curb human behavior harmful to the environment.
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