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Tackling Climate Change: If Not Now, When?

Written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow & Joe Laur
March 27, 2015

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Joe Laur
This article was originally published on April 22, 2014 by KOLALEPH.
As a people who have endured millennia of harsh climatic and socio-political changes we join together to confront the danger of climate change. We remember that the Jewish tradition, in both Midrash (interpretation) and Kabbalah (mysticism), views the earth as a temple. We also remember that as Jews we look forward to redemption, a time when the seed of hope for a transformed society rooted in healing and justice, love and peace, is planted and blooms in every heart.
As Jews committed to Renewal, ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal, stands with Ohalah and The Shalom Center and call upon every Jew, as well as everyadam, earthling, to reflect upon the impact of climate change on this Holy Temple that is our Planet Earth, to turn and take action, large and small, toward a better future.
We recognize that climate change is a danger to our economy and ecology, and a threat to peace between nations and to our food security. Climate change is already contributing to the extinction of many species and undermining the web of life that sustains all of us. We also acknowledge that the climate crisis is both a material and a spiritual crisis, and addressing the climate crisis is the responsibility of all peoples and all religions.
The Jewish Renewal movement is part of a paradigm shift that has at its roots humanity’s realization of the unity of Life on this planet. In Jewish Renewal, we strive to see the face of God in all peoples and in all creatures, and we believe that humanity has a special role and privilege in being able to recognize the image of God in one another and within all of creation. We affirm that the fullness of God’s image includes all creatures, species and ecosystems, and that, as the Zohar teaches (3:123b), “All who wound God’s works wound God’s image.”
The burning and extraction of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and methane, and the destruction and development of critical habitat and vast forests, all contribute greatly to the climate crisis, which is commonly called global warming but which is actually a human fueled imbalance in our global climate systems. Many of the methods for extracting fossil-fuels, such as fracking, exploitation of tar sands and drilling for oil in the ocean depths, and mountaintop removal, are in themselves devastating to the environment. Scientists believe that climate change is already contributing to droughts in Australia, Russia, central Africa and the United States Corn Belt; to deadly heat waves, to more powerful and frequent tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest and to superstorms like Hurricane Sandy; to floods in Pakistan and other areas of South Asia; and to vast wildfires in the United States.
Solutions that mitigate climate change will require major shifts in our society and economic system. In the face of the daunting task of changing the course of society and civilization, we remember that Rabbi Tarfon taught, “It is not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to abstain from it.”  (Mishnah, Avot 2:21)
We, therefore, call upon the Jewish people along with all people to increase their awareness of the dangers of climate change and to increase their involvement in actions and activities to help heal and sustain our planet. We learn from Kabbalah that there are four interpenetrating worlds: the world of Spirit, the world of intellect, the world of feeling and relationship, and the physical world of manifestation. We recommend the following actions to respond to climate change in these four realms:

In the world of Spirit (Atzilut): The Torah teaches that we are all created in the image of the Divine. The Torah also teaches that the word meaning human, adam, comes from the word meaning earth or soil, adamah. We call on individuals, congregations and communities to include the healing of our planet in our prayers, and to acknowledge the inter-relationship of adam and adamah in our prayers, rituals, and celebrations of festivals and life cycles. We encourage the use of liturgies that address climate change directly.
In the world of intellect (Beriah): We call on individuals, congregations and communities to study Torah and the teachings of our ancient and modern sages that support care for the Earth and the creatures who live upon it. We encourage study of science, ecology and the environment, to learn what we can do and what we need to change in order to live in a more harmonious relationship to the Earth. We encourage individuals, congregations and communities to make environmental issues personally relevant through learning about each community’s local ecosystem, about food security, and about how energy is used and generated where they live. We call upon our members to share their creativity and the creativity of their communities in finding interesting and fun ways to address climate address and to speak out in support of the Earth.
In the world of feeling and relationship (Yetzirah): We encourage individuals, congregations and communities to explore the ways we can reconnect to the Earth, including the use of rituals from the eco-spirituality movement. We note that reconnecting to the Earth can deepen our human community and our connection with other creatures, and enlighten our relationship with God. On a more concrete level, we encourage individuals, congregations and communities to look at the relationships created by where our food comes from and where we invest our money, and to consider both using and investing in green and sustainable products and services, and, whenever possible, to move investments away from industries that engender climate change. We encourage the development and implementation of programs that support this goal.
In the physical world of action and manifestation (Assiyah): We call upon individuals, congregations and communities to reduce our carbon footprint on a daily basis by conserving energy, by using renewable sources of energy, and by recycling and reusing whenever possible. Though the effect of actions like recycling is small, it is vital to model in our own lives the changes we seek on a global scale. We also call on individuals, congregations and communities to engage their political officials, community boards, and the like, in environmental issues, including developing sustainable power and zoning for sustainable development. We support the wide dissemination of the idea of eco-Kashrut, and the implementation of new forms of certification that make sure that the products we use are grown, processed, transported, stored and sold in just and sustainable ways.

Recommendations for Individual and collaborative efforts on Climate Change
In the Talmud (Kedushin 40b), the question was posed, “Which is greater, study or action?” Rabbi Tarfon answered: “Action is greater.” Rabbi Akiva answered and said, “Study is greater.” All the others present answered and said, “Study is greater, for study leads to action.” In light of this teaching, we need to find new and creative ways to integrate study and action, and to integrate all four worlds, in the effort to stop or mitigate climate change. To this end, we recommend that a collection of “Climate Change” resources be presented on ALEPH’s website in its public repository of resources, and call on all members to contribute their offerings. We also recommend that at least once a year, a report be made to the Board and members with highlights of relevant study, advocacy and other actions and activities taken by members, supporters and allies.
We commend the following examples of work that implements the recommendations above:

Composing poetry and music such as Cantor Richard Kaplan’s Kinah L’churban Gan ( and Tamara Cohen’s Eicha for the Earth ( ) for Tisha B’Av.
Composing prayers such as Rabbi David Seidenberg’s Prayer for the Earth ( that specifically address climate change.
Developing commentaries and study resources such as Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s commentary on the second paragraph of the Sh’ma ( and Rabbi Elisheva Brenner’s syllabus on eco-Judaism (
Creating certification programs like Magen Tzedek ( and Uri L’Tzedek (
Developing investment programs like the Shalom Center’s Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet program (
Participate with interfaith groups confronting climate change, such asInterfaith Power and Light (

Published with the publisher’s permission.