"Vayita YHVH Eloheem gan-b'eyden, mikedem, vayasem sham et-haadam asher yatzar (And ADONAI, the Creative Powers, planted
a garden in the east of Eden)." GENESIS 2: 8
"Vayika'h YHVH Eloheem et-haadam vayani'heyhu v'gan-Eyden l'avdah ul'shamrah (And ADONAI, the Creative Powers, took
the human and placed it in the garden in Eden to work in it and to watch over it)." GENESIS 2: 15
A JEWISH INDIGENOUS VIEW OF ECOLOGY
One of the BIG differences in how Indigenous peoples, including the Indigenous Tribal Judaisms, views the responsibility for
how they treat their environment is based upon their beliefs concerning their relationship towards that environment; their
place in the scheme of things.
Most Indigenous peoples; Native American Indians, Native African Tribes peoples, Australian Native Aboriginals, etc. view
the Earth as their Mother, and see a very spiritual connection between themselves and the plants, animals, minerals, both
in the earth and lying upon the earth, and the sky and its "inhabitants."
Those Jews who are steeped in the Indigenous connection between themselves and these aspects of the Indigenous are usually
Jews who have either become enstranged from Judaism, as a Tribal Religion, and are involved with Earth based religions, such
as Wiccan and Pagan, or, if they have maintained their Jewish Tribal connections, are involved with KABBALAH, and yet, do
not see themselves as "earth-based."
There is no discrepancy between being a Jew who is totally caught up in the spirituality of his or her Judaism as a Tribal
Path to God, and being a Jew who is caring about the environment and the long range effects we humans are making on our Earth
Our opening texts of our JEWISH SACRED STORY tell us that we are
to "P'ru u'revu u'milu et ha'aretz, V'KHIVSHUHA," (You will be sexually fruitful, you will increase in knowledge on the
earth, and you will be able to domesticate it, Genesis 1: 28).
This passage has been translated by those who are not
knowledgable in Hebrew syntax and thought, whose basis for purposely mistranslating this important text, (and others), is
because of a religious belief that is based upon superiority of their religion, their "race" or people, their Nationalistic
asperations and a belief in an "end time" theology that says, "I need to get mine now even if it destroys the earth in the
process. After all, soon the Messiah is coming and will destroy this earth with fire. All will be destroyed anyway. It does
not matter what I, or my company or corporation do to it."
The Hebrew Bible does not teach such nonsense! The Hebrew
Bible teaches Jews (and any others who take its words seriously) that they have a RESPONSIBILITY to treat the Earth and its
resources with respect and not to cause harm to it, especially irrepairable harm.
The law of BA'AL TASHCHIT (do not
destroy) is based upon the biblical injunction forbidding the cutting down of fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20: 19-20). Rabbi Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi, the Rebbe of Jewish Renewal, has shown how the principles of exegesis as taught by our Talmudic rabbis
expanded the concept of BA'AL TASHCHIT to include a prohibition against the destruction of the planet. "If homicide is a capital
crime, how much more so is being an accessory to planetcide?" (Paradigm Shift, pg. 270).
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in his book "Down-to-Earth Judaism" (page 121) writes: "BAL TASHCHIT - literally, "not
ruining" the earth or protection of the environment. This norm began with the Biblical prohibition against cutting down
the trees of an enemy - and then it was extended to protect all trees and other aspects of nature, and even to prohibit the
waste of furniture or other objects (recycling) in which human labor was tied to the products of the earth."
The Biblical passage so erroneously translated as to "to subdue it" (Genesis 1: 28), as though it was a God-given
right to rape, plunder and pillage the environment, should not be taken out of its context and connection with not only the
rest of the Creation Story as told in Chapter 2, but also with the glosses on the Creation Story as found in the ORAL TRADITION
as found in the Talmud and Midrash.
In the first Creation account, the creation of the human creature comes after the creation of the dirt, plants, animals
and birds. At this point the text has God saying; "Let US make humans in OUR image, after OUR likeness." The rabbis
asked the question: "To whom was God speaking?" They responded: "God was speaking to all of the previous creation.
Mankind is given two INCLINATIONS. The YETZER HATOB, the Inclination to DO GOOD, to emulate the Divine Creator; or the YETZER
HARA, the inclination to do evil, to follow the basest of the animal instincts; to be a preditor on society or to allow evil
to go uncontested as though you are a passive pastoral creature." However, at every moment, we human beings CHOOSE to
follow the inclination that we, ourselves, choose to follow. It is OUR CHOICE! NO "DEVIL MADE ME DO IT" PHILOSOPHY
HERE! In the end, no outside source causes us to make the choice to do either good or evil. We make that choice for ourselves.
The ancient 2nd century B.C.E. to 5th century C.E. rabbis who arrived at the the resolutions recorded in the Babylonian and
Jerusalem Talmuds learned from the Torah Creation Myth both ethical and moral lessons.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a it states, in reference to Genesis 1: 24-31: "Our Rabbis taught: 'The Adam
was created (as the last of beings created) on the eve of Shabbat. Why? ...So that if people's minds become (too) proud (if
they begin to view humans as the only worthwhile beings), they are reminded that the gnats preceded them in the order of creation."
In B.T. Yebamot 65b it is recorded in a Mishnah: "A man is commanded concerning the duty of propagation but not a
woman (the actual carrier of the child). Rabbi Yochanan ben Berokha, however, disagrees saying: 'Concerning both of them (Adam
and Chava [Eve]) it is said, "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful [sexual] and increase.'"
The Gemara to this Mishnah responds: "Whence is this deduced [that only the man, and not the woman, is subject to
the commandment of procreation]? Rabbi Ile'a replied in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Shimeon: 'The scripture states:
'Fill the earth and be a master to it.'"
The reasoning that the ancient Jewish Rabbis used that shows that they did not get the concept of "TO SUBDUE"
from this verse in Genesis 1: 28 (as did the later Christian exegetes), is seen from the statement of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno
(1475-1550 C.E.): "And be a master to it" this means that you protect yourself with your reason and prevent the
wild animals from entering within your boundaries and (in this way) you rule over them" (Sforno Commentary on Genesis
Rabbi Sh'lomo Yitzchaki (Rashi - 1040-1105 C.E.) writes in his commentary: "They shall take dominion (V'YIRDU) when
humanity is worthy (acting in a God-like manner towards our environment), we have dominion over the animal kingdom; when we
are not worthy (when we are acting as though we are preditors; raping, pillaging, plundering our environment), we have descended
below the level of the animals and they have dominion over us."
He also writes: "(Concerning the verse:'They shall be yours for food' - God made the human beings equal to the animals
and wild beasts in relation to food for God did not permit Adam and Chava to kill a creature and eat its flesh. Only every
green herb shall they all eat together (both humans and animals). But after the generation of Noah, God permitted the humans
to eat flesh."
Accordingly, the relationship between the first chapter of Genesis and the second chapter, is that of God as the OWNER and
MASTER (landlord) of the Earth and all that is in it, as it is God's creation, just as the pot is the creation of the potter,
and the human is designated as the WATCHMAN over the Garden that belongs to God.
In this Beginning Story, God does not allow the human beings, who are the only beings vested with both animal and God-like
abilities, to eat the flesh of animals who, like man, is both flesh and blood; it is the blood that symbolizes the LIFE GIVING
SOURCE or SOUL of the animated creatures.
Later on, after these vegetarian humans do not show compassion or ethical treatment of other living beings, God does allow
humans to eat animals for meat, but only with certain stipulations as to how they are to treat the LIFE SYMBOL - BLOOD!
Our ancient Storytellers, Prophets (Vision-bringers), Rabbis and
Sages did not view the Creation account as a mandate to exploit and abuse the environment. To the contrary! Our ancient Storytellers,
Prophets, Rabbis, and Sages considered the Earth our Mother! The first human is called ADAM because he/she (the Adam was androgenous)
was created from the DIRT-ADAMAH of the Earth. The author of the Book of Job has Job saying: "My skin is but a clod of earth"
(Job 7: 5), and "My life is a Breath" (Job 7: 7)and "I am become as DUST and ASHES" (Job 30:19). Ashes to ashes, and dust
to dust; as the old funeral saying goes, that which is from God (the Breath) returns to God; that which is of Earth (the body)
returns to Earth.
Of the Earth is who we are as physical beings, of God is who we are as spiritual beings. Together
we are ADAM. "And the Eternal Infinite Creator formed a human (ADAM) from clods of humus (ADAMAH), and blew into its nostrils
the Breath of Life (God Breath-NISHMAT CHAYYIM). Thus, the Adam became a NEFESH CHAIYAH; a LIVING BEING!
other indigenous peoples, Jews view the Sacred Stories as not about "once upon a time," but about each of us; TODAY; NOW!
The mitzvah to be sexual, to teach the next generation, and to marry was how the ancients viewed to command to "P'ru
u'revu u'milu et ha'aretz, v'khivshuha" (be fruitful and multiply (in knowledge), and fill the earth and master it). It was
not a command to pillage the Earth, but to be part of the Earth.
Now that we have mastered the Earth by filling it
with human beings, we have a responsibility not to overload the Earth with our demands, but to work WITH the Earth to see
that She is not polluted by our presence. We need to re-evaluate how we live in connection with our environment, not in opposition
The Earth will win in the end! She will allow us to destroy ourselves, if necessary, and start over again from
scratch, as She has done before.
Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Earth) Jewish Environment Group Website (LINK) click here
*A JEWISH ECOLOGICAL MOVEMENT AS EXPLAINED BY RABBI MICHAEL LERNER OF CONGREGATION BEYT TIKKUN SYNAGOGUE (a Jewish Renewal
community), San Francisco, California.*