The Interdependence of Humans and Other Species?

By Dr Ben-Zion Weiss, an experienced teacher and community educator in drama, ESOL, yoga, cross-cultural conflict, anti-racism, non-violence training, cultural ecology and meditation. His PhD research is in Social Ecology on a theory of an ecology of culture.  He teaches at UWS and consults for the NSW DET Multicultural Programs Unit.

Adam and Adamah, Earthling and Earth 

“When God created Adam, he showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: See my works, how lovely they are, how fine they are. All I have created, I created for you. Take care not to corrupt and destroy my universe, for if you destroy it, no one will come after you to put it right.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7) (from Faiths & Ecology website:

The Jewish Perspective is rooted in the relationship between Adam and Adamah, as between Earth and earthling:

The “birth” of the human race is told by the Bible as a tale of earth and breath: A lump of reddish clay (Adamah) loses the final “hei” from its name — the sound of a breath — and receives the “ruach elohim” — the Breath of God — to become adam (Human/ Earthling). Perhaps we can see the lost “hei” as the unconscious breathing through the placenta that is lost in birthing, and the ruach as the conscious, independent breath that comes soon after.   (From  accessed 13/10/08)

  • This is something that Rabbi Arthur Waskow (2000) explores in the introduction to his book: Torah of the Earth (Woodstock: Jewish Lights) from Genesis 2:5 – 7.
  • A leading figure in Jewish Renewal – the perspective that I’m speaking from as Social Ecologist from a Jewish background.
  • Organizing the 40th anniversary of the Interfaith Freedom Seder, as the executive director of the Shalom Centre.

Interfaith Seder by the Green Menorah Group (see website at on March 29, 2009, ten days before Passover, two weeks before Easter, and less than a week before the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, infusing each of these events with new energy and depth.”

Linking the 10 plagues “each of which is an ecological disaster brought on by Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, stubbornness, and addiction to his own power…The Seder will also address Ten Blessings of healing for the earth that are lifted up by the traditional prophetic passage that will this year be read on April 4: Malachi warning of a “day that will burn like a furnace” and beckoning us to draw on “the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings,” and by the Blessing of the Sun that comes in Jewish tradition every 28 years, and that will come on April 8, 2009 –- just several days after the Seder.

Forty is an iconic number in biblical tradition:

forty days of rain as the Flood began,

forty years of wandering in the Wilderness,

forty days of fasting for Moses (and then Jesus) on the mountaintop,

forty days of Lent.”

Just as this is the 40th celebration of the Earth Rise – as Our Common Home.

My talk focuses on Eco-Judaism and the influence of the Jewish Renewal Movement, which I’ve been involved in over the last few years.

My own background:

  • Orthodox Jewish Community, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
  • Became a chemical engineer – Judaism anachronistic
  • Pursued my creativity – film, TV, theatre, writing, bookshops
  • Returned to uni to study arts Drama major, French, English, Sociology, Psychology
  • Became a secondary Drama, ESL teacher
  • Became involved in conflict resolution, non-violence training, and cross cultural, anti-racism through drama education
  • Masters in Theatre Studies and Playback Theatre and Theatre Anthropology
  • Resulted in a PhD in Social Ecology and involvement in Dances of Universal Peace and Jewish Renewal

This movement has grown out of iconic figures like Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, (see website who has inspired a whole generation of Jewish people, including many rabbis and Jewish scholars and social activists in the ecology movement.  He focuses on the Jewish seasonal celebrations, as well ass Eco-Kosher as ways to develop a Jewish ecological consciousness.

I also want to address the ecological issue from the biblical perspective of Bereshith or Creation, especially the creation of the human being, Adam, who in archetypal form of Adam Kadmon, is both male and female.  There is a reference to that in the first creation story that Peta alluded to last week, where it says “male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Adam was created from Adamah, which means earth or soil in Hebrew, but is usually translated as ‘dust’ (Gen 2:7).  By examining the Hebrew we can see the relationship between us humans and the Earth, also indicated by the word ‘humus’ is very intimate indeed.  Also the word dam means blood (linked to soul) and adom means red as earth and blood.

According to Rabbi Arthur Waskow, we can deduce from this that the unconscious breath of the Earth, Adam-ah, has become the potentially conscious breath of the hu-man in Adam.  The understanding here is that the Divine is the Great Breath of the Yod-Heh-Vov-Heh, the un-namable name in Hebrew.  Breath in Hebrew is synonymous with spirit or Ruach, so we can see here a link with the Native American term Great Spirit, which I’ve heard some Australian Aboriginal people also use.

This also relates to the story of Jacob, when returning to his land fights with the angel – also occurs in the wilderness!  Through the struggle he is given the name Israel (Hebrew: Yisra-El) – he who struggles with El – the name of the ancestor/prophet, the people and the land are all connected in Israel.

The Challenge to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: “from Lynn White that appeared in Science magazine vol. 155 (March 10, 1967), pp. 1202-1207. White … traced the Christian outlook on the natural world to Biblical Judaism, summarizing the Creation story as follows: “God planned all this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”

This is a very limited understanding of Torah, based on the literal level of interpretation.  Traditionally there 4 levels known as PRDS [ see website for more info at:]

One response to this challenge comes from:

“The fullest and deepest examination of Biblical Judaism from this perspective is The Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg, an anthropological-historical analysis of how the onset of agriculture affected the worldview of ancient Israel, and how the resulting tugs between “the Tower” (Babylon, the city), and “the Mountain” (Sinai, the wild) affected not only biblical but more recent understandings of what is sacred in the world.

Eisenberg suggests that the Eden story is a tale told by West-Semites who are small hill-farmers, shepherds, or hunter-gatherers. At one level, he suggests, Eden and the Cain-Abel story are “about” the encroachment into West-Semitic lives of a great mono-crop agricultural empire, Babylonia.”

This relationship to the wild then makes more sense of the need for the Jewish mystics to go out into the wilderness to feel their connection to the Divine. As Abraham, Sarah and Hagar did, and as did all the patriarchs and matriarchs, until Moses took everyone into the wilderness and it was there that the Torah was given on top of a sacred mountain.  Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes of this in his book, Honey from the Rock, and it was this text that inspired my own journey to the centre, when I organised a Jewish Desert Dreaming Journey to the Australian central desert, where we connected with Aboriginal elders and teachers in an experience of what Uncle Bob Randall calls Kanyini ( see website at:, to commune with the Earth.

Note: KANYINI was voted “best documentary” at the London Australian Film Festival 2007 . It was also winner of the Inside Film Independent Spirit Award.

My main argument is that we humans need to develop a sense of belonging to the Earth, in order to feel the pain of the Earth at this time.  Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb explores such ideas in relation to the Shechina, the feminine manifestation of the Divine in her book, She Who Dwells Within - as does Rabbi Shefa Gold in her chanted version of The Song of Songs, which includes both Hebrew and English (see website at: Both are presenting a Jewish eco-feminist approach to the sacred texts of Judaism.

Another important figure in this story is Ellen Bernstein (2005), who wrote The Splendor of Creation, A Biblical Ecology (Cleveland: Pilgrim) Read section page 111-2 re ‘dominion over’.  She also edited in 2000 Ecology and the Jewish Spirit, where nature and the sacred meet (Woodstock: Jewish Lights).  This book is the project of Shomrei Adamah – Keepers of the Earth, a Jewish ecological group she founded in 1990.  As she says, this is “ the first organization dedicated to cultivating the ecological thinking and practices that are integral to Jewish life.”

Some of these are mentioned in Arthur Waskow’s paper (quoted above) as:

“I want to imagine a new version of the Jewish people — a new way of understanding and shaping ourselves. Imagine that we were to decide to see ourselves as having a mission, a purpose on the earth. A purpose to heal the earth — one that is not brand new but is described in the Torah as one of the great purposes of the Jewish people.

What does it mean that Shabbat is a symbol, a sign between the God of the universe and “His” once whole people? The Shabbat of Sinai comes in two different guises. In Exodus, we hear it as the moment when our restfulness connects us with the cosmic resting that imbues all of creation. In Deuteronomy, Shabbat renews the liberation of human beings and the earth.”

And the Jewish agricultural laws: p 190 (Bernstein, 2000).

Finally, I’ll mention some of the activist campaigns like the DVD Earth Spirit Action, that Ruth Rosenhek, from the Rainforest Information Centre has produced, with John Seed, Starhawk, Matthew Fox and Vandana Shiva, which addresses the need for us to develop our connections to the Earth as a living being; the locally developed list Judagaia; the climate change group called COEJL the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life. See also:

Book Reference List:

Bernstein, Ellen (2005), who wrote The Splendor of Creation, A Biblical Ecology, Cleveland: Pilgrim

(2000) Ecology and the Jewish Spirit, where nature and the sacred meet, Woodstock: Jewish Lights

Cooper, Rabbi David (1997) God is a Verb, Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism, New York: Riverhead

Douglass-Klotz, Neil (2003) The Genesis Meditations, A Shared Practice of Peace for Christians, Jews and Muslims, Wheaton: Quest

Gottlieb, (Rabbi) Lynn (1995) She Who Dwells Within, A Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism, San Francisco: Harper

Kushner, (Rabbi) Lawrence (1995) Honey from the Rock, Visions of Jewish Mystical Renewal, Woodstock: Jewish Lights

Waskow, (Rabbi) Arthur (2000) Torah of the Earth, Exploring 4000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought, Volume 1, Woodstock: Jewish Lights