Jewish Response

Jewish teachings on the environment/ecology

The Talmudic sages assert that it is the role of humanity to enhance the world as “co-partners of God in the work of creation.” The theme is illustrated in a Midrash, a moral tale based on Biblical events and values:

In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He,created the first man,He took him and let him pass before all the trees ofthe Garden of Eden and said to him:”See my works, how fine and excellent they are!Now all that I have created, for you have I created?Think upon this and do not corrupt and desolate My world,
For if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.”

The central Jewish teaching on the environment is expressed in Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The land is not ours, it is the Lord’s, and we hold it subject to Divine law.

Hence the basic Jewish concept is that everything belongs to God. We are to be stewards of the earth, to see that its produce is available for all God’s children. Land is a sacred trust given by God, and people therefore have custodial care of the earth. The Judaic tradition insists that we believe this is God’s world and not our own. As Rabbi Daniel Swartz says, “to take seriously the notion that we are but leasing the planet from God is to provide ourselves with specific behavioural guidelines. One who leases is called, in general, a shomer, usually translated as guardian. The specific type of lease we have on Earth is that of a sho’el, a borrower. Borrowers may use any part of what they borrow- but they must ensure that at the end of the term of the lease, and at any given moment during the lease, the property is at least as valuable as it was at the beginning of the lease.”

The Talmud therefore prescribed detailed regulations for preserving the environment and preventing pollution.

Josie Lacey OAM, June 2003