COP26 as brought together global leaders to inspire climate action. There are perhaps few more pressing issues in the world today. We live in an age when biodiversity is declining as never before, and the degradation of nature over the past few decades has taken place at an unprecedented level.
Faith groups have played a key role in highlighting the calls for ambitious action on climate change. They have raised the importance of moral and ethical dimensions including accountability and equity that serve as important rallying cries alongside the technical dimensions of negotiations.
What is Judaism’s approach?
The very first act that God performs following human creation is placing man “in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” This verse indicates the importance of sustainability. We are here for but a brief moment to enjoy and benefit from the fruits of the earth. This central message then chimes well with the current importance and urgent need placed on regeneration initiatives from agriculture to reforestation.
Judaism also places supreme value on the centrality of Divine ownership. First Fruits were given to the Temple in gratitude for bountiful produce. The land is in the hands of the Divine and must rest every seven years and lie fallow. Indeed Leviticus 25:23 says: “The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the earth is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me’’, echoing the giving of Torah in Exodus 19:5 which uses the very same phrase ‘’the whole earth is Mine.’’ The prerequisite then for the receiving of the Torah is an acknowledgement that we are here as custodians of a sacred gift from The Source of Life.
Almost all modern societies are based on variations of Rousseau’s “Social Contract”. But this always focused on the present and those living today. Judaism’s equivalent is not a contract between individuals and government, but the concept of a covenant which extends responsibility to those from past generations and also to those not yet born. As we read in Deuteronomy 29:13/4: “I am making this covenant… not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day,”. All this is central to discussions on climate because of Judaism’s striking emphasis on the importance of intergenerational justice.
Nowhere is this expressed more powerfully than as in the following Talmudic story in which a sage saw an old man planting a carob tree. Enquired the sage: “This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit?” The man said to him: “It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed.” The sage questioned him further: “Is it obvious to you that you will live another seventy years? So how do you expect to benefit from this tree?” Back came the reply: “I found a fruitful world because others had planted it. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.”
As world leaders then gather in Glasgow Judaism’s message of sustainability, of Divine ownership and intergenerational justice needs to echo around the planet as never before!
Philip Goldenberg, member of the Jewish faith
Date: Monday 1st November 2021