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Can Jewish Tenets be a Model for a More Eco-Friendly World?

November 9, 2009
By Gil Shefler
Jewish Telegraphic Agency Wire Service

Have Jews been “green” for millennia without knowing it?

A Jewish delegation made the case this week to a climate-change conference in Britain, arguing for eco-friendly measures based on the Jewish tenets of Shabbat, kashrut and shmita, the injunction to let land lie fallow every seventh year.

Titled “Many Heavens, One Earth,” the conference at Windsor Palace in Britain invited representatives of nine religions from around the world to offer their perspectives on climate change and the environment.

The proposal of the Jewish delegation, which included members from Israel, North America and Europe, stressed the environmental benefits of Shabbat, arguing that non-Jewish communities can adopt the principle of a day of rest to help cut down on pollution. 

“For the broader global community, the model of Shabbat is useful in demonstrating how to live, if only for one day a week, without consuming,” the proposal said. “If every resident in a major city chose one day of the week to refrain from driving, there would be immediate improvement to the city’s congestion, local air quality and carbon emissions.”

The proposal also included ways that Jews can be more environmentally conscious. For instance, the document urged observant Jews to consider ways of consuming more locally produced kosher food instead of products transported from afar. It also noted that the Jewish tradition of shmita is inherently green, as it helps prevent overuse of arable land, which may lead to erosion and poorer harvests.

The conference, hosted by Prince Philip, took place a month ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and was aimed at increasing pressure on world leaders to reach an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions when they meet in the Danish capital.

“The challenges that the world faces today are considerable, and this conference gave a renewed sense of hope for what is possible,” said Nigel Savage, founder of the Jewish environmental group Hazon and one of the Jewish delegates to the conference. “It is clear that a significant point has been reached in the commitment of the communities to make a difference on climate change in the next seven years.”

On Nov. 19, Hazon plans to launch a coast-to-coast, “topsy-turvy” tour of a bus powered by vegetable oil. Starting in New York, the tour aims to spread Hazon’s message of environmentalism across the United States.

Savage said the gathering at Windsor represented a unique occasion for religious leaders and activists to come together peacefully to address a burning environmental issue.

Other attendees included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa. Among the Jewish delegates were Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, former Israeli minister Rabbi Michael Melchior and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur.

Perhaps the most ambitious goal included in the Jewish proposal was to “turn Israel into the first nation predominantly powered by renewable energy sources.”

“The state is presently 70 percent powered by coal,” said Yosef Abramowitz, president of the Arava Power Company, which is building Israel’s first commercial solar field in the Negev desert. “Our recommendation is to go from 10 percent to 30 percent use of solar power, and we have a very specific way to get there.

“Everybody has not just to green their churches, synagogues and mosques, but to seal the deal at Copenhagen,” he said. “Otherwise we’re all complicit morally.”

 

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