Home » Religion » Judaism » Here

Sacred Texts

Judaism Sacred Texts

1. Introduction to Textual Resources

The Jewish tradition is more than 5,000 years old and exists in hundreds of different cultures. Although it is impossible to represent the full diversity of this tradition in such a small space on this website, we have selected a few Biblical texts that speak about important aspects of the divine-human-nature relationships.

Resources in this section contain frequently cited biblical and nonbiblical materials as well as contemporary materials and special papers on related topics. It is important, however, to remember that single, stand-alone texts* will not adequately address any tradition’s knowledge of divine-human-nature relations. Additionally, although several rich and not entirely consistent scriptural passages have been cited in this section, quoting a few biblical passages either tends to narrow, if not preempt, the religion-ecology discussion through the proof-texting of “God’s word,” or it barely begins to open up thoughtful deliberation regarding helpful and ambiguous scriptural resources available to Jewish communities around the world. Ultimately individual passages are not very helpful in answering the question, “What does the Bible say about environmental responsibility?,” because they are taken out of the context of the full range of biblical materials, as well as out of the contemporary context in which scholars are working. In the Jewish tradition, more than three decades of focused scholarly attention on the topic of religion and ecology has produced a wealth of commentary and constructive scholarship that, seen in the context of today’s eco-justice crisis, is much more likely to stimulate truly significant theological reflection and ethical discourse in this area than is the aforementioned tendency toward proof-texting. It is for this purpose that visitors are encouraged to read the special papers posted in this section.**

It is our hope that this section will stimulate fresher and more nuanced discussions of what the Jewish tradition has to say about ecology and the human vocation in faithful relation to God.

* The individual passages provided here are intended to give you a glimpse of some of this tradition’s thinking on the divine-human-nature relationship but it is not, by any means, a complete or exhaustive inventory of cultural or denominational representations in this tradition. There has been a range of responses to these topics. Some scholars have noted that certain passages are anthropocentric and hierarchical. Please note the range of scholars listed in the bibliography section who have commented on many of these passages.

** For a more comprehensive examination of specific biblical resources that address an environmental ethic, please see Richard Hier’s paper, “Reverence for Life and Environmental Ethics in Biblical Law and Covenant,” listed in this section.

 

2. Traditional Resources

A. Biblical Resources


Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Genesis

Gen 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.


Gen 1-2:2-23

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkenss. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters,” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth. And it was so. God made the two great lights the greater light to rule the night and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So god created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every king, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping things that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it god rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground of the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”


Gen 8:18-9:7

So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.”

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind.
And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.


Gen 9:9-17

As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendents after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Exodus

Exod 21:28-32

When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave-owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Leviticus


Lev 26:2-4, 14-16, 19-20

You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.

If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit (Lev 26:2-4).

But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant, I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. You shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it (Lev 26:14-16).

I will break your proud glory, and I will make your sky like iron and your earth like copper. Your strength shall be spent to no purpose: your land shall not yield its produce, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit (Lev 26:19-20).

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Deuteronomy

Deut 22:1-4

You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.

 

Deut 22:6-7

If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.

Deut 22:10

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

 

Deut 25:4

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Job

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the animals, and they
          will teach you;
     the birds of the air, and they
           will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and
          they will teach you;
     and the fish of sea will
          declare to you.
Who among all these does not
          know
     that the hand of the Lord has
          done this?
In his hand is the life of every
          living thing
     and the breath of every human
          being.

 

 

Job 38:1, 4-41 [see also Job 39, 40, 41]

Then the Lord ansered Job out of the whirlwind; . . .

“Where were you when I laid the
          foundation of the earth?
     Tell me, if you have
          understanding.
Who determined its
          measurements surely you
          know!
     Or who stretched the line upon
          it?
On what were its bases sunk,
     or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang
          together
     and all the havenly beings
          shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with
          doors
     when it burst out from the
          womb?
when I made the clouds its
          garment,
     and thick darkness its swaddling
          band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
     and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you
          come, and no farther,
     and here shall your proud waves
          be stopped?’

“Have you commanded the
          morning since your days
          began,
     and caused the dawn to know
          its place,
so that it might take hold of the
          skirts of the earth,
     and the wicked be shaken out of
          it?
It is changed like clay under the
          seal,
     and it is dyed like a garmet.
Light is withheld from the
          wicked,
     and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the
          springs of the sea,
     or walked in the recesses of the
          deep?
Have the gates of death been
          revealed to you,
     or have you seen the gates of
          deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the
          expanse of the earth?
     Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling
          of light,
     and where is the place of
          darkness,
that you may take it to its
          territory
     and that you may discern the
          paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were
          born then,
     and the number of your days is
          great!

“Have you entered the storehouses
          of the snow,
     or have you seen the
          storehouses of the hail,
     which I have reserved for the time
          of trouble,
     for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place
          where the light is
          distributed,
     or where the east wind is
          scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cut a channel for the
          torrents of rain,
     and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no
          one lives,
     on the desert, which is empty of
          human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate
          land,
     and to make the ground put
          forth grass?

“Has the rain a father,
     or who has begotten the drops
          of dew?
From whose womb did the ice
          come forth,
     and who has given birth to the
          hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like
          stone,
     and the face of the deep is
          frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the
          Pleiades,
     or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth
          in their season,
     or can you guide the Bear with
          its children?
Do you know the ordinances of
          the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on
          the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the
          clouds,
     so that a flood of waters may
          cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so
          that they may go
     and say to you, ‘Here we are?’
Who has put wisdom in the
          inward parts,
     or given understanding to the
          mind?
Who has the wisdom to number
          the clouds?
     Or who can tilt the waterskins
          of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
     and the clods cling together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the
          lion,
     or satisfy the appetite of the
          young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
     or lie in wait in their cover?
Who provides for the raven its
          prey,
     when its young ones cry to
          God,
and wander about for lack of
          food?

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Psalms

Ps 8:3=9

When I look at your heavens, the
          work of your fingers,
     the moon and the stars that you
          have established;
     what are human beings that you
          are mindful of them,
     mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little
          lower than God,
     and crowned them with glory
          and honor.
You have given them dominion
          over the works of your
          hands;
     you have put all things under
          their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
     and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of
          the sea,
     whatever passes along the paths
          of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all
          the earth!

 

 

Ps 36:6

Your righteousness is like the
          mighty mountains,
     your judgments are like the
          great deep;
you save humans and animals
          alike, O Lord.

 

Ps 104:5-30

You [God] set the earth on its
          foundations,
     so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as
               with a garment;
     the waters stood above the
          mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
     at the sound of your thunder
          they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains,
          ran down to the valleys
     to the place that you appointed
          for them.
You set a boundary that they may
          not pass,
     so that they might not again
          cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in
          the valleys;
     they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
     the wild asses quench their
          thirst.
By the streams the birds of the
          air have their habitation;
     they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water
          the mountains;
     the earth is satisfied with the
          fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for
          the cattle,
     and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
     and wine to gladden the human
          heart,
oil to make the face shine,
     and bread to strengthen the
          human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered
          abundantly,
     the cedars of Lebanon that he
          planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
     the stork has its home in the fir
          trees.
The high mountains are for the
          wild goats;
     the rocks are a refuge for the
          coneys.
You have made the moon to mark
          the seasons;
     the sun knows its time for
          setting.
You make darkness, and it is
          night,
     when all the animals of the
          forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their
          prey,
     seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw
     and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work
     and to their labor until the
          evening.

O Lord, how mainfold are your
          works!
     In wisdom you have made
          them all;
     the earth is full of your
          creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
     creeping things innumerable are
          there,
     living things both small and
          great.
There go the ships,
     and the Leviathan that you formed
          to sport in it.

These all look to you
     to give them their food in due
          season;
when you give to them, they
          gather it up;
     when you open your hand, they
          are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are
          dismayed;
     when you take away their
          breath, they die
     and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit,
          they are created;
     and you renew the face of the
          ground.

 

 

Ps 136:4-9

who alone does great wonders,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;
who by understanding made the
          heavens,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;
who spread out the earth on the
          waters,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;
who made the great lights,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;
the moon and stars to rule over
          the night,
     for his steadfast love endures
          forever;

 

 

Ps 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
     praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
     praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
     praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
     and you waters above the
          heavens!

Let them praise the name of
          the Lord,
     for he commanded and they
          were created.
He established them forever
          and ever;
     he fixed their bounds, which
          cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
     you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling his
          command!

Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
     creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
     princes and all rulers of the
          earth!
Young men and women alike,
     old and young together!

Let them praise the name of
          the Lord,
     for his name alone is exalted;
     his glory is above earth and
          heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his
          people,
     praise for all his faithful,
     for the people of Israel who are
          close to him.
Praise the Lord!

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Proverbs

Prov 12:1

The righteous know the needs of
          their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is
     cruel.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Ecclesiastes

 

Ecc 1:4-7

A generation goes, and a
          generation comes,
     but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun
          goes down,
     and hurries to the place where
          it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
     and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
     and on its circuits the wind
          returns.
All streams run to the sea,
     but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams
          flow,
     there they continue to flow.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Isaiah

 

Is 24:5-8a, 10-13

The earth lies polluted
     under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
     violated the statutes,
     broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours
          the earth,
     and its inhabitants suffer for
          their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the
          earth dwindled,
     and few people are left.
The wine dries up,
     the vine languishes,
     all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is
          stilled,
     the noise of the jubilant
          has ceased (Isa 24:5-8a). . . .

The city of chaos is broken down,
     every house is shut up so that
          no one can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets
          for lack of wine;
     all joy has reached its eventide;
     the gladness of the earth is
          banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
     the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be on the earth
     and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
     as at the gleaning when the
          grape harvest is ended (Isa 24:10-13).

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Ezekiel

Ez 34:25-28

I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Hosea

 

Hos 4:1-3

Hear the word of the Lord,
     O people of Israel;
     for the Lord has an indictment
          against the inhabitants
          of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
     and no knowledge of God in
          the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
     and stealing and adultery
          break out;
     bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
     and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
     and the birds of the air,
     even the fish of the sea are
          perishing.

 

Selections from the Hebrew Bible Book of Joel

Joel 1:2-3, 6-7, 9-12, 17-20

Hear this, O elders,
     give ear, all inhabitants of
          the land!
Has such a thing happened in
          your days,
     or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
     and let your children tell their
          children,
     and their children another
          generation (Joel 1:2-3). . . . 

For a nation has invaded my land,
     powerful and innumerable;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
     and it has the fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vines,
     and splintered my fig trees;
it has stripped off their bark and
          thrown it down;
     their branches have turned
          white (Joel 1:6-7). . . . 

The grain offering and the drink
          offering are cut off
     from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
     the ministers of the Lord.
The fields are devastated,
     the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
     the wine dries up,
     the oil fails.

Be dismayed, you farmers,
     wail, you vinedressers,
over the wheat and the barley;
     for the crops of the field
          are ruined.
The vine withers,
     the fig tree droops.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple-
     all the trees of the field are
          dried up;
surely, joy withers away
     among the people (Joel 1:9-12). . . .

The seed shrivels under the
          clods,
     the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are ruined
     because the grain has failed.
How the animals groan!
     The herds of cattle wander
          about
because there is no pasture for
          them;
     even the flocks of sheep are
          dazed.

To you, O Lord, I cry.
     For fire has devoured
     the pastures of the wilderness,
and flames have burned
     all the trees of the field.
Even the wild animals cry to you
     because the watercourses are
          dried up,
and fire has devoured
     the pastures of the wilderness (Joel 1:17-20).