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Archive for the ‘ecology’ Category

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

How are we doing?

Not as well as you might think, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which released it’s third annual ranking of nearly all the world’s countries last week.

The HPI is an alternative to GDP as a measure of national well-being. A country’s HPI score is calculated by multiplying together its life expectancy and reported subjective happiness survey scores and dividing the result by the country’s ecological footprint per person. The aim is to measure how much life and of what quality a country achieves proportionally to the ecological resources that it consumes.

The results are surprising. Costa Rica tops the table. The US comes in at number 114 out of 143 country’s measured. It’s outstanding wealth does not make Americans outstanding happy and requires an exorbitant amount of the earth’s resources to sustain. Israel is ranked around 70th, just above Britain.

The report’s lead author, Saamah Abdallah of the New Economics Foundation explains the rationale behind it.

“The HPI suggests that the path we have been following is, without exception, unable to deliver all three goals: high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and ‘one-planet living’. Instead we need a new development model that delivers good lives that don’t cost the Earth for all.”

The HPI is one of a number of indices that highlight the limitations of GDP as a measurement of welfare and aim to propose an alternative. Higher GDP is only correlated with increased happiness up to around $10,000 per person. After that point, there’s little connection between income and happiness. Furthermore, consumption of alcohol, drugs and medical care count as GDP gains. So do wars, strip mining, deforestation and commuting to work, although these things do not enhance overall well-being.

These indices are being developed by ecologcial economists, who argue that economics must be embedded with an understanding of the ecological context in which economies function. The Heschel Center together with the Van Leer Institute have such set up a research group in Ecological Economics (which I’m glad to be a part of) to bring this important body of thinking into the Israeli conversation. Hopefully one of the products will be a more accurate measure than GDP of how we’re really doing as a society. Stay tuned!

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As we enter July (hot hot times here in Israel!), we wanted to bring you a roundup of our posts from the last month, just in case you missed one or two. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on any of our posts, and on the blog in general. And feel free to let us know your thoughts around the US House of Reps (just) passing the Waxman-Markey Climate Change/Energy Bill- Is it too little? Too much? Just Right? Click Here to leave a response.

Last Month’s Posts:

Envy Based Economics and a Forgotten Tenth Commandment: Rabbi Sinclair challenges an economic system based on the systematic violation of “Thou Shalt not Covet.”

Shavuot is the Green Festival: Dr. Michael Kagan on Shavuot as the bridge back to the Garden of Eden.

Sally Bingham’s “Love God, Heal Earlth”: A Review of Bingham’s Compilation of Essays by Religious Leaders for the Environment.

Video: Founder of Heschel Center, Dr. Eilon Schwartz on what Jews can do about Climate Change: Important Questions and Useful Answers from one of Israel’s most Accomplished Environmental Activists.

Video: Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Naomi Tsur, on how Grassroots Organization can Help Fight Climate Change: From her new post in the mayor’s office, Ms. Tsur still believes meaningful action starts from the bottom.

Global Climate Healing Shabbat: This Parshat Noach: Save the date! In the wake of the Copenhagen Conference to Replace Kyoto, Jews around the world will focus Shabbat around global warming and the climate crisis.

A Green Pope, Fatwas on Illegal Mining, an Evangelical Climate Initiative and the JCI: Zoe Cormier explores the potential for religion to succeed where science and politics have not.

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Hi Everyone,

In the following video, Dr. Eilon Schwartz, founder of Israel’s Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership challenges us to own up to our own implications in causing climate change, as well as our reservations in fighting it, and makes important suggestions as to what we can do, at Jewish Climate Initiative/Hazon’s Vayehi Or: Values and Vision in Energy and Climate Change Workshop in Jerusalem.

Enjoy!

(If you can’t view the video from this page, click here.)

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By Yannai Kranzler

The American Army has yet to declare war on the species of Corn, despite Michael Pollan’s warnings that it is plotting to take over the world. But despite failing to convince the military to attack a vegetable, there is little doubt that Pollan has had a remarkable influence on the way people think about food.

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

In Pollan’s newest book, In Defense of Food, he suggests, among other things, reclaiming time-tested traditional menus of the past. Much of modern man’s eating disorder, says Pollan, stems from ditching mom for food science, cultural wisdom for the back of a cereal box, in order to determine the day’s menu.

Although Pollan, despite his Jewish roots does not mention it, this approach is a classically Jewish one: The Hebrew word for progress is Hitkadmut. Oddly enough, the root of the word Hitkadmut is Kedem, which means, “Before.” Moving forward well, our language is telling us, is contingent upon consulting our past. As we charge speedily ahead, we need, every once in a while, to backtrack and pick up the pieces we’ve left behind.

The following are Pollan’s rules for better eating, as written in In Defense of Food, based on the well-known Pollan mantra, “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” (Click Here to buy the book from Amazon.com) I’ve stuck these rules onto our fridge at home (Right next to the magnet with the number of the pizza delivery guy). Feel free to do the same. Beteavon! (Hebrew for Bon Apatit).

1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are, A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) High Fructose Corn Syrup.

3. Avoid food products that make health claims.

4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

7. You are what you eat eats, too.

8. If you have space, buy a freezer.

9. Eat like an omnivore.

10. Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.

11. Eat wild foods when you can.

12. Be the kind of person who takes supplements. (Although don’t necessarily take supplements).

13. Eat more like the French. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. Or the Indians. Or the Greeks.

14. Regard non-traditional foods with skepticism.

15. Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.

16. Have a glass of wine with dinner.

17. Pay more, eat less.

18. Eat Meals.

19. Do all your eating a a table. No, a desk is not a table.

20. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.

21. Try not to eat alone.

22. Consult your gut.

23. Eat slowly.

24. Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.

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A Review, by Rabbi Julian Sinclair

I am really not the right person to be reviewing “Nature’s Due.” It is based on some quite complicated biology, a subject that I haven’t studied formally since I was 14. James Murray-White from Green Prophet sent me the book in September, and I’ve only just finished it now, after several tactful reminders from James. As you can infer from that, it’s been a bit of a struggle.

However, I’m really glad that James stayed on my case about his, because “Nature’s Due” is a fascinating and important book. It’s one of those books that can furnish you with a couple of serviceable building blocks for a worldview.

Goodwin’s guiding question is: what would it take for our culture to interact with the world in a mode of engaged, evolutionary participation rather than in a mode of dominance and control?

He lists the familiar litany of environmental failures engendered by the dominance and control model (GM crops, degraded food supply, ugly, dysfunctional cites etc.) and asserts that the root cause of this cultural attitude is dualism: our predilection for seeing nature as inert stuff to be acted on and transformed for our benefit through the agency of human will and subjectivity.

Sometime shortly after the Renaissance, claims Goodwin, we disenchanted the world. Consciousness, intelligence and freedom were arrogated to the human realm, while the physical world was conceived as a mere machine.

So far, this is all fairly standard green cultural criticism. Cartesian Dualism has always placed in the top three of any list of the usual suspects in Western thought for creating the spiritual conditions that have allowed us to wreck our physical environment. Goodwin’s originality is to propose a reframing of our worldviews based on cutting edge research in biology that has emerged over the past 5-10 years.

Brian Goodwin

Brian Goodwin

The first prop of his argument is a body of work that has attempted to bring the study of qualities, including human affective and emotional responses within the domain of scientific study. For example, it turns out that there are high degrees of agreement when you ask people to ascribe emotional states to a pig. Intersubjective consensus can provide a basis for studying qualitative phenomena that cannot be measured. One small blow against the subject-object division.

Much more interesting, and central to his argument, is the work that Goodwin surveys in contemporary genetics. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, most biologists thought of DNA as a sort of computer program. It was the code that instructed organisms how to grow. This belief drove the development of the epic genome mapping program that was finished in 2001.

However, as the genome project neared completion, biologists realized that it was not so much fulfilling their expectations as transforming them. It turned out that genes do not condition the structure of living things in any deterministic way. We now know that a gene can be “read” (my quotation marks) by a cell in hundreds of different ways, each one resulting in a different protein. “For example, in the hair cells of t

he inner ear of a chick there is a gene that can be translated into 576 different proteins each one altering the tuning of cells to sound frequencies.” So if genetic structure does not allow us to predict morphology as we had hoped it would, what then have we learned from the whole genome project?

Goodwin argues that a different metaphor for the genome is emerging from the work of biologists like Evelyn Fox Keller and Anton Markos. Rather than understanding DNA as a computer program, we should instead conceive it as a kind of a “text” containing a range of developmental possibilities that is “interpreted” by cells through interaction with their environments. Cells “read” their genes so as to realize the possibilities of growth that will tend towards the creation of complex, efficient, coherent and aesthetic biological forms (beauty being a characteristic of efficiency, complexity and coherence.) He ascribes the term “meaning” to the object of organisms’ search for such elegant solutions to the problems of survival.

Thus Goodwin claims that other living things may be said to possess language and culture of a kind that is analogous to ours.  Their cultural resources are an inherited stock of genetic information that enables them to “choose” effective ways to live and grow through interaction with their environments.

If this is true, Goodwin concludes, then not only are we wrong to believe that language, culture and the search for meaning are uniquely human attributes; we should alsorecognize what a lousy job we are doing of utilizing those gifts in comparison to other creatures. “Compared with our biological cousins, we have become extraordinarily clumsy in the creation of our artifacts. We do not use resources and energy efficiently as organisms do, and we often fail badly in the aesthetic quality of our artifacts.” As Goodwin puts it, “the human is the only creature who doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing.”

So Goodwin’s prescription for change is that we should be humbly willing to learn from the rest of creation, which does seem to know what it’s supposed to be doing.  Through bio-mimicry, natural design, architecture and city planning based on natural forms, we may return our culture and its artifacts to harmonious balance with the natural world.

My main criticism of this thoughtful and well-written book is that, if biology is not my area, then it seems probable that philosophy is not Goodwin’s. He himself alludes to the problem of early educational specialization based on the dualistic division of knowledge into “arts” and “sciences.” It appears that we have both suffered from it!

I have placed “text”, “interpret” and “culture” in quotation marks where they are applied to the activity of genes and organisms, but Goodwin doesn’t. The analogy, though plausible and thought-provoking, is nowhere near proven. It would take a far deeper discussion than Goodwin offers of what human “texts”, “interpretations” and “cultures are to justify removing the inverted commas.

Indeed the places where he does offer a philosophical basis for this view of science are the weakest in the book.  Chapter 6 proposes that the little-known scientific work of the great German writer Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe prefigured a way of doing biology that can

John Wolfgang von Goethe

John Wolfgang Von Goethe

integrate quantitative and qualitative facets in a holistic and spiritually inspired vision.

Again, Goodwin offers enough to make this idea intriguing but not nearly enough to render it convincing. Bizarrely, almost half of the chapter is devoted to Goethe’s biography, and in particular, to his extravangant romantic life, (with extensive quotations describing one lover’s “large black eyes of the greatest beauty”, and her “easy Zephyr-like movements.”) Discussion of the philosophical basis of Goethe’s thinking is thin. This is a pity. The German Idealist tradition of philosophy to which Goethe contributed, with its non-dualistic merging of nature and spirit and its evolutionary conception of consciousness seems to be a potentially fruitful source for grounding an ecological vision of science.

One of the many problems with Goodwin’s swift elision of the differences between human culture and potential biological analogues is that it ignores the healing possibilities inherent in the immensely greater complexity of human culture. Suppose we accept Goodwin’s analogy and conclusions: the very fact that human culture can become so massively dysfunctional in its modes of adaptation to the physical world, in a way that other organisms appear not to be able to match, is itself tribute to the sophistication of human thought.

The immensity and ingenuity of the cultural and scientific information that we have amassed in printed and digital forms has created the technological instruments with which we are degrading the biosphere. The human capacity for reflection on, development of, and conscious selection from our cultural resources is surely unique, even if one agrees with Goodwin that other organisms undergo analogous processes. And it is just these capacities for extremely rapid cultural evolution that give us hope that we can change course in time.

Survival is unlikely to lie in simply admitting what pathetic evolutionary failures our creations are in comparison with, say the elegant, functional beauty of the honey bee’s. It will also come from our ability to reach deep within our cultural memories, including our religious and spiritual traditions, and to rapidly actualize the wisdom that lies there for how we may live beautifully in an interconnected world.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Tu B’shevat has become the de facto ” Hag Ha’ Environment,” the day on which Jews celebrate nature and showcase whatever in our traditions can be shown to celebrate the Earth and teach us how to learn in wise interconnectedness with our planet.

The connection has always seemed to me a little arbitrary. Forty years ago Jews wanted to find hooks for environmental concerns in the tradition. Enter Tu B’Shevat, an obscure, neglected semi-holiday that marked the date on which we count the ages of trees for the purposes of agricultural laws in Israel. (more…)

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

I spent last Wednesday at Wind Dancer Rancher, an organic farm in Northern California. The day was cold, wet and blustery. Together with 25 others, I had volunteered to take part in the slaughtering, plucking, evisceration, koshering and packing of the Turkeys that were to be eaten for Shabbat dinner at the Hazon food conference the following weekend.

Lisa Leonard, the farmer, cradled the first bird in her arms as Roger Studley, the organizer explained the order of the day. Someone asked Lisa her opinion about the intelligence of Turkeys.  “Well, let’s say they ain’t the sharpest tools in the shed,”  she answered. “But they do have personalities. Like this one here, he just hates cell phones. Like he’d attack anyone who he saw using one. “I know the feeling,” I murmured empathetically.

Then we gathered around Andy Kastner, the shochet. Andy is 28, a rabbinical student with curly brown hair and soulful eyes. He learned to be a kosher slaughter because he loved animals, but he also loved

Shochet, Andy Kastner

Shochet, Andy Kastner

meat. He decided that he needed to be able to take responsibility for the way animals were killed if he was to continue as a carnivore.

Lisa’s partner Jim held the Turkey. (Lisa doesn’t like to watch when the birds she has raised from chicks are killed.) Andy said the blessing, gently extended the animal’s neck and with two swift back and forth strokes severed its trachea and main arteries. Blood spurted on to Andy’s white coat and on to the wet ground.  Jim placed the dying bird upside down in a metal traffic cone. It kicked for a few seconds (reflex actions, said Jim) and was still.

Then we hung the dead Turkey by its feet from a bar in an open barn and started plucking. The downy belly feathers came away in clumps in your hands, exposing white, pimply skin. Within seconds the resplendent Heritage Breed bird was starting to look like meat.

When the carcass was thoroughly bald, Rabbi Seth Mandel, the Chief Kashrut Supervisor of the Orthodox Union opened up the body cavity. He removed the intestines, checked them for cuts or lesions, and then examined a lung for signs of disease. “Fine, healthy animal,” he pronounced of the free range, barley-fed bird. Next the turkey was soaked in cold water, salted inside and out, then rinsed, and placed in a polythene bag that was signed with Rabbi Mandel’s seal of kosher certification, and placed in an icebox.

Then we did the same thing 24 more times.

The goal was to produce meat that was not just kosher but also organic and local. Hazon wanted to ensure that the animals it served had lived Turkey-like lives and, so far as possible, met with humane deaths. These birds were pesticide and  antibiotic free. They were not treated with the brutality inherent in the mass production of meat, either in life or in death.

The mass production of meat is a major factor in global climate change. The UN recently estimated that a staggering 18% of greenhouse gases are produced by the meat industry. Pesticides and fertilizers for animal feed together with transportation together emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases. The average item of food on an American dinner plate has traveled 1500 miles to get there. The preparation these turkeys all took place within a 30 foot by 30 foot area of farm. In an industrial system they would have been trucked all over the country to undergo the same process.

Of course, there are big questions about whether this kind of meat could ever be produced on a larger scale. The farmers sold it to Hazon for $6 a pound. The same day (Christmas Eve) turkey in Safeways, San Francisco was marked at $1.50 a pound. The meat we helped make was just about as humane and sustainable as meat can be. Whether it could be more than a middle class indulgence is another question. (I hope to look at that next week.)  But if meat did cost more, we’d eat less of it and that would be a good thing for the earth.

Did I eat the turkey? Sure. Given that I sometimes do eat meat, it didn’t seem to make sense to turn down probably the most eco-friendly flesh I’d ever had. But when I took my first bite, I shuddered involuntarily. The mental mechitzas that we erect between meat and dead animals were ripped away as I alternately recalled and repressed the images of that wet Wednesday morning. And I tried not to leave any of it over.

Bensching, saying grace, on that meal was an entirely different experience. Normally I’m just saying thanks for the food on my plate. Heaven knows where it came from. This time I fervently thanked God for the farm, for Andy, Lisa and Jim, for the wet, muddy ground, for the proud, dignified birds pecking in the dirt when we arrived, for the wind and rain that had flayed my face the whole day and for all of the elements with which I was connected through that one act of eating.

Knowing the costs involved in producing even those most sustainably raised and humanely slaughtered animals will probably lead me to eat less meat in future. And that’s no bad thing.

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

It may seem odd to be writing about shmitta six and a half years before the next Sabbatical year. Not at all. We need to start thinking and planning now if the Shmitta of 2014-15 is to be a time of ecological, economic and spiritual renewal for the Jewish people, rather than an unseemly political squabble.

I’m heading off next week to Hazon’s food conference in Assilomar. Hazon has even set up a website as a focus of public discussion for the next shmitta. Prompted by the stockmarket crash, imminent global recession, as well as having to prepare a couple of talks about shmitta for the trip to California, here are some thoughts that hopefully take that discussion a little further:

The causes of the economic crash are at the same time incredibly complicated and extremely simple. The simple version is that the US mortage and housing market broke free of some fundamental principles about buying houses. Once upon a time, to buy a house, you had to work hard, save a lot of money, and maybe supplement your savings with a mortgage that you arranged with a banker who knew you personally, and with whom you took responsibility for the repayment of your loan.

No longer. Over the last ten years, banks have advanced huge mortgages to people they never met, with little regard to their ability to repay. The mortgage assets were then parceled up and sold to other banks and investment houses increasingly removed from the original house buyers. All this was done out of a perfect faith in the endless upward trend of the housing markets. When house prices ceased to defy gravity, thousands of home owners defaulted on mortgage payments, mortgage-based assets became almost worthless, and large distinguished banks who held a lot of those assets collapsed, nearly bringing down the world financial system with them.

It’s an old story. Charles Mackay wrote a classic history of financial crises called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in London in 1841. “Money … has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Financial bubbles, like the one in the housing market  happen when people’s hopes, expectations and greed-driven delusions about the value of their assets lose all contact with the underlying economic reality. The more sophisticated our economic system, the more we can engineer assets that have less and less to do with real things and the more extreme the bubble.  Markets periodically and harshly correct these fits of wishful thinking, at the cost of great economic suffering. Often those who suffer most have done least to cause the problem.

Some of the less well known teachings of Shmitta are exactly about managing and moderating this tendency for economic activity to cut its roots in the earth from which it grows. Once every seven years we are meant to return to an intimate connection with the source of all wealth. A few examples:

1.   You can’t trade on food grown in the Shmitta year. You can eat it, give it away or leave it for the poor, but you may not turn it into a commodity. (Rambam Laws of Shmitta, 6:1 This is based on a derasha of Vayikra 25:6:  “It shall be a Sabbatical year to eat.” “To eat and not a trade on it.” (Talumd, Sukkah 40a.)

2.   Food from the Shmitta year should be treated as food, Not as a compress for a wound, or air freshener, or biofuels, or anything else that food products can be used for. This is based on the same verse from Vayikra 25: 6 “to eat.” Once in seven years we get back to an awareness of food as food, not as a commodity or raw material for some other manufacturing process.

3.  In the Shmitta year we return to a relationship with food that is seasonal.  If you gather and store fruit from the shmitta year in your house, once that fruit has disappeared from the fields and trees, you can no longer eat what is stored in your house out of season. (Laws of Shmitta, 7:1)

4.  In the Shmitta we return to a relationship with food that is local. The seasonal requirement that we just saw is based on regional divisions of the Land of Israel. If the pomegranate season is over in your area, then you can’t eat them, even if they are still growing somewhere else in the country. (Laws of Shmitta, 7:9)

And so on. These laws are all about returning to an immediate relationship with the food we eat, as food and connected to a particular time and place. Food is the most basic economic index. The Shmitta is about ceasing to distort, quantify or objectify our connection to the source of sustenance.

How do we use this value of returning to an immediate connection with economic fundamantals as a corrective to boom-bust economics? Let the discussion continue! We have six and a half years to get it right for the shmitta year, but we the world needs a way to actualize these values even sooner.

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By Yannai Kranzler

When I first sat with Dr. Michael Kagan and Rabbi Julian Sinclair and listened to their plans to create a Jewish Climate Initiative, I immediately got excited about a scientist and a Rabbi joining forces to confront climate change. When I mentioned my excitement, Rabbi Sinclair smiled and said “Michael’s not just a scientist, you know.” And Dr. Kagan added, “Julian’s not really just a Rabbi, you know.” And so I did my research and learned that it wasn’t a scientist and a Rabbi confronting climate change, but a scientist/inventor/spiritual guide/mystic and a Rabbi/economist/writer/tour guide. And I realized that the Jewish Climate Initiative was going to be something special.

Dr. Michael Kagan

Dr. Michael Kagan: Co-Founder, Jewish Climate Initiative

In the following interview, Dr. Kagan explains the reasons for a Jewish Climate Initiative (JCI), expands on the directions where he hopes the initiative will go, and discusses how his life’s work of understanding the connections between apparently separate facets of the world stands behind the creation of the Jewish Climate Initiative, and is the spirit which drives it forward.

YK: Spiritual Leader, biochemist, inventor- you’ve done quite a lot in your life. How has your experience brought you to this point, where you are creating a Jewish Climate Initiative?

MK: The subject of my doctorate thesis was “Patent Formation in Dissipative Systems.” I know that sounds esoteric but it basically addresses the question, “Where does structure come from in the universe?”

I focused on thermodynamics and the question of entropy: Entropy means that everything is constantly descending to the lowest common denominator. If everything is descending into chaos, then, why do we exist? How come I have a body with fingers and arms and head? Where does order come from?

As I explored this narrow, specific subject in chemistry, I was led to such wide areas of investigation- biology, physics, philosophy, the history of science, how it connected to religion and thought and consciousness. And what I learned and experienced was the interconnectiveness between all things.

I also learned that I have a particular mindset – I think in a very eclectic and associative manner that sees the connection between things that seem to be vastly separate. This is even the heart of my inventive work: putting together techonologies nobody thought to put together before.

Jewish Climate Initiative
is the same thing. Our logo depicts three spheres- Ethics, Science/Technology and Activism/Policy or Nature, Man, and God or, more Kabbalistically, Form (din), Flow (hesed) and the synthesis that leads to Beauty (Tiferet). The interconnectiveness between the three – the nexus or overlapping of the three and the play between them is what excites me.

YK: What problem or need are you answering in creating the Jewish Climate Initiative?

MK: Our religion has deep wisdom that can be applied to the crises of today. Our ancient myths state that Torah is a blueprint for Creation. Therefore, we, as protectors of Torah and investigators of Torah need to investigate and unpack what the Torah says about the present crisis. I feel, as a conscious Jew, that it is incumbent upon me to ask the questions, and look for answers. We are part of the whole, with a responsibility to the whole, and this is for the whole.

YK: How do you see JCI as answering that need? What separates JCI from other environmental organizations?

MK: One thing is we’re not an envronmental organization. It was a friend of mine who taught me that what we face is not an environmental problem, but an ecological one.

Ecology means “The logic of the house”- Knowledge of the house. As in, I can ask you: “In your house- how are you recycling? Do you turn off electricy? What foods do you eat? How are your houses built?” That’s environmentalism.

But I ask- “How is the love in your house? How are the relationships in your house? How are you educating your children?” Ecology is a question of what type of home you have, not how do you run your house. Not that environmentalism is bad, but it asks different questions. JCI is an ecological organization looking at muslim-jewsfundamental questions about our relationship with the home, home being the earth, from the Jewish perspective. What is our home? Are we apart from Nature? Are we a part of Nature? Are we stewards? Co-creators? And part of our initiative is to ask other religions what their perspective is, and to share with them our perspective.

There are plenty of organizations dealing with the How-to and that’s great. But I need to ask the basic questions and I believe that Torah has a lot to answer that is highly contemporary.

There is a book by Thom Hartman, called the Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, about how we’re using up the remaining ancient fuel created by the sun millions of years ago. My reading of Torah is that it too is ancient but is still living. It’s fresh, and hasn’t been fossilized. Torah is not fossil fuel – It’s an Or Ganuz- a hidden light, ready to be revealed now as living light. Much like the sun is ancient but the light we receive is new.

At Jewish Climate Initiative, we want to tap into ancient wisdom to help answer contemporary ethical problems. We want to explore the ethics that have brought on this mess, and to explore how we can get out of it.

YK: And how do you think can we get ourselves out of this mess?

MK: I’m an evolutionist. I think the world is evolving, and that consciousness is evolving. Even this present crisis is the evolution of human consciousness. Evolutionary development is not guaranteed. Our continuation is not guaranteed. We can end, but we don’t have to. Perhaps if I was a more believing Jew I would say that we’ll survive no matter what or that Mashiach will come. But I don’t read Torah like that.

I look at history in the following way: The present crisis is an opportunity to make a significant leap in the evolution of human consciousness, from a “Taker” culture, to a next level- a sharing culture, or a giving culture- a different way of relating to the world. Not about, “Take as much as you can and if you don’t have the luck or fortune to take, you’re just a Misken (Unfortunate).

I look at the principles of Shabbat, the heart of Judaism according to many sages. What do we learn from Shabbat? Number one, that it’s not our earth. Number two, We need to learn how to leave things alone- not entirely alone, but to know how to have boundaries: What is available for us? What is not? What is Mutar (permissable)? What is Assur (prohibited)? This principle of Leaving exists all the way through the Jewish narrative, the biblical story and is ensconced in Halakha.

YK: So is the purpose that we go back to leaving?

MK: No. There was a civilization before to ours, which we can call The Leavers: Nomads, hunter gatherers, who lived here 10,000 years ago and before. I don’t know if they were happy here but they were here. There was no building cities, urbanization, emassing huge wealth.

From what we know of Leaver society, they had more of a symbiotic or harmonius relationship with nature, we’ll call it Ancient Wisdom, of which very little remains today. This in our story is symbolized by the Garden of Eden.  We left; we were thrown out; we can never go back; we can only go forwards; but we are spiraling around with a new Eden somewhere around the bend.  The transition from leaver to taker is epitomized by the story of Cain and Abel, in which Cain, the agriculturalist, kills his leaver/hunter-gatherer brother, Abel. And the curse arises from the Earth.

But I think we as Jews carry the knowledge of the Leaver way of life through today’s Taker way of life in order to help initiate or seed what I call The Third Way.

In my doctorate studies I learned that when you push a dynamic system through a crisis, it either explodes, or transforms itself into a new level of structures, with their own laws and constructs. It’s amazing to actually see this happen in a physical system. You put it into crisis and it evolves into a new living structure. You cannot predict this structure beforehand. You just hope it won’t explode, and you just hope for a new, steady state, a new order.

I think that’s were we’re at. Ecologically, economically- there is a crisis happening, and there is either the possibility of exploding/imploding-  or moving to a new level of consciousness or structure.

YK: Practically speaking then, what projects can JCI engange in, so as to facilitate this new or “Third Way,” and prevent “Exploding?”

MK: Last Thursday I went to the Green Economy Conference in Tel Aviv. At a session devoted to investing in cleantech, I asked the panel of investors capitalizing on the success of the cleantech industry, if their investing in green technologies was normal, just another opportunity to make money, or if they were influenced by a moral imperative considering dangers that we are facing. The younger investors all answered that practically speaking, their investments were about money, and were the profits elsewhere, they’d look elsewhere. Only one more elderly investor answered with an emphatic “No!” He said that investing in cleantech must be charged with a greater vision than the immediate bottom line; that we owed it to our children and grandchildren to push these technologies forward, with a sense of humility and courage, with the profit motive taking a back seat.

And it’s true. Life just no longer is business as usual. We can’t go on developing science, developing technology, making money and investments and relying on that structure that worked so well, ignoring the implications of that structure on life on earth, human and not human. Money can no longer be separated from ethics.

It became so evident at this conference that for the most part, we are still in the old mindset, and are not seeing the bigger picture.

Therefore, at JCI we want to bring together groups that don’t usually talk to each other: scientists, technologists, economists, investors – and sages. We want to bring them together through writing, conferences, our website and our blog and other projects, to engage in an open and ongoing discussion on where we are, how did we get here – and where are we going.

Michael Kagan, Ph.D. has been an innovator and entrepreneur for 18 years. He has Co-founded 6 high-tech companies, holds a doctorate in chemistry from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is an inventor with twelve registered patents. Michael has developed and widely taught holistic Judaism, integrating a mind/body/soul approach to spirituality. For more by Dr. Kagan, click here, or visit http://www.holistichaggadah.com/ to learn about Dr. Kagan’s original commentary on the Passover Haggadah.

For more on the Jewish Climate Initiative, please visit us at www.jewishclimateinitiative.org, or contact us.

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In the debate between environmentalism and ecology the two can be differentiated along the male-female dialectic.

Thus the former can be loosely viewed as the identification of a problem and its attempted solution – a sort of head to head approach – a stereotypical male stance. Whereas the latter is about the welfare of the house (ecology is Greek for ‘the knowing of the House’) and the concern for the myriad complex relationships that take place in the home environment – a stereotypical female stance. So it is more about relationships than it is about problem solving or struggle or apportioning blame or lobbying.

In the scheme of the festival cycle (see the introduction to the Holistic Haggadah, Urim, 2004) Shavuot is the most overwhelmingly feminine of them all.* Its prime foci are: the ‘wedding’ at Sinai, the Book of Ruth, the eating of milk products, the greening of the synagogues, and the chanting of parts of the Zohar in the Sephardi Tradition.

Starting with the last and working backwards: in the Sephardi tradition the purpose of staying up all night (tikun liylah) is not for the sake of intellectual achievement or for the gaining of a little bit more knowledge (this should be done all year round) but rather to prepare for The Receiving by chanting (not studying) mystical texts that bypass the cerebral cortex raising the energy of the Receiver – a sort of Mystical Union. The greening of the synagogue is a visceral reminder of the Garden of Eden** – the original womb – where we roamed at peace with the animals, drinking of their milk and not of their flesh. And milk is the symbol of motherhood, of lovingkindness, of Giving which is the attribute of Ruth – the woman of lovingkindness (for isn’t ruthless the absolute lack of lovingkindness?).

So Shavuot is the bridge between now and then. And the Book of Ruth which is more than just a story about women – is the story about relationships, ALL relationships. Almost every relationship that effects one’s life is touched upon in this little book – husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, in-laws, between women, between men (David and Jonathan), between generations, between the insiders and the outsiders, between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots, between the bosses and workers, between family members, between ourselves and the land and nature, between the past, present and future, between this world and the messianic world, between life and death, between mother and child, between lovers.

And finally there is the wedding in which we reaffirm our relationship with the Creator.

Blessings for Shavuot

Michael Kagan

Some of the other festivals can be allotted as follows: Tisha B’Av is male since it is the destructive anger of the father (Av is Hebrew for father); Tu B’Av is the reconciliation of male and female; Rosh Hashannah is more male than female since it is the day judgment; Yom Kippur is more female than male since it is the day of forgiveness; and Succot is the perfected balance between male and female – sitting in the womb like succah waving around a palm fond and fondling an etrog (citrus fruit).

This connection between Shavuot and The Garden is hinted at in the use of the definitive article in the Creation story – and it was evening and morning of THE sixth day (rather than day six as with the conclusion of the previous days of Creation). Rashi asks: to what is THE sixth day referring? And answers: to THE sixth day of Sivan – Shavuot.

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