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Archive for the ‘Jewish Ecology’ Category

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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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

This was one of the most exciting and original talks at JCI‘s April conference. In it, Rabbi Dov Berkovitz asks what the 3000 years of Jewish tradition, “one of the most remarkable human creations on the planet”, can contribute to helping humanity grapple with global climate change (video of Rabbi Berkowitz’s speech below).

Among other points, Rabbi Berkovitz suggested that today, the whole world finds itself in the basic situation that has always characterized the Land of Israel. “Israel in 2009 is a microcosm of the planet.” The country is perched on the border between a temperate Mediterranean climate and the desert, ” as an existential reality.” It is poised between desert and the availability of water.

The Bible pointedly declares that Eretz Yisrael is “not like the Land of Egypt,” (Devarim, 11:10) where the Nile guarantees continuous fertility to the surrounding region; Israel, in contrast is dependent for its livability on the continuous blessing of rainfall.

Today, increasing areas of the world are experiencing stressed water supplies. More and more people are aware of the fragile conditions that keep their climate livable. This consciousness, which was intrinsic to the spiritual worldview of the Jewish people in Israel, is now shared by most of humanity.

Elie Wiesel has a line that these days everyone in the world is Jewish. He means, (according to Rabbi Michael Melchior who quoted it to me) that many people today experience the precariousness and vulnerability which has always marked Jewish life. In the vein of Rabbi Berkovitz’s talk, you could say that today the whole world is the Land of Israel.

This gives an interesting twist to Alon Tal’s environmental history of Israel that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Tal shows how the tragic-comic environmental history of Israel with all of its good intentions, big mistakes and heroic efforts to learn from them, is also the history of Zionism. It’s the story of the Jewish people learning once again to live in the physical and ecological reality of this land.

Following Rabbi Berkovitz, the opportunity we have been given to do this is very timely.  If, with God’s help, we can use our technology, wisdom and ingenuity to create a good life in this hot and crowded strip of land, it will be a blessing not just for Israel but for many other peoples.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2048073&dest=-1]

If you can’t watch the video from this page, click here.

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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 Yannai Kranzler

There are a few things one notices upon visiting the website of Israel’s new Green Movement-Meimad political party:
1) Everyone’s smiling.
2) Everyone looks different from one another

And it’s hard not to think: “Hey- this party just might actually be different.”
(more…)

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In continuation of our discussion on local food, the following is a Dvar Torah Rabbi Sinclair wrote for Canfei Nesharim‘s Eitz Chaim Hee Torah Commentary Series.

Do we know who grows our food? Does it matter? This question was first raised for me five years ago when I was the Campus Rabbi at England’s Cambridge University. Invited to High Table dinner with the professors at one of the colleges, I was surprised to discover that most of the conversation among some of Britain’s leading minds revolved around the food.

“This venison’s inedible,” complained an irascible professor of physics. “Absolutely,” agreed an elderly Nobel Laureate. “We had a cook here in the seventies who would never serve an animal he didn’t know
personally.” (more…)

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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.

For more interviews from Climate of Change, come and visit our interviews page.

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