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Archive for the ‘Jewish Environmentalism’ Category

In the following video, from the Vayehi Or Workshop, Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, discusses Hazon, Jews, food and Climate Change. Nigel and Hazon have been working with JCI on the Seven Year Plan for the Jewish People on Climate Change and Sustainability, and in this piece, Nigel offers some hopeful and practical tips towards how the Seven Year Plan can be most effective. Enjoy! (And feel welcome, as always, to leave your comments and feedback).

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2032481&dest=-1]

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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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“For the Jewish community to make a difference on environmental issues, we need brutal honesty to begin with. Jews are now roughly 0.2% of the world’s population; less than the margin of error on the Indian census. If all the Jews in the world recycle their newspapers it will make… pretty much no difference whatsoever. Nor if we put a solar-powered ner tamid in every synagogue, nor, more radically, if every Jew in the world swapped their existing car for a hybrid.”

-Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon. Click here for the full article.

“Our home planet Earth is undergoing rapid and sustained destruction of its eco-systems… Muslims comprise at least one fifth of the human community and they can contribute much to the thinking that is vital to re-evaluate the future direction of the human community and save its home for itself and other life forms.”

– The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES)

What a difference one fifth of the world could make!

And us Jews? We sure are a little nation, but as history tells us, we have tremendous power to inspire ethical behavior, mobilize social change and spearhead the technology with which to bring that change about.

If our species is to control the ecological crises that we face today, then we’d best focus where we each can help, and filter out where we cannot.

I recently led a session at Green Up Your Campus, a program of Derech Hateva/Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel for gap-year students in Israel beginning college next year, on Sustainability’s “Three R’s,” Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

To introduce the discussion, each member of the group was to list one area of “green” living that they did not want to incorporate into their personal lives, or something they’d much rather not give up in the name of fixing the world.

I spoke about loving new books. The smell, their look on home’s bookshelf, the crispness of new book covers. One girl mentioned long showers. Someone else said he could never give up on driving.

And then we began to analyze: If I really love new books, maybe I can lend them to someone who doesn’t. Perhaps even to the guy who loves driving. And he can give me rides, because I don’t care that much about driving. The long showers girl can be ultra-conservative with water when she washes dishes. Or she can engage in something of a Kyoto Protocol on Hygiene- trading “Shower-water” credits with friends.

Common sense might imply that the more we negate our “Footprint” on the world the better off the world will be. But “Ecology” tells us about ecosystems-relationships between species, many to most of which we are a part. And as any good relationship goes, all sides must contribute of themselves- of what makes them individual- in order for the whole to thrive.

At Jewish Climate Initiative (JCI), we are working to develop the Jewish voice- to channel our collective passion and individual ingenuities to impact our fellow humans, to view our climate of change as an opportunity that begs us to live in a conscious harmony with the universe, its creations and resources.

We invite you to visit us at www.jewishclimateinitiative.org and learn more. The whole climate change thing is pretty terrifying- but we’re an optimistic People, and do not believe we’re given challenges we cannot handle. And if we tackle this one creatively and with a hopeful spirit, it is going to a have a happy ending, and many proud and better people to show for it.

By Yannai Kranzler

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Why a Jewish Climate Initiative? Surely climate change is a global problem? Isn’t everyone today concerned about it?

We spent quite a few late nights and Espressos debating these questions ourselves.

Our answer is that yes, many people are, and we applaud and support their efforts.

But the scale and urgency of the problem requires everyone to play their part. We have barely begun to imagine, let alone make, the immense shifts in individual behavior, government policy and ethical consciousness that will be necessary if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.

We believe that the Jewish people has a large, unique and until now, untapped contribution to make, through its combination of ethical wisdom, scientific and business know-how and activist passion.

Jewish Climate Initiative aims to be a catalyst to mobilize these strengths for the good of our children and of the planet.

Part of what makes our response distinctive lies in recognizing the holistic nature of the climate change crisis. The challenge of global warming requires a marriage of moral and spiritual vision with scientific and entrepreneurial innovation. Neither well-meaning ethical exhortations nor purely technical solutions will be sufficient by themselves.


One of the many things we believe faith-inspired approaches to climate change can offer is hope. Hope is a scarce resource in the current climate change discourse. Al Gore observes in “An Inconvenient Truth” that many have passed straight from denial that climate change is a problem to despair that we can do anything about it, without passing through an intermediate stage of hope.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that hope is a distinctively (though not exclusively) religious virtue. It is not the same as optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that together we can make them better.

We hope that you’ll send us your thoughts, responses and suggestions so that together we can help make things better for our children and grandchildren.

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