Because we are close to Tu B’Shevat, which is also known as “The New Year for Trees” I would like to try to explore the Jewish approach to environmental ethics.
There is no doubt that the Bible and the Talmud are full of examples dealing with environmental ethics as we believe they are important Jewish issues.
In the beginning, after the creation of Adam and Eve, they were put in the Garden of Eden to work and preserve it.(GEN/2 15) the man had the responsibility. According to the midrash, G-d told Adam “All I have created I created for you. See how beautiful and excellent are all My works. Beware lest you spoil and ruin My works, for if you spoil them there is nobody to repair them after you”.
For us there should be a balance between man and nature. Man is allowed to use nature with limitations i.e. Jewish dietary law distinguishes between which animals Jews can and can’t consume. From providing domination of nature for their benefit, Judaism imposes a number of restrictions of how, when and to what extent people can use the natural environment. On one hand, according to the Torah, we may eat meat but hunting for sports sake is forbidden. While the natural world must be respected and admired, we should have a balance between human needs and the claim of nature. The Torah says it is forbidden to destroy or cut a tree with fruit without a good reason. We are not allowed to slaughter the mother animal with its young on the same day or, for example, we must let the mother bird live if it has eggs. Also Jewish law forces us to rest once a week and on Holy Days, in order to allow us to think and enjoy nature. Every seven years a farmer is not allowed to plant new crops in his field so that he remembers that he is not the master of nature.
There are many other mitzvot dealing with man’s relationship with nature and if we keep them, we can preserve the environment in the best way.
It should not be believed that everything exists for the existence of humanity. On the contrary, all other beings too are intended for their own sake and not for the sake of something else.
The Jewish tradition is also both respectful and appreciative of nature thus
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkay used to say: If you have a in your hand; and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come; stay and complete the planting and then go to greet the Messiah.
All the best
Rabbi Haim Dovrat