International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word, Religions of the World and Ecology

edited by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

Introductory Essay by Carl Feit

In the majestic and poetic opening verses of the Torah, the foundational text of Judaism, G-d is introduced as the creator of the entire universe including all that it contains and all who dwell within.

 

In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void. Darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters. And G-d said “let there be light” …                           Genesis I:1-3

 

This would seem to serve as a primary source for Judaism’s abiding interest in the nature of the universe which is the object of G-d’s earliest described creative activity.

A few verses later (Genesis II), humans are placed in the Garden of Eden with the dual mandate of “working” the Garden and “protecting (or watching over)” the Garden.

Based on these early and explicit sources, one might have thought that Jews and Jewish thinkers would have been in the forefront of the current Ecology movement. the fact that this was not the case is just one of the many issues addressed in the work at hand: Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word, edited by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson.

This excellent collection of essays, reflecting on Judaism and its multifaceted relation to the created world, is so much more than an answer to a simple (or perhaps simplistic) question. It is, in fact, an excellent work for understanding Jewish thought and how it works. The essays are drawn from papers presented at a conference held at the Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School in February 1998. In the words of the editor: “..the conference brought Jewish academics, environmental activists, and educators to reflect about Judaism’s attitude toward the natural world. Unlike other gatherings of academics in Jewish studies, this conference intended to bridge the gap between objective scholarship and subjective commitment, between theoretical reflections and recommendations for actions.” [xxxix]

Much to the credit of the authors and editor, Judaism and Ecology, has none of the shortcomings often found in such “proceedings” volumes. Each of the essays is deeply thought out and thought-provoking, highly original, and profusely well-documented. The individual authors are masters of their domains. I will not specify any particular chapters because there are so many that are so good. From Kabbalah to Kant, from Midrash to Morality, from Genesis to Global Warming, all are handled in rich, insightful ways. The value of the individual offerings is further enhanced by the overall structure and cohesiveness of the volume thanks to the work of the conference organizers and, especially, Tirosh-Samuelson, the book’s editor.

There are many ways in which this book can be enjoyed. I would recommend that the serious reader start at the beginning and read it through because there is something to be learned from the broad picture captured in the book. However, if you are the kind who likes to pick and choose, each essay is self-contained and self-justified. Judaism and Ecology is really a treasure-trove of Jewish thought and Jewish scholarship. Read it and enter the world of Jewish learning.